Michael KreponThe Dance of the Veils

Jon Kyl’s dance of the veils is finally over. The last veil dropped when, after many accommodations and delays, the White House finally insisted that New START be dealt with in the lame duck session, and Majority Leader Harry Reid placed the Treaty on the Senate’s calendar.

Protesting that there is insufficient time to debate and vote on the Treaty in the waning days of the 111th Congress – after successfully delaying floor debate in the preceding months – Senator Kyl has finally announced that he will be voting ‘Nay,” on procedural grounds, no less.

Let us acknowledge for the record that Senator Kyl has played his hand extremely well. He held out the prospect of his consent to New START if concerns over nuclear- and missile defense-related issues were addressed. He asked for more time, and received it. He asked for more money, and the administration added billions to nuclear accounts. He asked for still more funding, and the deficit was raised, accordingly. All the while, Senator Kyl’s Democratic colleagues and the White House attested to his good faith efforts, notwithstanding the growing transparency of motive apparent in his delay game. If Mr. Kyl truly wanted to strike a bargain, it was there for the taking; there would be no need to increase the number of Republican votes needed for ratification from nine in the lame duck session, to fourteen in the new Congress. Senator Kyl’s record of voting ‘Nay’ to arms control treaties offered by Democratic Presidents will remain intact.

If this Treaty gains the Senate’s consent to ratification, it will be by a narrow margin. No Treaty has squeaked by in this fashion, without the support of the Republican Senate leadership. Are there nine Republican Senators willing to vote for this Treaty? We’ll know soon enough.


  1. Charles (History)

    So billions of dollars are effectively wasted on what was going to be a Nay anyway?

  2. FSB (History)

    Can we recall the $ from NNSA?

    Can we cancel the deeply, inherently flawed missile defense project (you know, the project to send $ from taxpayers to Raytheon executives)?

    If so, the imminent death of New START will have been more than worth it.

    Have a great weekend.

  3. Coyote (History)

    Regardless of one’s position on nuclear arms control and disarmament, sustaining and securing the remaining U.S. nuclear stockpile requires continued investment. We may regret the expense, but if we are going to have nuclear weapons—even President Obama has decided that we will have some for now—then we must spend money to take care of them. We should all be grateful that the healthy and necessary political wrestling match regarding New START is taking place.

    For all the criticisms the arms control community will lavish on Senator Kyl, his efforts have resulted in moderation, which makes more people happy than if New START was given consent to ratification without a second thought. This is why we like living in a republic with democratic mechanisms of governance—extreme views are moderated.

    Missile defence illustrates this point well. On one extreme are those who want total missile defence. On the other extreme are those who want no missile defence whatsoever. The result is some missile defence.

    We will have New START, some nukes, and some missile defences. All things in moderation.



    • Anon (History)

      Sustaining and securing the warheads is OK, but does not need the huge sums sent to NNSA.

      Neither does it require RRW.

      Missile defense (as envisioned) is complete and utter waste of taxpayer dollars, and lessens US security — as does RRW.

      Moderation is not needed when saving $ and improving US security.

  4. Fred Reinheimer (History)

    “Jon Kyl’s dance of the veils is finally over.”

    Thanks for the image — now how am I supposed to sleep tonight?

  5. sferrin (History)

    How is it that defending one’s self *reduces* their security? If one wears a bullet-resistant vest does that make it *more* likely one will take a bullet wound through the heart? It would be nice if one would actually think through what they’re claiming rather than simply parroting the pablum doled out by the left.

    As for the complaints that the Republicans still aren’t willing to play ball, how about removing all ambeguity re: missile defense from the START proposal? If there is truly nothing to be concerned about, as Obama would have us believe, then remove all reference to missile defense in it’s entirety. One can’t help but wonder why Obama doesn’t propose such an obvious solution to the impass. Perhaps it’s because there’s actually some merit to the concern?

    • Nick F (History)



      It’s a paradox, indeed. Yes, the bulletproof vest might make a wound to the heart less likely, but if you wield a gun in addition to your bulletproof vest, it allows you the ability to theoretically attack others with some degree of impunity.

      So, others in this scenario feel relatively LESS secure, do to your enhanced security.

      So, two probable scenarios result:

      1. Despite your bulletproof vest, and your gun, your foe/fre-nemy/etc. calculates that shooting you from behind in the head is the only means of securing their survival.

      2. Your friend builds a bigger, badder gun with bigger, badder bullets, capable of reliably defeating your defenses. You might then build a better vest, or add full body armor, etc., but the enemy will then be faced with trying to kill you by surprise to seize upon some real or perceived advantage, or building even bigger, and badder guns/bullets.

      When you take this fitting metaphor into the real world of deterrence, the first situation is quite destabilizing, the second is an offensive/defensive arms race. This was the prevailing wisdom that led to the signing the ABM treaty.

      In the current situation, both the United States’ and Russia’s “guns/bullets” are the biggest and baddest, and capable a defeating or overwhelming the existing and future “body armor” technologies now and into the foreseeable future.

      To sum, successful missile defenses would make enemies feel less secure. And while many would answer this with, “Great, lets make Putin/The Ayatollah/Kim shake in their teeny tiny boots!!” But that ignores the fact that bigger, badder guns and bullets (at least to the degree of bad-ness required to defeat current “body armor” technologies) are fairly easy to come by, and indeed, already exist in many arsenals.

      So, the real question is, is it worth spending $7,900,000,000 a year on “body armor” that, even it were successful against test “bullets,” is already obsolete against many of the existing bullets and guns in the world?

      Bullets = reentry vehicles
      Guns = Strategic launchers
      Body armor = laser weapons, ABMs

    • Anon (History)

      the reason the analogy does not work, besides the “fallacy of the last move”, is that nuclear weapons are deterrent arms, not weapons like guns to be casually used. If you make a defense, even a non-viable one, it will encourage your enemy to both get around it, and to get more of their arms. At the same time, even one nuclear weapon will deter you — so it does not “work”.

      for more details pls see:




    • Amy (History)

      sferrin: ah! easy answer — the bullet proof vest works. MD does not. And will not in its current versions i.e. midcourse.

  6. Coyote (History)


    Ah, but there is a flaw in your argument. The Russians have fielded rather effective missile defences for a number of decades now. They are even selling mobile missile defence systems to other countries that have some serious ICBM endgame intercept capability. The three traditional arms control arguments seem not to apply to the Russian missile defence systems, namely that; 1) they won’t work, 2) they will cost too much, and 3) they will destabilise international relations. (You’ve used all three in your comment.) Why would these arguments only apply to American efforts? What is good for the goose is good for the gander.



  7. jeannick (History)

    Considering the Russians concessions on the text
    and keeping in mind their deep distrust of missile defense
    one might wonder
    what is the point of it all ??

  8. yousaf (History)

    The USG’s BMDR document gives the official goal of US strat. missile defense:


    “The United States, with the support of allies and partners, seeks to create an environment in which the acquisition, deployment, and use of ballistic missiles by regional adversaries can be deterred, principally by eliminating their confidence in the effectiveness of such attacks, and thereby devaluing their ballistic missile arsenals.”

    I have recently written in the Bulletin on why this is not a sensible aim when nuclear weapons are involved — even if a functional version of missile defense can be theoretically invented:


    • George William Herbert (History)

      The problem with your analysis, Yousaf, is that you are conflating deterrent and nuclear warfighting.

      ICBMs and SLBMs (and bombers, to some extent) are excellent deterrent systems; they are based at home, or on sea patrol, and those are regular and non-threatening moves in the crisis sense. They are secure in home bases or at sea. Their existence is not provocative.

      Most of the alternative delivery systems, such as ship-launched cruise missiles or the various “terrorist” delivery systems, or clandestinely prepositioning deterrent bombs on or near hostile soil, are provocative. It is unlikely to escape anyone’s attention if North Korea were to preposition a warship with cruise missiles 300 miles off Seattle. In a crisis, the US would be likely to sink it. It’s not secure, and its presence there would be provocative, even in peacetime.

      The alternate delivery mechanisms are exactly counter to the goal of a deterrent force, which is to establish a force which is secure, not provocative while in waiting and which can be used effectively (credibly) in case of an attack. They are not secure, they’re provocative, and because of those their’re not as credible – someone’s likely to preempt them early in a crisis rather than risk the latest Kim pulling the trigger in a moment of anger.

      From a nuclear warfighting perspective – assuming for the moment that adversary X intends to deliver and detonate a warhead onto US soil, they’re reasonable methods. From a deterrent perspective, they’re terrible choices.

      We can’t guarantee that we can stop a determined adversary from nuking the US, because the ways to do that are limited only by the imagination. We can provide a system that prevents NK or Iran (or potentially China, though the current system is too small for that) from effectively deterring the US or holding us at risk with nuclear ICBMs.
      That in turn discourages their nuclear programs writ large. If the only scenarios they can see for an attack on the US result in their national devastation in the inevitable retaliation the value of their weapons is strategically lessened.

    • Scott Monje (History)


      Assuming adversary X is developing a nuclear program because he feels threatened by us, then will he simply give up when confronted by, say, a ballistic missile defense or will he try to get around it?

      If adversary X feels threatened by us, then why would he view our ICBMs and SLBMs as nonthreatening and nonprovocative? We view them that way because we simply got used to that situation under conditions of mutual assured destruction, which in your scenario doesn’t seem to apply. That wasn’t necessarily our initial reaction to Soviet missiles.

    • yousaf (History)

      George, Thank you for your comments. You mention that it “is unlikely to escape anyone’s attention if North Korea were to preposition a warship with cruise missiles 300 miles off Seattle.”

      Indeed, that is true. But the detection of such a ship is still more unlikely than the clear IR signature pointing to the country of origin using our DSP. The barrier NK has to use ICBMs is greater than the barrier to use ship-borne cruise missiles. Plus, the national origin of the ship could be disguised without much effort.

      Also, ship-borne cruise missiles are not needed. A single nuke can be sailed in on a 32 foot sailing yacht — and many such boats regularly make both Atlantic and Pacific passages. Undetected and unboarded.

      Further, you mention: “We can provide a system that prevents NK or Iran (or potentially China, though the current system is too small for that) from effectively deterring the US…”

      I do not see a problem in countries in aspiring to prevent themselves from being nuked by other countries.

      Indeed, back when it was thought that Iran had an active nuclear weapons program, the NDU studied this issue and agreed that Iran likely desired nuclear weapons to deter adversaries:


      That said, the two flawed missile defense systems (SM3 and GMD) that are under consideration are unlikely to neutralize the (possible future) Iranian or NK deterrent because there is always a reasonable probability that ICBMs will get through, and it leaves the equation essentially unchanged — see, e.g., Pavel’s article also linked by another poster above:


      Regarding the argument that our flawed NMD systems currently under consideration can deter Iran and NK, I have also previously written on that:


      In any case, it is clear that Iran and NK have not shut down their ICBM aspirations due to our fielding a missile defense so the argument is also empirically flawed.

      In fact, as I mention in my post above, the very goal of discouraging ICBMs — without discouraging the nuclear weapons — is conceptually flawed.

      You may also be interested in Thomas Schelling’s view on the subject:


      Listen from minute 59.5 onwards.

      Basically, as long as your adversaries have nuclear weapons (and you have DSP), you should hope they mate the nuclear weapons to ICBMs as these have the highest barrier to actual use, since the ICBMs can be detected and ascribed a national origin most precisely.

    • Scott Monje (History)

      It is worth noting that–rather than giving up its missiles in the face of prospective missile defenses–China has just announced that Japan’s MD efforts will require it to enhance its own capabilities.

    • George William Herbert (History)

      This is unfortunately not a large enough or coherent enough venue for the extended discussion that this deserves.

      I agree with the comments that ICBMs are the weapon we’d prefer to see adversaries with; if used, they are trivially attributable. They’re also the most predictable system from a defense and crisis stability point of view. They’re a marker of rational deterrence thinking.

      That said, even if a NMD program doesn’t deter opponents from developing nukes and ICBMs entirely, it does raise the bar, and potentially provides us with a credible defensive system. Whether the current US system is credible, versus what threats, is a larger question, to which I restate my opinion that it’s somewhere between the situation proponents declaim and opponents denounce.

    • FSB (History)

      GWH:”even if a NMD program doesn’t deter opponents from developing nukes and ICBMs entirely, it does raise the bar..”

      what do you mean “raises the bar”?

      Yes, it raises the bar: they deploy more ICBMs to ensure some get through.

      The only *credible* NMD system proposed by anyone so far is the drone based one — ie. the one NOT being considered by the MDA:


      But even if this were to “work”, Yousaf’s argument above would apply so it is a dilemma: whether or not it works (whatever that means), it is bad for our security interests.

    • George William Herbert (History)

      FSB writes:
      Yes, it raises the bar: they deploy more ICBMs to ensure some get through.

      Please, by all means. Iran and North Korea, build more ICBMs.

      No, seriously.

      The US can quite successfully spend their national defense economies into the ground and permanently wreck their national ambitions by trapping them in such an arms race.

      While the failure of the USSR was due to many causes, and the defense spending race’s contributions to that are quite controversial, the same is not true with NK + Iran.

      US GDP around $14.5 trillion.
      NK GDP around $0.04 trillion.
      Iran GDP around $0.835 trillion.

      The ICBM/SLBM programs in other nations (US, USSR, UK, France, China) were more expensive than the bomb programs. The US interceptor vehicles + base and supporting infrastructure are smaller than and cheaper than ICBMs; even if you need 3-5 x as many, the proportional costs are not that far from parity.

      This strategy would not work with China or Russia (or the USSR). We can spend NK and Iran into the dust on this one, however.

      You want regime change? This is our solution.

  9. Coyote (History)

    Nick F,

    We keep losing the bubble on the present situation in international relations with regard to New START. There is no need to review fuzzy Cold War logic—which was a high-risk and endlessly debatable challenge at best. Mirror imaging our reasoning and values to our adversaries is usually counterproductive, because it leads to actions (and treaties) based on false assumptions.

    In your arguments you assume symmetric competition and tit-for-tat between competitors. If this were always the case, then your arguments would be immutable and timeless truths and history would not be so replete with examples of warfare. In the military realm, however, each side seeks to project an image of predictability. Behind the scenes, however, militaries prepare to confound adversaries and to secure state interests by behaving unpredictably, seeking to seize the initiative, and to employ surprise at all levels of competition. In other words, states behave asymmetrically towards one another.

    The Cold War is over as is the arms race between the major antagonists. There is no propellant towards war between them, regardless of the status of their forces. Nor is there motivation toward a renewed arms race. In fact, there is a driver in the opposite direction, which is what makes New START possible and desirable. If there were any animosity left between the parties there would be no treaty.

    Missile defense remains a contentious issue, needlessly. In the US, missile defenses are not being discussed for use to counter the arsenals of major powers, but rather to provide a defense against rogues who fail to appreciate the awesomeness of our soft power and will not be dissuaded or deterred.

    Okay, so it is fine for Europe to get a missile defense. Russia already has a relevant missile defense. Why not the US? The worn out arguments that 1) it won’t work, 2) it will cost too much, and 3) it will destabilize international relations don’t seem to hold up to international scrutiny. Is there something peculiar strategically about the US that make its defense from missiles counter to its security interests?

    • Anon (History)

      Coyote, I posted above on why your argument vis a vis Russia is invalid. See other post by Dr. Yousaf Butt above also, btw.

    • Nick F (History)

      My response was a rebuttal to a comment that defending oneself does not/should not make one less secure. I was not resurrecting any tired Cold War logic, nor was I mirroring my reasoning on to that of the Russia. I was not assuming symmetric competition or tit-for-tat behavior. Rather, I was taking Russian leaders at their word about European ground based interceptors and radars. They don’t particularly like the idea of a broad American effort to develop BMD, and have threatened various actions in response to such a policy.

      Regardless of whether you feel that their argument holds any water, they have repeatedly stated their extreme disgust to our European BMD aspirations. And, assuming that BMD would be effective and affordable, being able to shoot down incoming Iranian or Nork missiles might make us more secure in one respect.

      But, if it comes at the cost of reversing the rapprochement with Russia, I do not think that we will be more secure in the broader context. Russian support is exceedingly helpful in containing the Nork/Iranian threats, and maintaining stability.

      And while there is minimal animosity between the two states, that does not mean that it could not quite easily return, especially with the Russian tendency towards suspicion.

      And, I might add that we are not proposing to surround Washington with ABMs, as Russia does (solely) with Moscow as you referenced. Surrounding one’s capital with a singular system that was previously allowed under the ABM treaty is certainly different than any such European-based system. The two are simply not comparable.

      And even if you feel that they are, the Russians do not see it that way. Acting in a manner that builds a Russian-American coalition in international affairs is a good thing. Simply stating that BMD is no threat to Russia does not make them see it that way. There is no reason to taunt Russian pride and welcome a pissing contest.

      Two further points:
      1. The only reason that the arguments against BMD can be considered “worn out” is that they must be repeated incessantly, drawing on the preponderance of scientific and scholarly opinion, to counter BMD proponents.

      2. No, there is nothing peculiar about the American strategic position, nor am I suggesting that there is. I merely refuse to see BMD policy in a vacuum, especially when it doesn’t work all that well, when it’s too expensive, and when it would be destabilizing.

    • George William Herbert (History)

      Nick F makes a bunch of good comments. Even as someone who is pro-BMD for several reasons, it clearly has caused stress with Russia at multiple times for us to pursue the deployed NMD program, and that may well have offset the strategic advangages WRT North Korea and Iran (IMHO, not overall, but that’s an opinion on an evolving question and subject to further debate and analysis). It may not work well, and needs more testing, and may be very expensive to make it work credibly reliably enough. I think it works better than the critics think but not as well as I want it to.

      There’s a lot of annoying talking past each other between the anti-NMD and pro-NMD camps. I encourage people to listen.

  10. Coyote (History)


    I was not talking about a “strategic” missile defense. “Strategic” here is defined as attempting to defend the entire homeland from all missile threats and scales of attack.

    Current American policy does not seek a strategic missile defense system.

    Yousaf pointed to the BMD Review Report of Feb 2010. Therein it states on page iii:

    “Following guidance from the President [Obama], this review has set the following policy priorities:

    1. The United States will continue to defend the homeland against the threat of limited ballistic missile attack. (14 missiles in Alaska)
    2. The United States will defend against regional missile threats to U.S. forces, while protecting allies and partners and enabling them to defend themselves.” (A few interceptor missiles in Poland)

    One need only to do the numbers to realize that this is not a threat to the arsenals of the current major powers.

    I find it odd that only the Russians take American missile defense seriously when all the experts in the arms control community don’t. What do all those Russian engineers that you talk about know that the arms control community doesn’t?

    Not only are Russian engineers good, but so are their diplomats—and shrewd. If the arms control community is right that missile defenses won’t work, then Russian engineers already know this—and so do their diplomats. In which case, the Russians have made far too much out of missile defenses in New START. Why? Obviously to gain concessions elsewhere, or to give themselves some excuse to leave (or threaten to leave) the treaty later.

    Now, let’s assume the Russian engineers know that missile defenses do work—which is certainly the Russian’s story when they sell their systems abroad. They therefore know that the numbers on interceptors being discussed by NATO for installation in Europe do not threaten their still massive arsenal. Besides, they can always skirt around BMD systems with cruise missiles if they decide that they cannot live with the Europeans. So why make noise about missile defenses in New START? Obviously to gain concessions elsewhere, or to give themselves some excuse to leave (or threaten to leave) the treaty later.

    Now Russia and NATO are in discussions to do missile defenses jointly. Not THAT is a TCBM worth doing!

  11. Coyote (History)

    Nick F,

    Excellent retort, good Sir!

    You must be happy that the Russians and NATO are discussing doing missile defenses jointly. It presents a tremendous TCBM opportunity of the kind called for in our New Space Policy.

    Keep in mind that we are talking about regional missile defenses and US homeland defense against limited missile threats. Fourteen interceptors in Alaska and a handful of interceptors in Europe are NOT going to tip the balance of power or turn the US into an impenetrable fort for exporting violence.

    While many people are trying to convince the US Government not to pursue missile defenses with claims that they 1) won’t work, 2) cost too much, and 3) will destabilize international relations, the Russians clearly disagree, as their own actions attest.

    They have built and tested several systems with serious endgame missile defense capabilities, such as the triple-digit SAMS that they offer for foreign sale. We can all be happy that deals could be cut to get them to turn off such sales to Iran. But that’s the point, isn’t it… deals.

    You are right to contemplate missile defenses with a broader geopolitical perspective. In the big scheme of things, it is a tiny issue. In this light, be careful not to take Russian leaders and diplomats “at their word.” After all, they are politicians and are trying to get the best deal they can to support their interests. Negotiations and the deals or treaties they lead to are always “buyer beware.”

    So why has there been so much noise over missile defense in the New START? I suspect the Russians make such noise to get a better deal, or to use it as a trump card to get a better deal later.

    All parties can criticize the recent New START debate in the Senate for any number or reasons. We just hope that between the politicization of the debate that proper due diligence has been conducted.

    If only WikiLeaks had access to Russian diplomatic traffic. Now THAT would be fascinating.



    • Anon (History)

      “Fourteen interceptors in Alaska and a handful of interceptors in Europe are NOT going to tip the balance of power or turn the US into an impenetrable fort for exporting violence. ”

      Also they will not tip anything since they do not work, but nevertheless they can be used as a negotiating hammer to pummel us by the Russians.

      Also: you are wrong.

      There are going to be ~400 SM3 interceptors eventually when the phased adaptive approach is done — see the latest CRS report on the subject. That is more than a handful.

      So it is a gigantic waste of US tax money which is useful to the Russians to hit us over the head with — and will do nothing to stop NK and Iran from making and threatening us with ICBMs. (In the case of Iran, if it decides to re-start its nuclear weapons project which our DNI said it has not).

    • Nick F (History)

      The reason there is so much noise about missile defense vis-a-vis New START is because certain Republican Senators have made it so, clamoring that a non-binding, simple, common sense statement about the interrelationship between offensive and defensive weapons in the preamble means significantly more than it actually means.

      And yes, I agree that Russian reactions to missile defense might be posturing on their part to seek concessions, or they might not be. Or perhaps they are a little bit of both. I, however, do not see the national security benefit of giving the Russians one more thing to b*%^h about during treaty negotiations. Especially when that thing is too costly and rather ineffective against realistic threats. (And yes, like a good pair of jeans, these arguments a well-worn, but that doesn’t make them invalid).

      And, to my knowledge, the S-300 and S-400 systems with ABM capability are limited to theater defense, similar to our Patriot and THAAD systems. The “serious endgame” here being largely battlefield defense against incoming theater missiles, which fly shorter distances, at slower speeds than strategic missiles. This particular “serious endgame” is simply not comparable to current US strategic missile defense plans.

  12. Scott Monje (History)

    The problem with Russian engineers and their understanding of the technical adequacies of missile defense may well be that Russian policy makers don’t necessarily listen to them any more than our policy makers listen to our engineers. (Just listen to the debate in the Senate to see how divorced policy making can be from reality.) To assume that the statements, beliefs, and policies of Russia conform to the technical understanding of Russian engineers is major fallacy.

    The issue regarding the number of proposed interceptors and how they could never be a threat to Russia’s deterrent is that the Russians never believed the numbers. They assume we are using those numbers to justify building a global network of bases and once it’s complete we will suddenly “discover” a new threat and fill it out with greater numbers. They have argued that the numbers proposed by Bush wouldn’t even be adequate to stop Iran if Iran actually had an ICBM force. (Recall how the Bush administration argued that its tax-cut proposals wouldn’t undermine the budget by using statistics that relied on the cuts expiring at the end of 2010, and then as soon as they were passed suddenly “discovered” that someone had set them to expire and called for making them permanent.) The Obama proposal has eased their concerns for the moment, but those concerns will return as the system progresses to later stages.

  13. coyote (History)


    On face value, the missile defense tests have produced mixed results, for sure. Not to worry.

    The “experts” in the sources you recommend, however, do not have access to the empirical evidence needed to arrive at the conclusions they derive. It is not enough to do the math… you have to use the right numbers. They do not even know the full test objectives, what systems are being modified on each test, what the components are made of, what sensors are used to collect the test data, what is discovered, or how easy or difficult the fixes might be. Their bias for arms control preordains their position. Without such conclusions their sponsors would not publish them in such documents. Without a doubt they are bright, articulate, clever and use the best information available to them. But in the end, they lack objectivity while pushing their agenda.

    The good news is that several review panels and oversight committees across the multi-agency security community, in the White House, and in Congress do have access to all the information. They are satisfied that missile defense efforts should continue. I am quite satisfied with the due diligence the Obama administration is putting into such efforts. They have applied fresh sets of eyes and even more rigorous scrutiny—and found it good.

    Here’s an irony: Nobody in the security community wants to spend money on missile defenses. The Air Force would rather spend money on more aircraft; the Navy on more ships; the Army on more Spec Ops units; and the Marines on more riflemen. Likewise, the national intel community would rather have far more human and technical sources. Let’s face it, missile defense is an inglorious mission for the DoD and Intel community. Both dislike having to spend money on projects like missile defense that are far outside their core competencies. The Navy is making good with its Aegis Cruisers, for sure, but missile defense does not compare to all the bits and pieces that go with a carrier battlegroup.

    Yeah, I think most Americans wish they had more say in how tax dollars are spent!

    Cheers, and thanks for the discussion!


    • FSB (History)

      Coyote: “Nobody in the security community wants to spend money on missile defenses. The Air Force would rather spend money on more aircraft; the Navy on more ships; the Army on more Spec Ops units; and the Marines on more riflemen. Likewise, the national intel community would rather have far more human and technical sources. Let’s face it, missile defense is an inglorious mission for the DoD and Intel community. Both dislike having to spend money on projects like missile defense that are far outside their core competencies.”

      Or maybe the officers in the Armed Services realize that if a system has intercepted 50% or less in **highly scripted** tests when the launch time of the test missile was known a priori and no decoys were used that it is waste of $ and they would rather spend money on something that works.

      Here is a drone-based NMD system that would work:


      But here is why even a functional NMD system is NOT good for US security:


  14. Coyote (History)

    Nick F,

    The political theater in the Senate has been a bit disheartening, hasn’t it. I just hope more substantive discussions have occurred in the closed sessions.

    Never underestimate a triple-digit SAM! They are treated as a serious threat against supersonic manoeuvring aircraft at altitude… and against ICBM and ABM warheads that fall subsonic before the boom.

    It will be a fascinating TCBM working missile defenses with the Russians!

    • FSB (History)

      It appears that the Russians will wrest control of MD such that our (lack of) security will be in Russian hands, or there will be a new arms race because of a technology that does not even work — thank you republicans!:


  15. Coyote (History)


    Confidence is high inside the DoD that missile defenses work and that their operational reliability is increasing. However, it is a tiny role and mission, which makes it a difficult career field to manage. Plus, it comes with a big price tag, for sure. In a time of budget cuts, the services are not happy about having to trade away systems and personnel that are at the center of their core competencies in taking on such a mission. Regardless, defense is the mission of the DoD and the job will be done in the manner prescribed.

    I find airborne missile defense intriguing. It certainly has some advantages over missile point defense.

    Thanks for the link to the article from the Bulletin. In sum, the author argues that it is better to be hit by the bomb you see coming than by the bomb you do not see coming. The assumption being that the ability to act in reprisal enables deterrence. True. However, the author overlooks that with or without missile defenses others so motivated will use covert attempts to bomb anyway.



    • Scott Monje (History)

      “However, the author overlooks that with or without missile defenses others so motivated will use covert attempts to bomb anyway.”

      Doesn’t that once again raise the question of why we’re investing in missile defenses?

    • Amy (History)

      Mr. Coyote,
      I was on the fence on the MD issue but have come out against it due to the arguments presented here. You state: “the author overlooks that with or without missile defenses others so motivated will use covert attempts to bomb anyway.”

      I just read the full article. The author actually addresses your point:

      “if a “functional” missile defense were to encourage our adversaries to exchange even a single ICBM for a ship-launched cruise missile or a ship- or submarine-borne one, this would decrease our security. Of course, they may opt to develop these alternate delivery methods in any case, but creating a functional strategic missile defense will certainly force them in this dangerous direction.”

      Let me attempt to parse: If NK has 10 nukes and there is no *functional* missile defense (the current case) then NK has (or will have) 10 ICBMs for those 10 bombs. If we make a functional missile defense they may throw up their hands and decide to make 7 of those nukes ship-borne.

      i.e. There is a feedback loop between our defenses and their offensive/defensive posture.

      When they do alter their posture in this way, and the heat is then turned up — say a crazy thing like S. Korean naval exercises — then they may actually be tempted to use the nukes on ships whereas they would in no case use the ICBMs for a first strike. No-one, not even NK is that crazy.

      It is not that the inclination to bomb us is pre-determined: it is that given one delivery method (North Korean ICBMs) we can deter them — given ship-borne bombs they are essentially impossible to deter thus the barrier to using bombs is lowered when MD is in the picture.

      Lucky for us both the GMD and SM3 are non-functional! 😉

  16. Coyote (History)


    No, I don’t think so. While missile defense is going on, our intelligence community and DHS is spending far more time, effort, and money on blocking covert attempts to proliferate and bomb us. The loss of life and property in such an attack would be so great that it warrants the effort along both lines.

    We should all be of good cheer, now that the New START is passed!


    • Anon (History)

      DHS’s/USCG’s capability to intercept and board and check the bilge of every single ship and little sailing yacht is arguably going to be even worse than missile defense’s track record. Somehow I am not comforted by your logic.

      The new GAO report on MD gives it a good kick in the nuts:


      Anyone with any technical training and not in the payroll of the USG realizes that the current versions (SM3 and GMD) are not feasible — inherently.


      Dr. Postol in the article above says why:

      “There is a single incontrovertible scientific reason, based in fundamental physics, why the GMD and SM-3 ballistic missile defenses will never be able to function reliably in real combat conditions. Infrared and radio signals from targets in the near vacuum of space can be readily modified by an attacker to disguise, remove, or deny the critical information needed by the defense to find attacking warheads. Because the defense system is limited to the use of infrared and radar sensors, an adversary can easily make it impossible for radars and homing interceptors to reliably identify either the location of warheads attached to rocket bodies, or the separated warheads when they are surrounded by pieces of debris or decoys roughly the same size as the warheads. Improvements claimed by the Missile Defense Agency in “sensors” and “algorithms” do not address this problem—if there is no information in the infrared and radar signals to begin with, then no sensors and methods for analyzing these signals—no matter how improved—can find it. For this reason, the only way to build a reliable missile defense for the continental United States would be to build a missile defense that is not confronted by this insurmountable fact of physics. ”



      A travesty that the USG thinks it can break the laws of physics and I have to pay for it.

  17. Coyote (History)


    Thanks for the discussion. This is quite fascinating.

    For countermeasures (CMs) there are always counter-countermeasures (CCMs), and these are factored into the design of everything… and systems are kept adaptable so they can be modified if an adversary develops some new countermeasure. You won’t find much discussion of CCMs in open sources because no one wants to motivate an adversary to develop a new CM. Intelligence communities of most states spend their time trying to learn about the CMs and CCMs of other states’ weapon systems. It is an ancient sport.

    Based on the quote you cite, Lewis and Postol obviously do not have access to such information. They should both avoid speaking in absolutes when they don’t have all the facts. Of course, they don’t know what they don’t know, so they may be forgiven. I take issue with their inferred assumption that the scientists, engineers, and operators in the administration, IC, DoD, and other agencies and supporting universities are idiots. But, Lewis and Postol are promoting a new system and must therefore attack the old system. Accepting their argument is a matter of “buyer beware.”

    That said, I do find aircraft-based missile defense for boost-phase intercept interesting. I’ve seen some work on this, gong back ten years, or so. It has some clear operational drawbacks. Such systems would need to be in close proximity to the launcher and require almost instantaneous weapons release… and the speed of the engagement weapon would have to be tremendously fast to catch a lot of the types of threat missiles that worry us. It can be done, for sure, but launch sites would need to be known, or delimited to a small area. Airborne Laser suffers from this same employment limitation, although the laser system gives it further stand-off from the launch site than kinetic weapon proposals that I’ve seen.

    I share your concern over the formidable task facing DHS and USCG. Wow. That’s worse than a needle in a haystack. But, like Tony Soprano says, “What you gonna do?” No administration can just do nothing.

    Cheers to you and yours this season!


    • Amy (History)

      Mr. Coyote,
      here is the long and short of it: once your adversaries have nuclear weapons, you are deterred from certain actions, whatever missile defenses you think you have.

      As a physicist, I agree with Dr. Postol and Dr. Lewis.

      The following people also agree:

      See the article mentioned above by Dr. Pavel Podvig.

      OMG, you too have a super duper 2011!

  18. Coyote (History)


    Mr. Coyote? Ouch! That is a title that shall forever be beyond me!

    Great to hear from you!

    You raise a brilliant point, which is precisely why Iran and North Korea (and a few others whose names never seem to come up) are proliferating as fast as they can! This also highlights the unfortunate futility of the goal for a “safe, secure, nuclear weapons free world.”

    You may rest assured that I am a supporter of drawing down nuclear weapons stockpiles, of dissuading others from proliferating, and for securing nukes wherever they are.

    However, I am very concerned whenever scientists, such as Postol and Lewis, draw conclusions without all of the data. They substitute assumptions in place of empirical data, which should trigger alarms.

    Unfortunately, it is very difficult for the arms control community at large to cross check their work because they do not have the empirical date either.

    That said, I understand that missile defences are never a 100% guarantee. They are certainly not an impenetrable wall. They merely reduce the likelihood that an adversary will be able to use a certain type of weapon mated with a certain delivery system successfully. I am under no delusion that they make ones position impenetrable. Also, as you point out, at no time is a nuclear armed adversary anything to trivialise.

    That said, a couple of nukes delivered via missile would have an effect worse than Hurricane Katrina against human life and property.

    We need to accept that in this world there will be some nukes, some arms control, some missile defense, some conventional weapons, some friends, and some adversaries. One thing there will not be is absolutes.

    Only the Sith speak in absolutes!

    Best of the new year to you,



    • Amy (History)

      Mr. Coyote,
      with all due respect, I will go with my technical education and the opinion of the following people whose letter I quoted:


      John Ahearne #
      Lecturer in Public Policy Studies, Duke University

      Philip W. Anderson *
      Joseph Henry Professor of Physics Emeritus, Princeton University
      Nobel Laureate in Physics

      Lewis M. Branscomb #
      Aetna Professor in Public Policy and Corporate Management, Emeritus; Harvard University, John F.
      Kennedy School of Government

      Val L. Fitch * +
      Professor of Physics, Princeton University
      Nobel Laureate in Physics

      Jerome I. Friedman * +
      Institute Professor and Professor of Physics, MIT
      Nobel Laureate in Physics

      Richard L. Garwin * #
      Adjunct Professor of Physics, Columbia University
      National Medal of Science Laureate

      Sheldon Lee Glashow *
      Arthur G.B. Metcalf Professor of the Sciences, Boston University
      Nobel Laureate in Physics

      Kurt Gottfried
      Professor of Physics Emeritus, Cornell University

      David J. Gross * #
      Professor of Physics, University of California, Santa Barbara
      Nobel Laureate in Physics

      David Hammer
      J. Carlton Ward Professor of Nuclear Energy Engineering, Cornell University

      Ernest Henley * +
      Professor of Physics Emeritus, University of Washington

      Daniel Kleppner + #
      Lester Wolfe Professor of Physics, Emeritus, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

      Leon Lederman *
      Professor of Science, Illinois Institute of Technology
      Nobel Laureate in Physics

      Douglas D. Osheroff *
      Professor of Physics and Applied Physics, Stanford University
      Nobel Laureate in Physics

      Norman F. Ramsey * + #
      Higgins Professor of Physics, Emeritus, Harvard University
      Nobel Laureate in Physics

      Myriam Sarachik * +
      Distinguished Professor of Physics, City College of the City University of New York

      Andrew M. Sessler * +
      Director Emeritus, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

      George Trilling * +
      Senior Faculty Physicist, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

      Steven Weinberg *
      Jack S. Josey – Welch Foundation Chair in Science and Professor of Physics, University of Texas at
      Nobel Laureate in Physics

      Robert Wilson * #
      Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
      Nobel Laureate in Physics
      * Member, National Academy of Sciences
      # Member, National Academy of Engineering
      + Past President, American Physical Society


  19. FSB (History)

    Ha! I was waiting for that: Yes, Coyote, missile defense will work just as soon as MDA fixes up their magical trans-physics drive. It will merely another $10000billion and will be ready by 2077.5

    Please — it is not only Prof Lewis and Postol who say that MIDCOURSE missile defense is rubbish and will never protect the US: it is the rest of the commentators here (Nick, Anon, Amy etc.) as well as all the physicists linked to by Amy above. Actually the laws of physics allow one to speak in absolutes as Prof Lewis and Postol do: if you are using IR and radio based sensors there is a limit to what you can achieve. As they state:

    “There is a single incontrovertible scientific reason, based in fundamental physics, why the GMD and SM-3 ballistic missile defenses will never be able to function reliably in real combat conditions. Infrared and radio signals from targets in the near vacuum of space can be readily modified by an attacker to disguise, remove, or deny the critical information needed by the defense to find attacking warheads. Because the defense system is limited to the use of infrared and radar sensors, an adversary can easily make it impossible for radars and homing interceptors to reliably identify either the location of warheads attached to rocket bodies, or the separated warheads when they are surrounded by pieces of debris or decoys roughly the same size as the warheads. Improvements claimed by the Missile Defense Agency in “sensors” and “algorithms” do not address this problem—if there is no information in the infrared and radar signals to begin with, then no sensors and methods for analyzing these signals—no matter how improved—can find it. For this reason, the only way to build a reliable missile defense for the continental United States would be to build a missile defense that is not confronted by this insurmountable fact of physics. ”

    That is correct.

    Your talk of counter-counter measures (CCMs) would be interesting if the MDA was actually able to hit warheads whose time and trajectory they knew (without even simple CMs) with any regularity — they cannot. And I don’t think US taxpayers should send billions more to fund their flawed ideas which reside outside of physics.

    GMD intercepts’ test success without any CMs stands at ~50% — when the MDA knew every little detail of the test. If NK was to put CMs (say 20 decoys) we are talking of a success rate of <2.5% for GMD.

    The problems with MDA have been stated recently by the GAO:


    If that is hard to digest please see the various news stories on the issue, eg:


    "The report raises a number of criticisms of this approach:

    1. Bad management. The Pentagon still hasn't established a process to ensure "transparency and accountability" of this new approach to new missile defense, the GAO says. The report criticizes the lack of clear information on the cost and schedule of the new system.

    2. It might miss the mark. To accurately target a missile, the interceptors rely on something called a Command and Control, Battle Management and Communications system, which helps integrate the sensor data and provide targeting information to guide the interceptor to the threat missile. But, the GAO says, the system may not be able to accurately track incoming missiles "and may present an incorrect picture of the battlespace."

    3. It's not fully tested. The Pentagon will be buying elements of the new missile defense system before it has been demonstrated that the technology actually works as promised. For example, the Pentagon is buying new interceptors before they are fully tested. GAO points out that flight tests designed to test whether the interceptors work are scheduled for after the Pentagon has already bought 38 of the new interceptor missiles. In fact, the Pentagon will have bought about a third of the planned inventory of 320 interceptors, paying more than $1 billion, before it is sure the missiles work as planned."

    That Prof. Lewis and Postol are correct is also borne out by the latest GMD tests FTG-06 and FTG-06a:


    "The Missile Defense Agency was unable to achieve a planned intercept of a ballistic missile target during a test over the Pacific Ocean today. The flight test included the successful flight of an intermediate-range ballistic missile target from Ronald Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands and a long-range interceptor missile launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

    The Sea Based X-Band radar (SBX) and all sensors performed as planned. The Ground Based Interceptor (GBI) was launched and successfully deployed an Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV). Program officials will conduct an extensive investigation to determine the cause of the failure to intercept the target. The next flight test will be determined after identification of the cause of the failure. "

    Good thing this was our own own missile — not a surprise one by NK.

    Amy is correct — MD will not work for deterrence because there is always some chance (quite large) that missile will get through:


    And if you are talking about nukes for warfighting then they will be delivered by other means: eg. a boat.

    If MDA has magic trans-physics tools to battle CMs, I suggest they start showing them to the GAO and start using them in their unsuccessful intercept tests. Else please stop wasting my tax $.

  20. Coyote (History)

    Amy and FSB,

    You may tout the credentials of partially informed people who are not involved with related research, development, and testing–and have little insight into them–as much as you like. They lack key information regarding the research and development program, test parameters, sensors, countermeasures (CMs), and counter-countermeasures (CCMs). I’m not even sure if they are using the same definitions of terms to describe missiles in flight.

    While I do not challenge their mastery of certain laws of physics, I do challenge their conclusions with regard to tests when they do not have full knowledge of the dependent and independent variables at play. They draw conclusions based on assumptions they have made. Such an approach makes them little more than advocates for one side of an issue.

    That said, I agree with them that midcourse missile defense by employing chase missile interceptors is a losing proposition based on kinematics. That’s firmly established. There is also no dispute with their description of electromagnetic propagation under various conditions as it relates to certain sensors if no CCMs are employed. These factors are also well known to everyone involved with the research and development of these systems, and are taken into account.

    The GAO report has considerable merit, although for obvious reasons it does not go into much detail. Similar findings apply to several programs under DoD stewardship, not just missile defense. Fortunately, the Obama administration is working hard to rectify such situations with all parties. I give them exceptionally high marks for this. Part of the problem is the year-to-year funding issue without the ability to carry-over funds from previous years. This creates a rollercoaster effect in spending trends over the course of a single year, with lumps of money at the end of the fiscal year being spent at the last moment to zero the budget instead of carrying funds forward. For the technical problems, there are solutions.

    There is good news: We agree that missile defense is not a deterrent. It is a defense, hence the name, missile “defense.” The name is a dead giveaway. As Schelling and others used the term, deterrence is the prevention of war based on coercion by threat of damage. That’s not what we’re doing with missile defense, and it is certainly not how the Russians approach the matter, either. A defense does have some dissuasive power, because it raises the cost of attacking in certain ways.

    Yes, an adversary that is determined to plow through defenses will put more weight behind an attack. or attack via different routs. If they decide to challenge our missile defense they will likely throw more missiles in the air. Our defenses had better work! Fortunately, no one in this administration or in the security community is seeking to make America an impenetrable fortress safe from all missile threats. The goal is to prevent onesy-twosy attacks from rogues… without threatening the arsenals of major powers.

    As with the last several administrations, the Obama administration realizes that the carnage from a missile carrying WMD would be so catastrophic that it warrants the investment in missile defenses. It is an expensive investment, for sure, but far cheaper than consequence management. The geopolitical situation having changed—Russia no longer felt as a threat—our European allies agree.

    Be of good cheer!


    • FSB (History)

      For the reasons previously mentioned by multiple commentators missile defense does not and will not work — at midcourse.

      MDA can spend $10000 billion of US taxpayers but I remain unconvinced. Maybe the magic trans-physics drive will become available by 2077.

      If MDA has special secret information that is unavailable to Postol et al. then they should use those secret magic formulas and chanting etc. in their tests which are an abysmal failure. They should also show the magic formulas and machinery to the GAO.

      I’ll go with the GAO, Postol, Amy, Anon, and the rest of the physicists who say that IR and radio based sensors have severe limitations at midcourse.

      And supposing some version of missile defense does work you have the problem outlined by Yousaf above:


      Feel free to write MDA a check for new years — God knows, the CEO of Raytheon needs more taxpayer dollars.

      Have an incredible 2011!

  21. Amy (History)

    Prof. Coyote said: “They draw conclusions based on assumptions they have made.”

    Yes, Lewis and Postol assumed that the laws of physics pertain to missile defense tests. That is true. Clearly MDA does not make any such assumptions.

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