Missile Defense and Nuclear Stability

An unsigned Bloomberg News article, carried by Newsmax, is pushing the panic button over an American successful ship-launched intercept of an ICBM in mid-course (i.e., above the atmosphere, but before warheads had been deployed).

The ICBM flying over the Pacific was an American dummy designed to test a new kind of interceptor technology. As it flew, satellites spotted it and alerted an Air Force base in Colorado, which in turn communicated with a Navy destroyer positioned northeast of Hawaii. This ship, the USS John Finn, fired its own missile which, in the jargon, hit and killed the incoming one.

A successful defense is somehow more dangerous than lying prostrate and helplessly undefended, though, according to BN. After all—and the news outlet makes this argument in all seriousness—

the new interception technology cuts the link between offense and defense that underlies all calculations about nuclear scenarios. Since the Cold War, stability—and thus peace—has been preserved through the macabre reality of mutual assured destruction, or MAD. No nation will launch a first strike if it expects immediate retaliation in kind. A different way of describing MAD is mutual vulnerability.


And this:

[T]his month’s test was the first in which a ship did the intercepting. This twist means that before long the US or another nation could protect itself from all sides.

How terrible is that—that a nation should defend itself effectively enough as to make an attack against it unlikely.

Defense and offense are complementing duals of each other for the possessing nation, and an effective defense reduces the reliability and effectiveness of an enemy’s offense—which makes our defense the negating dual of an enemy’s offense. Unless, of course, outlets like Bloomberg News actually believe that the US, possessing a means of defending itself from an enemy’s attack, would itself initiate an attack on that enemy. But that would be BN projecting.

Bloomberg News‘ cynical panic-mongering notwithstanding, successful and effective defensive systems enhance nuclear stability rather than degrade it. A successful defensive system—which only needs to be partially successful, which can be imperfect—so complicates an attacking enemy’s success criteria as to make his attack less likely: he won’t achieve a first strike destruction of our nation, he’ll have to absorb our responding strike, and so he’s unlikely to strike at all.

It’s not that complicated.

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