Many of us have lived with the threat of nuclear annihilation for all of our lives. We go on with life partly because there is nothing we can do about it, and partly because for a variety of reasons, we believe the likelihood of such an event to be relatively remote.
Sometimes we believe that various missile shields might be effective — or at least effective enough to provide further discouragement for an enemy to attack. But how realistic is that belief?
Top generals have been insisting for years that if North Korea launched a missile at the United States, the U.S military would be able to shoot it down.
But that is a highly questionable assertion, according to independent scientists and government investigators.
In making it, the generals fail to acknowledge huge questions about the effectiveness of the $40 billion missile defense system they rely on to stop a potential nuclear-armed ballistic missile fired by North Korean or Iran, according to a series of outside reviews.
This is just the sort of thing that we average citizens cannot evaluate. We don't know much about the technology of North Korean missiles, or missiles in general, and we certainly know little about how anti-missiles work.
This gentlemen, given his qualifications, likely does, however.
“They are leading political leaders to believe that they have a military capability that they don't, in fact, have,” says physicist David Wright, who has studied the program for years as co-director of the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
This appears to be a very ambitious project, once where the margin for error is nil.
The missile defense system relies on 60-foot-tall, three-stage rockets of its own to knock the enemy projectiles out of space, a task that has been compared to shooting a bullet with a bullet. The system is known as the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, or GMD.
There are 36 interceptors in operation, according to the Missile Defense Agency — four at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and 32 at Ft. Greely, Alaska. Eight more are due online by year's end. In contrast to the Iron Dome system in Israel, which is designed to counter shorter range missiles and artillery, the GMD is made to hit missiles above the earth's atmosphere — a more difficult proposition. It is among the heirs to the Strategic Defense Initiative, the so-called Star Wars program launched under Ronald Reagan.
Here is where the concern gets heightened.
Last year, the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, concluded that the agency that runs the missile defense system “has not demonstrated through flight testing that it can defend the U.S. homeland.”
In nine simulated attacks since the system was deployed in 2004, interceptors have failed to take out their targets six times, even though the flight tests were far less challenging than an actual attack, according to The Los Angeles Times, which published an investigation of the missile defense system last year that uncovered a previously unknown test failure.
“Despite years of tinkering and vows to fix technical shortcomings, the system's performance has gotten worse, not better,” The Times concluded.
Nuclear powers that are potential adversaries such as Russia and China are presumed to be “rational actors” — nations led be people who understand that a nuclear war is unwinnable and who, thus, would not launch unless first attacked. As long as everyone with nuclear weapons has that belief, the risk of nuclear war is reduced.
North Korea is thought to be an exception, led by an unstable maniac who might just decide to lob non-conventional weapons at potential adversaries such as Japan, South Korea, or the U.S. While the U.S. might be out of range right now, it is reasonable to assume that North Korea is working diligently to correct that shortcoming.
The question that troubles not only the U.S., but other nations in the vicinity of North Korea, is what the U.S. is planning to do about it?