Sunday, October 10, 2004

The Faith-Based Missile Shield

The New York Times
October 10, 2004

The Faith-Based Missile Shield

The Bush administration's exorbitantly wasteful missile defense system is about to be formally activated, just in time for its immediate bull's-eye: Election Day. Despite widespread technological doubts, President Bush promised in 2000 to have a missile shield in place this November. So, even though the $130 billion spent so far has yet to produce anything like a battle-ready system, the Pentagon plans to pronounce it active this month at a half dozen new missile silos on the West Coast.

This wisp of the old Star Wars fever dream is bedeviled by missing components and unproven premises. The Pentagon has suspended normal accountability standards in favor of what military proponents euphemistically term "evolutionary acquisition." This means spend and build now, and attempt credible tests when and if all the parts finally arrive. Even a Pentagon analysis called it a "case study" against rushing forward on faith.

Development delays have plagued the project's vital parts, from booster rockets to radar installations and satellite systems. Skimpy tests, which had to be interrupted two years ago, were ludicrously scripted. Dozens of retired generals and admirals urged the White House earlier this year to shelve the hollow start-up plan and spend the money more wisely on bolstering borders, ports and other inviting targets for low-tech terrorists.

"They'd still be testing at Kitty Hawk, for God's sake, if you wanted perfection," groused Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in precisely the take-it-or-leave-it tone that saps the project's credibility. There is no disputing the idea that North Korea or some other rogue nation might someday present a nuclear missile threat. But creating a real shield is far different from proclaiming a fantasy one.