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Debate: National Missile Defense

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Is a national missile defense system a good initiative for the United States?

Background and context

The role of defense against nuclear missiles has been a heated military and political topic for several decades. National Missile Defense (NMD) is a military strategy and associated systems to shield an entire country against incoming Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs). The overall U.S. nationwide antimissile program has been in development since the 1990s. Today, the stated mission of the NMD has changed to a more modest goal of preventing the United States from being subject to nuclear terrorism by a so-called rogue state. In 1996, NMD was designated a Major Defense Acquisition Program. Under this program, the Department of Defense was tasked with developing a deployable system within three years from culmination in 2000. However, instead of making a deployment decision, President Clinton deferred to his successor in the White House. The deployment decision now rests with President George W. Bush amid bitter ideological debates. Although the Clinton administration cited several factors that pointed away from immediate deployment, the project was not given much funding. The current Bush administration argues that NMD is urgent, and the Pentagon has launched an intensive program to rush deployment. Missile defense is the single most important component of national security policy in the nuclear age.

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Argument #1

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Yes

Defending the American people against terrorist attacks is the government’s highest priority. Since September 11th we know with certainty that various nations are spending billions of dollars to build or acquire strategic ballistic missiles. Their sole purpose is to inflict massive casualty loss to the United States from afar, so the US government must invest in systems to keep Americans safe.

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No

There is a not a credible enough threat to warrant deployment of a NMD. An intelligence estimate by the CIA and DIA concluded that the threat of a rogue state being able to deploy an ICBM capable of reaching the United States was at least 15 years away. The United States is likely to detect any indigenous long-range ballistic missile program many years before deployment. No country, other than the major declared nuclear powers, will develop or otherwise acquire a ballistic missile in the near future that could threaten the United States

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Argument #2

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Yes

Our greatest near-term potential attackers, Iran and North Korea, are expected to be able to produce a ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States at some point in the future. Regardless of time estimates, such hostile nations are sure to acquire such capabilities. Only direct military intervention will prevent them from deploying this capability before the US can deploy a missile defense.

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No

1. A NMD would not protect the United States from rogue-states. For example, a NMD could not work against ship-launched missiles; it is far easier for rogue states to attack the U.S. with a short-range nuclear weapon carried by a short-range ballistic missile from the deck of a ship than an ICBM. Nor could a NMD prevent the launching of biological or chemical weapons, in which the warhead can be readily divided into small bomblets that would be released from the missile early in flight. Not only would these numerous targets overwhelm a NMD, but there is a more effective was to disperse such weapons. 2. NMD would fail because real-world targets will not cooperate. If the United States deploys a NMD it must expect that any country willing to expend the resources to build or buy long-range missiles to deliver an attack would also make sure it had ways to penetrate the defense.

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Argument #3

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Yes

It is well within the technological capabilities of the United States to build a defense against nuclear missile attacks and nuclear blackmail. The question is not whether we can in fact build such a defense, but rather, whether our government possesses the political will to build such a defense.

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No

Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) systems are technologically unrealistic, since “hitting bullets with bullets” leaves no room for error

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Argument #4

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Yes

No one is advocating a return to the Cold War, but that history teaches us that conflict brings stability. Therefore, the post Cold-War world demands more, not less, vigilance, and the US should move quickly to deploy a NMD.

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No

Building a NMD will ignite an expensive arms race. The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty provides increased security at a lower level of potential destruction.

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