Sign Up

NMD = Never Mind the Dispute

How do you sell a missile defense system to unwilling customers?

June 14, 2001

How do you sell a missile defense system to unwilling customers?

U.S. President George W. Bush is pushing for broader acceptance of his ideas on national missile defense. To some, the idea of a missile defense shield seems preposterous, too “sci-fi” anyway. Others think that U.S. safety concerns are for real — and put their trust in a laser-guided defense system that promises to eliminate every threat from missile attacks. This new Read My Lips feature examines the debate in the United States and the rest of the world.

Why does the present nuclear treaty system not provide enough international security?

“It prevents freedom-loving people from exploring the future.”

(George W. Bush, U.S. President, June 2001)

How do you see the future of arms control, President Putin?

“As soon as we pull out that axis, they whole of today’s international security structure will collapse.”

(Russian President Vladimir Putin, on a possible U.S. withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, March 2001)

Why does the United States need a missile defense shield anyway?

“The problem is simply that there are nations on earth who are developing these weapons that can threaten their neighbors — and can threaten us.”

(Colin Powell, U.S. Secretary of State, February 2001)

What does the U.S. defense industry think about NMD’s feasibility?

“I think you can see some capability as early as 2007 or 2008 starting to hit the field — and robust capability as early as 2010 or as late as 2015.”

(Hal Holes, Lockheed Martin director of regional and national missile defense programs, on the feasibility of NMD, April 2001)

What kind of technological challenge does NMD present to engineers?

“This is not a matter of cranking up assembly lines. It is, in fact, rocket science.”

(Senior U.S. military officer, February 2001)

Do the technological problems outweigh the benefit of NMD?

“It is not so much a technical question as a matter of a president’s constitutional responsibility. Indeed, it is in many respects a moral issue.”

(Donald H. Rumsfeld, U.S. Secretary of Defense, February 2001)

Surely, the country needs to be able to defend itself, does it not?

“Of course, the government ought to protect Americans from ‘rogue’ warheads — it probably ought to protect them from comets and asteroids, too.”

(Washington Post columnist Robert Kagan, May 2000)

What do the French think?

“Is the U.S. really threatened by two or three little states? We’re a bit puzzled by this so-called threat.”

(France’s Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine, May 2000)

Do other nations nations share their concerns? What about Russia?

“A cannon is not the best weapon to shoot at flies.”

(Dmitri Rogozin, chairman of the international relations committee of the Duma, May 2000)

Are there other voices in the U.S. business community?

“I’d be indicted if I misrepresented my company’s products to the public in the same way.”

(Alan Kligerman, CEO of Akpharma a U.S. pharmaceutical company, on his signing a letter protesting $60 billion spending on national missile defense, July 2000)

Will a missile defense system mean 100% protection?

“A system of defense need not be perfect — but the American people must not be left completely defenseless.”

(Donald H. Rumsfeld, U.S. Secretary of Defense, February 2001)

Is National Missile Defense really the answer?

“By focusing on the wrong problem, the Bush administration is heading toward the wrong solution.”

(Tom Collina, director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ global security program, June 2001)

What would be the alternatives?

“It is a lot easier to put a lid over North Korea than an umbrella over the United States and Eastern Pacific.”

(Richard Garwin, physicist and member of a Congressional Panel on missile defense, June 2000)

What is the view on missile defense in the U.S. political arena?

“It’s religion on Capitol Hill.”

(U.S. industry executive, June 2000)

How about the view of Democrats in the U.S. Congress?

“This isn’t going to defend anyone — except defending the interests of some defense contractors and lining their pockets.”

(Dennis Kucinich, Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives, June 2000)

What does Japan say about missile defense?

“Japan and Europe must tell the United States, ‘don’t do too much’.”

(Makiko Tanaka, Japan’s Foreign Minister, proposing that the United States counter Chinese economic and military threats with wisdom rather than military power, June 2001)

How important is NMD to the U.S. defense industry?

“These companies are desperate for cash, and they view this system as their meal ticket — not for this year or next year, but for the next generation.”

(William Hartung, arms control expert at the World Policy Institute, June 2000)

What then is China’s view?

“Once the United States believes it has both a strong spear and a strong shield, it could lead them to conclude that nobody can harm the United States — and they can harm anyone they like anywhere in the world.”

(Chinese official Sha Zukang, April 2001)

How would global security be challenged?

“We are opposed to the national missile defense system because it destroys the global strategic balance — and upsets international stability.”

(Sun Yuxi, China’s foreign ministry spokesman, May 2001)

But is the old order as secure as some say?

“The ABM treaty is an artifact of a different period of time. It was designed to prevent national missile defense. It is not clear to me how you get around that. It is a new world.”

(Condoleezza Rice, U.S. National Security Advisor, May 2000)

How did the NMD project get started anyway?

“If I’m elected, I will defend the American people against missiles and terror. And I will begin creating the military of the next century.”

(Then-Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush, September 1999)

Finally, what else could the United States spend its money on?

As of 1998, 29% of the nation’s bridges were structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. In addition, there are more than 2,100 unsafe dams in the United States.

(American Society of Civil Engineers)