National Missile Defense

Noam Chomsky


into account the results of the recent test, should President Clinton ask the

Pentagon to go ahead with the national missile defense system?


would prefer to respond to a slight reformulation of the question. The most

hopeful prospect for the NMD [National Missile Defense], I think, is that the

tests fail; and very clearly, because in the domain of nuclear strategy,

appearance is likely to be interpreted as reality, for familiar reasons. If a

system is developed that seems feasible, China will respond by strengthening its

deterrent, which will impel India to do the same, and Pakistan, and . . .


to press reports, a new National Intelligence Estimate predicts that NMD

deployment will trigger buildup of nuclear-armed missiles by China, India, and

Pakistan, with a further spread into the Middle East. Russia will assume that

such a system can be quickly upgraded and will therefore also regard it as a

first-strike threat. As many have observed, Russia’s "only rational

response to the NMD system would be to maintain, and strengthen, the existing

Russian nuclear force" (Michael Byers), undermining hopes for nuclear



president of the Stimson Center, Michael Krepon, comments that the difference

between Russian and U.S. stockpiles is so great that "the Russians are

looking at a U.S. breakout level" and will be likely to react accordingly.

U.S. negotiators have encouraged Russia to adopt a launch-on-warning strategy to

alleviate their concerns and to induce them to accept the NMD and revision of

the ABM treaty, a proposal that is "pretty bizarre," one expert

commented, because "we know their warning system is full of holes"

(John Steinbruner). At the UN [United Nations] conference on the

Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in May, there was broad condemnation of the NMD on

the grounds that it would undermine decades of arms control agreements and

provoke a new weapons race.


threat to the United States, and the world, seems clear and intolerably high.

Global concerns are not alleviated by other U.S. stands. Last November the

United States blocked a UN General Assembly resolution opposing space-based

weapons. It passed 138-0, with the United States and Israel alone abstaining. It

was recently announced that the United States is renovating more than 6,000

nuclear warheads, almost double what it is allowed to deploy under Start II,

rejecting Russian initiatives to reduce the number of warheads to 1,500 in

future talks. Currently the United States maintains a launch-on-warning posture

with the option of first-strike even against nonnuclear states that have signed

the NPT.


recent decisions are also surely regarded as ominous in most of the world: for

example, resumption of tritium production using civilian facilities for the

first time, breaching the barrier between civilian and military use — another

blow to the NPT. Few, including allies, take seriously the alleged concern about

"rogue states." Canadian military planners advised last November that

the goal of the NMD is "arguably more in order to preserve U.S./NATO

freedom of action than because U.S. really fears North Korean or Iranian

threat," according to briefing documents obtained under Canada’s Access to

Information Act. The best hope for the world seems to me unambiguous test




piece was first published on the American Prospect Online at www.prospect.org.

It was a contribution to an American Prospect symposium on the National

Missile Defense. 




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