The Phantom Defense: America’s Pursuit of the Star Wars Illusion

In the past four decades, the United States has spent $85 billion pursuing the fantasy of an effective missile defense system to shield our nation against the threat of a nuclear attack. Recent public tests, while less exotic than some of the original Star Wars proposals, were spectacular failures and call into question the whole program’s rationale. Neither the land-based system proposed by the Clinton administration, nor the alternatives proposed by earlier administrations, would ever work–regardless of how much R&D money is channeled into the project. Rather than enhancing national security, these doomed efforts would provoke a new arms race and alienate key allies. The authors apply their extensive insiders’ expertise to argue that thoughtful diplomacy is the only real answer to meet America’s national security goals.

Like President Reagan with his Star Wars program, President Bush has again made national missile defense (NMD) a national priority at a cost which may exceed $150 billion in the next ten years. Defense experts Eisendrath, Goodman, and Marsh contend that recent tests give little confidence that any of the systems under consideration–land-based, boost-phase, or laser-driven–have any chance of effective deployment within decades. The interests of the military-industrial complex and the unilateralist views of the Bush administration are driving NMD, not a desire to promote national security.

Rather than increase U.S. security, the plans of the current administration, if implemented, will erode it. NMD will heighten the threat from China and Russia, alienate key allies, and provoke a new arms race and the proliferation of nuclear weapons, all in response to a greatly exaggerated threat from so-called rogue states, such as North Korea and Iran. Thoughtful diplomacy, not a misguided foreign policy based on a hopeless dream of a Fortress America, is the real answer to meeting Americas security goals. Designed to stimulate interest and debate among the public and policy-makers, The Phantom Defense provides solid facts and combines scientific, geopolitical, historical, and strategic analysis to critique the delusion of national missile defense, while suggesting a more effective alternative.

CRAIG EISENDRATH is Senior Fellow with the Center for International Policy, a foreign policy institute in Washington, D.C., and a former U.S. Foreign Service Officer with expertise in nuclear and outer space issues. His articles and commentary on foreign affairs have appeared recently in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Baltimore Sun and other publications. He is the editor of National Insecurity: U.S. Intelligence After the Cold War (2000).

MELVIN A. GOODMAN is Professor of National Security at the National War College and Senior Fellow at the Center for International Policy. He is also an adjunct professor at American University and Johns Hopkins University. He was a senior Soviet analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency and the State Department from 1966 to 1986. He has authored three books on Russian foreign policy and is editor of Lessons Learned: The Cold War (2001).

GERALD E. MARSH, a physicist at Argonne National Laboratory, was a consultant to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations on strategic nuclear policy and technology for many years. He also served with the U.S. START delegation in Geneva and is on the editorial board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and has published widely in the areas of weapons technology and foreign policy.

From Publishers Weekly

The authors (Eisendrath and Goodman are senior fellows with the Center for International Policy in Washington, D.C.; Marsh is a physicist at Argonne National Laboratory) present a sound indictment of the missile defense plans of the Bush administration. The thesis of this compressed, not overly technical book is that effective defense against incoming ballistic missiles is impossible given the current state of technology. Countermeasures (camouflaging the real warhead, decoys) against a defensive system can be devised by an attacking state at low cost, so the defensive system cannot reliably distinguish real from sham targets. The authors see no point in pouring $100 billion or more into a system so fraught with technical difficulty and so vulnerable to unsophisticated countermeasures. If national missile defense is the “phantom” of the book’s title, then why has it been pursued so intensively by the right wing of American politics? For the authors, the answer lies in the alliance of defense contractors, who have benefited from the enormous sums spent on Star Wars initiatives since the Reagan years, with politicians on the right, who batten on campaign contributions from those contractors. The authors trace how pressure to portray missile defense as feasible has led to exaggeration of threats, rigged tests and suppression of inconvenient data. This book presents a partisan but powerful case, one that advocates of national missile defense will be called upon to rebut. The outcome of the debate matters, and not only because of the money at stake. If the authors here are correct, deploying even an ineffective missile defense will trigger a renewed arms race and jeopardize rather than enhance U.S. security.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

The authors, veterans of the military, the CIA, the U.S. Foreign Service, and Argonne National Laboratory, declare that “national security must take precedence over partisan and self-serving policies; national missile defense should be turned down in the national interest.” This brief, focused book explains this damning conclusion. Part 1 examines the history of “Star Wars,” the mythology that has been cultivated around the dream of a national missile defense (NMD) system, and the place of NMD in a larger unilateralist worldview gaining strength in Washington. Part 2 dissects the threat NMD is intended to meet, explains “why national missile defense won’t work,” and describes the flaws of newer, more exotic forms of NMD currently being proposed. Part 3 considers the geopolitical consequences of a unilateral U.S. effort to implement NMD and discusses the arms-control and policy alternatives. Testing possible NMD systems has already cost the nation billions of dollars; perhaps before we decide to implement this technology, voters and politicians need to consider the questions raised here.

Mary Carroll
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Other Reviews

“A timely and important study which critiques the Bush administration’s case for accelerating the development of a national missile defense (NMD). Its analysis and conclusions are certain to be central to understanding the emerging national security debate on the viability of such a system. In well-crafted chapters, the authors argue that the threat from rogue states is exaggerated, the diplomatic and political fallout underestimated, and the scientific challenges depreciated by groups who stand to benefit from lucrative government contracts. This comprehensive assessment of the NMD issue–informative and insightful–is essential reading for anyone interested in U.S. defense and foreign policy.”

-Alvin Z. Rubinstein Professor of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania

Hardcover: 216 pages
Publisher: Praeger; First Edition edition (August 30, 2001)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 027597183X
ISBN-13: 978-0275971830
Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 0.8 x 9.4 inches
Shipping Weight: 1 pounds


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