Clouds also are
by Lawrence M. Krauss, December 18, 2001
Originally Published in The
Cleveland Plain Dealer
Now that the president finally has announced his
intention to rid us of that pesky Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty,
I have decided to reconsider my concerns about strategic defense.
I used to worry that insurmountable technical barriers,
combined with the lack of a clear strategic threat, made considerations
of abrogating the long-standing ABM treaty premature. But clearly
things have changed.
For example, some misguided critics may worry that
the most recent successful test of our National Missile Defense
technology was put off for several days because of bad weather.
I am not worried, however, because I expect that any rogue state
or terrorist cell would certainly not want to launch a surprise
attack against this country if it were cloudy. After all, they
would want to see the devastation their missiles had wreaked,
and clouds would get in the way.
Some critics might worry because in this test,
as in the last "successful" test of our NMD technology,
the target missile carried a homing beacon that the interceptor
was able to use to locate it. I am not worried, however, because
I fully expect that any aggressor would want to know where their
own weapons were located, and thus would arm their missiles not
just with nuclear weapons, but with radios.
Some critics might argue that the ABM treaty has
thus far not gotten in the way of testing a system that is sufficiently
far from being "ready," so that there is little justification
to abrogate the treaty at the present time. But there is a new
mood in the country and the world following Sept. 11. Now is clearly
an opportune political time to move ahead on systems and unilateral
actions that might otherwise be proposed on practical or diplomatic
Some critics might worry that China, with only
20 to 30 nuclear weapons, will now have good reason to ramp up
its missile program so as to be able to overcome any limited defense
system. I am not worried, however, because while our current plans
would make them crazy not to do so, China's leaders might have
done this anyway.
Some critics might worry that devoting even more
money to a hypothetical defense program that has thus far cost
more than $700 billion over the past 25 years without producing
a working prototype is poor strategic and economic policy. I am
not worried, however, because now that we have officially committed
to having budget deficits for the foreseeable future we do not
have to be so picky in choosing how to spend defense dollars.
Some critics may be concerned that the Sept. 11
bombings demonstrate that the threats we face are more likely
to come from diffuse terrorist organizations than from organized
states with complex military industrial structures, and that even
if such terrorists organizations did manage to possess nuclear
weapons capabilities there are numerous covert ways to deliver
them that make more strategic sense than putting them on a ballistic
missile. However, I am not worried because the president has told
us that everything has changed since Sept. 11, and that new urgent
terrorist threats make all such traditional thinking obsolete.
Surely now is not the time to criticize our government's
unilateral initiatives on matters of international security. We
are at war, and what might be previously construed as mere logic
must now be carefully re-examined in case it opposes the administration's
interpretation of our vital national security interests. After
all, I wouldn't want to have to start worrying about being called
before a secret tribunal to defend my views.
* Krauss is chairman of the physics department
at Case Western Reserve University and a member of the American
Physical Society's Panel on Public Affairs.
(c) 2001 The Plain Dealer.