[VIEWPOINT]National Missile Defense . . . Why Not?

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[VIEWPOINT]National Missile Defense . . . Why Not?

The United States' plan to build a national missile defense system is dominating the headlines. To protect the U.S. mainland, U.S. soldiers stationed overseas and its allies against missile attack, it seems the United States is intent on pushing ahead with the plan to build the system, which will destroy enemy ballistic missiles before they hit targets with counter missiles.

This kind of missile defense plan dates back to the strategic defense initiative (SDI) program of the Ronald Reagan administration during the 1980s. In the Cold War era, the Reagan administration planned a program to thwart enemy missile attacks by using state-of-the-art laser weapons.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Bush administration modified the SDI program into the global protection against limited strikes system (GPALS), which scaled down the program's scope and range.

The Clinton administration finally scraped SDI and the national defense system was reduced to a theater missile defense (TMD), focusing on protecting U.S. soldiers stationed overseas.

As I understand, the national missile defense (NMD) program of the current George W. Bush administration stands somewhere between SDI and TMD. NMD is meant to protect the United States from missile attack from "rogue states," such as North Korea and Iraq.

Last week the U.S. government erased the word "national" from the system, implying that the program would also protect allies. This was an attempt to deflect other nations' criticisms that the NMD program would serve the United States solely.

Whatever the title, why is it that the voices of opposition to the program are so loud?

Within the United States, arguments against missile defense point to several serious drawbacks.

The first is money. According to an estimate by Congress, another $60 billion check would have to be added to the $60 billion poured into missile defense projects since the Reagan administration.

The second reason is low efficiency. Of three tests of the defense system, two failed. Although its accuracy is likely to improve, there are other questions such as whether it could distinguish genuine missiles from decoys or cope with simultaneous launches.

Outside the United States, Russia and China are the main parties opposing the program, because the NMD could also be used to attack.

President Putin of Russia is threatening that if the United States goes ahead with the plan, Russia will formally scrap the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

China, which has only about 20 anti-ballistic missiles in its quiver, compared with Russia's 6,000, is also complaining vociferously. Apart from Britain, other European countries are fearful of harming relations with Russia and are thus holding more ambiguous positions.

Despite this, the Bush administration and its supporters are maintaining that the strongest country in the world must have the right to defend itself against missile attack.

What position should Korea take? At first glance, the missile defense system appears to be of little use to South Korea, considering that one of the "rogue states" sits over the border. But the system may prove helpful in the long term if it prevents the North from threatening the United States and thus turning to blackmail.

Though the system may be expensive, the cost will be shouldered by the United States, not Korea. Even though its workability may be in doubt, it could help put a stop to rogue states' blackmail and threats. It will hasten the economic collapse of enemy states because they will be compelled to spend a huge amount of money developing counter weapons systems.

Let us consider this system for its own merits, without blindly bleating the criticisms of others.


The writer is a professor of economics at Sogang University.

by Kim Pyong-joo

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