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Ivo H. Daalder
Ivo H. Daalder
The Brookings Institution Web Site
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Missile Defense:
An Argument Against

With Ivo H. Daalder
Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy Studies,
The Brookings Institution

Wednesday, May 2, 2001; 2 p.m. EDT

President Bush called Tuesday for a missile defense system to help protect the United States and its allies against smaller countries with chemical weapons. The president said that it was time to cancel the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia. "We need a new framework that allows us to counter the different threats of today's world," the president said.

Ivo H. Daalder, senior fellow for foreign policy studies at The Brookings Institution, will be online Wednesday, May 2, at 2 p.m. EDT, to discuss the arguments against the president's plan.

"A limited national missile defense targeted against rogue states makes sense if it can be made to work," Daalder said in a recent op ed piece. "But a unilateral withdrawal would severely damage American interests abroad."

Below is a transcript.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

Ivo H. Daalder: Good afternoon. I am Ivo Daalder, with the Brookings Institution here in Washington. I am glad to be here to discuss the missile defense issue with you all

Galveston, Tex.: How will China and North & South Korea respond to the emphasis in the President's speech on working with Russia on developing a new cooperative relationship? China was only mentioned once in the speech. South Korea asked the President to continue negotiations with the North on stopping missile development and sales, he declined, but wants missile defenses because of the rogue nation
Jean c. Willis

Ivo H. Daalder: Jean, this is a very good and interesting question. It was indeed very noticeable, was it not, that the president only mentioned China once, in an off-hand sort of way, even while he went out of his way to say very nice and encouraging things about Russia. My sense is that there are many people in the administration -- the president perhaps being among them -- who believe that missile defense are necessary first and foremost to counter what they see as the growing Chinese threat. There are clear indications that this is the way the Pentagon is viewing the world, and focusing missile defenses on China only underscores that.

On North Korea, you are also right. It is a shame that the administration has decided, at least for now, not to pursue the very promising negotiations that the Clinton administration had with Pyongyang on ending its missile program and exports. If engagement with the North offers the prospect to get a handle on this threat, then we should surely do that. It may be that even under those circumstances we would want to build defenses -- but to do so without trying to address the threat diplomatically does not make much sense to me.

D.C.: If you're anti-missile defense, then are you pro-Russian?

Ivo H. Daalder: I don't see the connection between the two. Is president Bush pro-Russian by having suggested that we not build a defense system that threatens Russia's nuclear deterrent? You may have noticed that Bush did not say that he wanted to replace mutual assured destruction -- only to end complete reliance on it for our security. In fact, I would argue that you can support limited defensive deployments (as I do) and still want to have a cooperative and supportive relationship with Russia (as I want as well).

Cleveland Park, D.C.: Is there a well-reasoned justification for pulling out of the ABM treaty and pursuing the "shield" defense? It seems to me that it can only be explained by a mixture of cynicism (windfalls for defense contractors, a veneer of "strength" for the new administration's foreign policy at the expense of actual security) and naivete (the dubious proposition that a "rogue" state would attack the U.S. with easily traced missiles, thereby inviting a sure and total retaliation). This plus the well-documented unworkability of the missile defense technology seems to make it a remarkably bad policy, and one that, by alienating our allies and instigating a new form of arms race, makes the world a more dangerous place. Am I missing something?

Ivo H. Daalder: The justification for pulling out of the treaty is that it prohibits the US from conducting the kinds of research, development, and testing on missile defense technologies to determine which one's could work and thus can be deployed. My problem is that we are not at the stage of research yet where we bump up to the treaty limits -- and when we are at that point, I would want to see the administration work with Russia to see whether and how the treaty could be amended in ways that allow the development and testing of missile defenses and components and yet retains the main features of the treaty -- strict limitations on defensive deployments and full transparency of actions to enhance predictability and mutual trust. Despite the nice rhetoric in yesterday's speech, I had the strong sense that Bush was more interested in junking the treaty than trying to work out a mutually acceptable way forward on the issue.

Fairfax, Va.: Mr Daalder
I asked the following question of David Tanks, a Missile Defense supporter, on an earlier on-line discussion.

This is a quote from the U.K., paper The Guardian:
" Rumsfeld's missiles, however smart, cannot stop an anthrax attack on the New York subway or the detonation in say, Austin, Texas, of a portable, low-yield "mini-nuke" of the kind favoured by US defence scientists and coveted by Iraq. So why do he and Dubya want them so?"

His response was:
"... Doing nothing about missile defense because there are other means of delivery of these weapons is comparable to not searching for a cure for cancer because we could still die of heart attack..."
I wondered if you would like to answer the same question and/or comment on Mr Tanks response.

Ivo H. Daalder: On this I guess I side with Mr. Tanks. Just because there are many ways in which the United States can be attacked does not mean that we should not try to defend ourselves against some ways if we have the capability to do so. But I would add that there are, of course, opportunity costs to going ahead with defenses -- especially in the full-bore way that Bush announced yesterday -- which means that we may have less money available for intelligence, diplomacy, and other defensive activities to try to prevent these other ways of attack.

Park Point, Minn..: Ivo Dalder: Is President Bush supporting a missile defense umbrella or the eequivalentof a Mary Poppins parasol? Are we protecting ourselves from 'rogue states' (love that phrase; takes one to know one?)with leaky 'protective gear'?

If I were a rogue state and not invited under the 'parasol', so to speak, I would probably immediately, build a better, bigger defense ... or if not that become offensive and slay Mary Poppins or whomever is huddled under the umbrella?

My point being , are we creating disaster and a climate of fear without the benefit of a working or workable missile system ...thus creating a greater disaster...or paraphrasing Pogo,"have we found an enemy and he is us?"...

Ivo H. Daalder: I think of Mary Poppins as a safe, cuddly person who offers good protection -- so I am not sure she or her parasol are the right analogy! But I get your point -- and it makes a lot of sense. The president has basically announced that he wants to tear apart the very cooperative edifice that we have built up the past 30-plus years to manage the nuclear weapons issue and to do so to enable the deployment of defensive technologies that still need to be proven to work. I would much rather have seen him announce a research program that dedicated itself to figuring out which defensive systems might work, and to commit the United States to working with our allies, Russia, China, and others to devising a way forward on the issue BEFORE dumping the ABM Treaty and the arms control framework that comes with it. The intent of the speech, it seems, was less to set out such a framework than to junk the treaty. That is not the right message to send.

Arlington, Va.: In the pro-missile defense discussion, the expert referred to Russia & China's "declared policies" as those which "work towards the establishment of a multipolar international structure."

Why does this administration believe that only the U.S. can possess power (i.e., why is the creation of a multipolar world a zero-sum game whereby as other nations gain international influence the US loses it)? Is this a throw-back to the Cold War? Also, how, if at all, has Russia/U.S.S.R. previously breached the ABM Treaty?

Ivo H. Daalder: There is little doubt that whereas the United States tries to maintain its power in world affairs, China, Russia and others aim to increase their relative power as a means of balancing America's overwhelming weight in world affairs. That is the natural way of international politics -- and I see nothing nefarious in that kind of behavior. It is, however, in our interest to exercise our power in ways that minimizes the incentives of others -- be it China, Russia, or our allies -- to seek to balance our power. That requires both deftness of touch and a willingness to cconsiderthe perspectives of others. I fear that the administration on this issue -- as on so many others -- seems to be unwilling to consider the views of others on this issue. For can there be any doubt that a China will read the president's words as an indirect threat to its interests -- or at the least its deterrent? And what is Russia to think when the President of the United States declares that a solemn international undertaking -- the ABM Treaty -- is no longer "in our interests or the interests of world peace"? Will it accept the notion that Washington can define the "interests of world peace" all by itself -- and do so while announcing it will abandon a core piece of international law?

Annandale, Va.: Isn't this missle defense thing just another Pentagon boondoggle or a jobs program for defense contractors? In the U.S. we have 43 million people with no health insurance and 10 million kids living below the poverty line. Don't you agree that the missile defense system won't work, is a tremendous waste of money, and that we have more urgent public needs that have to be addressed in this country?

Ivo H. Daalder: There can be little doubt that this country spends on awful lot on defense -- including, in the coming years, an awful lot more on missile defenses. And there are many dire needs in our society. At the same time, we are a rich country, and we should be able to provide BOTH for the common defense and to meet the needs of our people. I would not place a high priority on cutting the taxes of those that already have a lot, and would try to meet our societal needs and world responsibilities instead. In order to determine whether limited defenses can work, it is worth to spend some significant money -- especially since, if deployed in the right way, they could do some good.

New York, N.Y.: Do you think Bush is trying to start a war just like Pops?

Ivo H. Daalder: No. I think he sincerely believes that missile defenses are the best way to respond to the threats out in the world. To my mind, he's overestimating the threat and underestimating the difficulty of defending against it. That may make him misguided, but not a warmonger.

Hillsboro, N.M.: Will space-based defense require nuclear powered lasers?

Can a missile defense be designed to intercept MIRVed missiles and off-shore submarine launched mmissiles

Ivo H. Daalder: Interestingly enough, the president did not talk about space-based weapons -- be it lasers or any other kind. That suggests he realizes these kinds of systems are still a decade or two down the road.

The best way to deal with MIRVed missiles would be to attack them in the boost phase, when all the warheads are still on the booster. That would require the defense to be either forward deployed (near the launchsite) or in space (which won't happen). Submarine-launched missiles could be attacked in the midcourse, as the warheads travel through space, or as they reenter the atmosphere. We do not have the technology as yet to do either with any degree of confidence.

Alexandria, Va.: Here's my proposal.
Let's take the school voucher idea and apply it to national defense. If anyone thinks their tax dollars are being misspent on current programs, let's allow them to get a defense voucher and direct those monies to defense contractors pursuing weapons systems they think are more viable. Or perhaps on diplomacy, or the U.N.
What do you think about the proposal?

Ivo H. Daalder: I like the proposal in principle a lot -- but there is the problem of practicality. We don't have a pay-as-you-go government, where you only pay for the services you want. INstead, we elect presidents and and congresses to make these decisions for us. If you don't like the way your money is being spend, I am afraid the best you can do is mobilize opposition to those in government who are making decisions -- and ultimately voting them out of office.

Omaha, Neb.: I don't understand how our government can contemplate putting so many eggs in one basket when any big system is bound to be vulnerable to inexpensive counter-strategies.

As we've seen, a lone spy like Hanssen can compromise a zillion-dollar tunnel, a tiny boat can destroy a U.S. warship, an Exocet missile can sink the British Navy's finest, and an aerial mishap near China can expose our prized eavesdropping technology.

The Chinese seem to have learned this lesson, because they're developing plans to attack the Achilles heel of any missile defense, such as the radar installations. What's more, if we defend against missiles, enemies could deliver bombs by other means.

What gives?

Ivo H. Daalder: I agree that it would be irresponsible to put all our eggs in the missile defense basket. Bush announced that he favored a broad strategy to tackle the new threat of weapons proliferation -- one that emphasized nonproliferation, counterproliferation, as well as defenses. He's right. Trouble is, that is all he said about the strategy; the rest of the speech was all about defense. But defenses cannot substitute for an effective non-proliferation strategy, which must emphasize prevention (though export controls, regional security commitments, and arms control regimes); rollback of programs that have been developed (through intense diplomacy and a mixture of economic and political incentives); and management of the consequences of proliferation (by better protecting our forces, holding open the possibility of pre-emption, and, yes, active defenses)

Alexandria, Va.: Re: China - It's worth noting that the proposed anti-missile shield wouldn't make a bit of difference in our defense of Taiwan. I'm still trying to figure out why such a shield makes sense in the post-M.A.D. world.

Ivo H. Daalder: The aadministrationwould argue that if China could launch missiles at the United States, our knowledge of that would deter us from helping to defend Taiwan in case of a Chinese attack. I don't buy that argument for two reasons. First, while China could launch a limited strike against the US, we would always be in a position to retaliate with much greater force -- something that Beijing both knows and cannot discount. Second, if we had defenses, we could never be certain that they worked and a president would be far more influenced by the possibility that they would not work than the possibility that they would. The consequences of getting it wrong are just too large. In other words, both the absence and the presence of defenses is likely to be less consequential than its advocates claim.

Alta Loma, Calif.: It seems every country around the globe wants peace. North and South Koreans want to unite and have peace. Millions of Chinese people on mainland China and Taiwan visit each other every. The independent driven people on Taiwan take only about 15 percent of the population. The European wants peace with Russia, yet we treat RRussiaas an enemy.

Yet, we America, the only superpower, told the South Korea that North Korea is an enemy. We are making it more difficult for Taiwan and China to come together. We always talking about war, about weapons, about enemies. We have a war plan against China and want to carry it out. Is this in our best national interests?

Ivo H. Daalder: I have no doubt that we want peace as well. The question is how do we get it. I agree that a policy that is much less unilateral and much more open to the views of others, while more complicated, may well be more effective than the kind of unilateralist bluster we have heard in recent weeks coming out of Washington. Yes, we should support Seoul in its efforts to end the conflict with the north. Yes, we should encourage Beijing and Taipei to reconcile peacefully. Yes, we should engage with Europe and the Russians.

Galveston, Tex.: I've heard all my life about how silly it was to have so many nuclear weapons when only a few hundred are required. Lately I've read some books emphasizing the importance of nuclear superiority regardless of overkill as a way to strengthen alliances and negotiate from "strength" on all kinds of non-nuclear issues. It seems to be a fairly well accepted concept.

Do you think a missile shield might help give us more freedom and credibility with alliance partners to act in a regional and limited way such as Desert Storm?

Ivo H. Daalder: The fundamental, revolutionary development of nuclear weapons has not changed in recent years. Notions of nnuclearsuperiority and "winning nuclear wars" have been bandied about for years, but have no more validity now than in the past.

But your second point goes to the heart of the administration's case. The president argued that if Iraq had had long-range missiles capable of attacking our allies or us in 1991 we might not have intervened. Really? Iraq had chemical weapons -- and it had used them. It had biological weapons and it had demonstrated an interest in nuclear weapons (remember, the Israelis bombed their reactor in 1981). Yet, even though we knew Saddam could attack our troops and we suspected he could terrorize our population with a bio weapon, we went to war. We tthreatenedhim with "grave consequences" and we went to war. He did not use his weapons, and we kicked his forces out of Kuwait. The interests at stake were worth the risks in the mind of the president and, ultimately, in the mind of the American people. I have no doubt that the same would be true in the future.

Frankfort, Ky.: Sir, is it possible, that this tough talk is just Bush's negotiating strategy. Consider the recent incident with the downed spy-plane and the budget battle. Bush seems to hold out until the very last minute, and then compromise. Do you think Russia and China will play that game?

Ivo H. Daalder: This is a very fair question -- and the proof is still outstanding. It IS possible that what Bush is trying to do is make clear his stance to get the best possible deal down the road. But what would such a deal look like, and what would we be willing to give up to get it. From all appearances we are only seeking a deal by which the allies and Russia sign up to our concept -- and if they don't, tough. We will go ahead anyway. But you may be right, and Bush will surprise us down the road and settle for something less than he now seeks.

Fairfax, Va.: I know that it is probably a foregone conclusion that Blair will kowtow to Bush over Missile defence. What if the U.K., instead, bows to European pressure, and does not allow for the necessary early-warning radar detectors to be put in place/ upgraded in, specifically, the U.S. satellite tracking base at Fylingdales in North Yorkshire. Wouldn't this leave a hole in the strategy?

Ivo H. Daalder: I am not yet persuaded that Blair will kow tow. He's got an election next month, so now is hardly the time to antagonize Washington. But if it becomes clear that Bush is intend on going his own way, to wreck relations with Russia, to unilaterally abandon yet one more treaty, than that cannot leave a Labor government in Britain cold. So it is possible -- not likely -- that London will refuse the U.S. request to upgrade the radar. And that would be a problem, at least in the short term, for any defense against missiles from the Middle East -- making it much more difficult to engage their warheads in the mid-course or terminal phases of their flight.

Los Alamos, N.M.: In the pro-missile chat, David Tanks wrote:
"I think you are looking at 4-5 years from decision to initial capability. It will require 10 years from a good capability. One concern is that the threat is growing faster than we will be able to respond to it."

Do you agree with this? If so, doesn't it make sense to develop as much of our capability as possible in conformity with the ABM Treaty, and then announce we plan to seek revisions to allow continued development? Since we don't have the technology yet, shouldn't we seek to negotiate revisions to the Treaty incrementally? Did Bush consult with the Senate on scrapping this policy?

As a matter of credibility, international law, diplomacy, game theory, negotiation, as well as strategic and tactical thinking, Bush seems to be way off the mark here. Who the hell is leading this hapless initiative? Where can we find a list of the players involved? How do we stop it? Come to think of it, would you also care to comment on the inevitable opposition to this initiative in this country and the perceived weakness it will generate internationally?

Ivo H. Daalder: I agree completely, and that is why I am so troubled by the speech. There is very little that we cannot do today to investigate defensive technologies within the confines of the ABM Treaty. This will remain the case for years to come. And yet, the only concrete thing Bush did yesterday was to declare that treaty did. It is as if that was the whole reason for the speech. That also should be not too surprising, since Bush has surroundehimselflf with people who are united in their opposition to the treaty. They wanted to kill it in the 1980s and failed. They wanted to kill it during Bush I and failed. And now they want to kill it and succeed.

Fairfax: Wouldn't the pursuit of a missile defense hasten the Chinese development of a full nuclear triad (ICBM, sea-based, and bomber-based) because the Chinese would see that their nuclear forces which currently consist of only ICBMs as being neutralized by a missile defense? Wouldn't this then, ironically, increase our vulnerability rather than decrease it?

Ivo H. Daalder: The big problem with defenses is that they exact a reaction in the form of greater offenses unless there is some real certainty that the defenses aren't aimed at those offenses. That is the basis of the ABM Treaty -- and explicit agreement to restrict defenses was meant to prevent the US and USSR from continuing to build up their offensive weapons. It gave both sides some predictability. That might well be lost in the US-China relationship if we build defenses that China believes are aimed at denying it the ability to use its offensive forces.

Ivo H. Daalder: Thank you all for asking such terrific questions. It has been a pleasure being with you this afternoon and I hope we can do this again sometime soon.

Ivo Daalder


That was our last question today. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.

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