Last week, the Defense Department issued a press release confirming an all too common result of the national missile defense system test – failure. The NMD system has been in development stages with limited success ever since former President Reagan began funding it as part of his Strategic Defense Initiative — also known as “Star Wars” — in the 1980s. The United States has spent billions of dollars in research, construction and testing of the system and after over two decades, has literally nothing to show for it.
Supporters of the program maintain that an effective missile defense system is the nation’s only defense against ballistic missile attacks. Considering none of our enemies — North Korea, Iran, Syria and al Qaida, to name a few — have the capability of reaching U.S. soil with ballistic missiles, the need for an elaborate defense system hardly seems pressing. Even if a legitimate threat existed, consecutive test failures prove the system would be an insufficient defense shield.
The continued funding of the defective program not only drains capital, but also risks sparking a dangerous arms race. Announcing the deployment of a system capable of striking down ballistic missiles, if anything, will only encourage rogue states to modernize weapons that could penetrate an NMD shield. Once the genie is out of the bottle, the United States will have to spend incalculable amounts of money to update the already high-priced system to accommodate new missile threats. This never-ending cycle will create an arms race for the 21st century.
The Bush administration should keep in mind that a nuclear or biological weapon capable of causing massive death on American soil is unlikely to be delivered via a ballistic missile. Ironically enough, while the Pentagon pours billions into NMD research on an annual basis, U.S. port facilities only inspect about 5 percent of ship containers that dock in American ports. The chance of one of those overlooked containers containing a weapon of mass destruction is far greater than the chance that al Qaida mustering up the organization and financial support to host an active long-range missile program.
Even after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, airline safety has not been properly secured. Right now the Department of Homeland Security requires the Transportation Safety Administration to check only passenger luggage that enters airplane cargo areas. Cargo from non—passengers — such as parcel packages — is not subject to security screening. It is entirely possible that a package marked for parcel delivery could make it into a plane’s cargo hull unchecked.
In the economic times we currently live in, it would be fiscally responsible for the U.S. government to shut down its NMD research program and divert the funds into other, much more critical projects such as securing our ship containers and cargo hulls. If not redirected into defense appropriations, President Bush could probably afford to divert some of the funding to stop the devastating effects of his education funding cuts. President Bush’s 2006 budget cut $15 billion from education, yet in 2002, we spent nearly 18 billion dollars on NMD. Priorities will need to be reconsidered if any sort of progress is to be made.