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Ballistic missile defense?


Bush has proposed a large increase in military spending, including pay raises for soldiers, reserves to cover the expenses of possible combat, unmanned vehicles, and ballistic missile defense.

Some of these make sense, more or less. If war in some other country is justified, and it may be, it will cost money. Raising soldiers' pay is not a bad thing, though it is not clear we can afford it just now. Unmanned vehicles are useful, but expensive, and we may have enough already. But ballistic missile defense? What could be less relevant to fighting terrorism than that? While it is conceivable that a terrorist organization might develop nuclear weapons, developing long-range ballistic missiles is far beyond them. It's also unnecesary--terrorists have other, cheaper methods for delivering bombs.

It's clear what is happening here: Bush is at his old tricks, relabeling his old agendas as "fighting terrorism" and hoping that Americans will be "united" enough to swallow it. He did this with domestic surveillance (successfully); he did this with low-wage trade treaties (outcome not yet known); now he's trying it with missile defense.

On principle, ballistic missile defense is a good idea--it's better to intercept a nuclear attack than launch one in revenge. If the system were reliable, it would be worth some expense. But it is expected to be very costly, and not very effective. There are many reasons to doubt it could reliably intercept missiles, and it would be easy to overload, spoof, or bypass.

If the system cost nothing, we might as well build it anyway--hey, once every dozen nuclear wars, it might intercept a missle or two. That's better than nothing, right? But it makes no sense to spend a lot of money on a system we can't depend on.

No sense, that is, for the US or its public. It makes plenty of sense for the companies that would be paid to build the system, if you assume they are selfish and unpatriotic.

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