Contemporary Nuclear Debates: Missile Defenses, Arms Control, and Arms Races in the Twenty-First Century

By Krause, Merrick E. | Air & Space Power Journal, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

Contemporary Nuclear Debates: Missile Defenses, Arms Control, and Arms Races in the Twenty-First Century


Krause, Merrick E., Air & Space Power Journal


Contemporary Nuclear Debates: Missile Defenses, Arms Control, and Arms Races in the TwentyFirst Century edited by Alexander T. J. Lennon. MIT Press (http://www-mitpress.mit.edu), Five Cambridge Center, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02142-1493, 2002, 344 pages, $24.95 (softcover).

Who cares about nuclear missiles? They're so eighties. We won the Cold War. Terrorists, suitcase bombs, anthrax, radiological dirty bombs, and improvised explosive devices dominate the new strategic lexicon. We have to worry about terrorists now. Russia isn't going to attack; we're allies. China doesn't have a reason to do so; it's concentrating on economic reform and embracing capitalism, if not democracy. North Korea? Well, next year our new ground-based missile-defense system will reduce that threat. Right?

On the other hand, although the Cold War is over, thousands of nuclear weapons remain in the depots of several nations. With them lie the seeds for a new crop of deterrence, missile-defense, and arms-control pundits. That's where Contemporary Nuclear Debates comes in, filling the gap-let's call it the dialog gap-where advocates for post-Cold War missile defense, arms control, nuclear testing, and their opponents square off.

In reality, the stakes today are a bit different. Cold Warriors remember the air-raid drills in school and the threat of a "nuclear winter" or apocalyptic film and television fantasies like Dr. Strangelove and The Day After. Tomorrow's leaders will remember the twin towers coming down and terrorist-attack evacuations from school. Yet, the Cold War threats never really went away-they're just obscured behind the dust of the falling Wall, less likely to occur but potentially much worse if they do. Although terrorists remain the most likely threat, they aren't necessarily the only "worst case" scenario.

An anthology of essays, pro and con, Contemporary Nuclear Debates helps frame the current nuclear discussion, considering a number of pretty bad scenarios. Its contributors are well known in national security circles; some are or were high-ranking officials in the US government. The scope and breadth of its analyses make the book worthwhile reading. Its 25 essays fall into four parts: (1) "National Missile Defense: When and How?" (2) "Global Perceptions of Missile Defense," (3) "Do Arms Races Matter Anymore?" and (4) "Is Arms Control Dead?" Despite the book's publication date of 2002, the essays were obviously written earlier-some before withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in May 2002. Consequently, the inclusion of some anachronistic artifacts, such as debates over that treaty, are distracting.

Two essays are particularly striking. In "Toward Missile Defense from the Sea" by Dr. Hans Binnendijk and Dr. George Stewart, we learn that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld changed the missile-defense world in 2002, exchanging the "theater ballistic missile" and "national missile defense" nomenclature and substituting a new philosophy: we defend against a spectrum of missile threats with a multilayer missile defense. This spectrum includes prelaunch, boost, midcourse, and terminal stages.

The authors assert that sea-based defenses are better focused on the boost threat rather than the midcourse and terminal threats (p. 64). Furthermore, sea-based radar provides many advantages, not the least of which is the fact that it is not destabilizing (pp. 58-59). This discussion of missile defense and sea-based radar has importance to Airmen because the joint aspect of missile defense affects the Air Force tremendously.

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