The Anti-Missile Program:

Ineffective, Inexcusable, Immoral

By Sam Cohen

When President Nixon initiated his ABM development, it was conducted as a nuclear-tipped defensive warhead, the only rational way to cope with offensive nuclear attack. This system, known as SAFEGUARD, was deployed, but during a frenzy of nuclear arms control agreements, including ABM, it was dismantled. The very substantial amount of money, in the billions of dollars, was wasted, and the nation remained defenseless.

When President Reagan proudly announced the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), it was stressed that the system was to be non-nuclear. This was terribly wrong. Today, a quarter century later, we remain defenseless against nuclear ballistic attack, and the cost of these wasted endeavors has been staggering, on the order of $100 billion. There is nothing to show that we can be protected in the foreseeable future so long as we remain non-nuclear. Not only is this inexcusable, it is grossly immoral, considering that many millions of American lives are at stake.

Any rational American can recognize this horrible blunder by the U.S. government, but when nuclear explosives are involved U.S. rationality disappears. This may be the American psyche, but it is not the case for other countries that may threaten us. For example, Russia has deployed a massive ABM system with nuclear-tipped defensive missiles. The U.S. government long has recognized this but, for perverse political reasons, will not acknowledge this to the American people or the rest of the world. Another example of American anti-nuclear phobia.

When a nuclear warhead is hurtling toward an American city, only a few minutes separates the people of that city from death—quick death for some and slow, miserable deaths for others. This is three-fold more true today because Americans have no civil defense shelters and no civil defense training. Two-thirds of the resulting death and suffering could be prevented by civil defense even with no warning. Still, hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children would die from each effectively directed nuclear explosion.

If that warhead can be intercepted and destroyed during those few minutes, the people will be saved. Interception, however, of a tiny device traveling thousands of miles per hour, altering its trajectory evasively, and surrounded by dummy warheads configured to emulate it is difficult indeed. This is not a time for high-tech games. It is a time to destroy that warhead—without fail.

The only known reliable method to destroy the warhead is to quickly deliver a small nuclear bomb to a position near the incoming weapon and its decoys and explode that bomb. This occurs far away from the threatened city. It is not necessary to detect the warhead among its decoys or hit it with pinpoint accuracy, because the anti-warhead nuclear bomb destroys everything in a large volume surrounding it. Already, in the 1960s, American engineers were able to design, build, and deploy an anti-missile shield in this way.

Instead, however, with the same twisted anti-nuclear "logic" that ended American nuclear power plant construction, our engineers were ordered to take the nuclear tips off the anti-missile missiles and to design a system that detected the warhead, tracked it, and hit it dead on with a non-nuclear projectile.

It has turned out that, in carefully controlled tests, this can be done. It cannot, however, be done reliably. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. This is the sort of system currently being deployed as a few demonstration missiles by the U.S. government.

The people in that soon-to-be-destroyed city deserve more than a "sometimes" chance. They deserve a shield that is certain to work. For this reason, non-nuclear hit-to-kill strategic defense should not be America’s sole missile shield. Instead, we should have a nuclear-based defense that is certain to work.