Physics of Folly 

Why a missile-defense system can never work

Wednesday, Jun 27 2001

Page 3 of 3

Well, a laser on an airplane has some potential to shoot down an ICBM. Now there’s an important caveat there as well. It‘s not yet demonstrated that lasers have the power or beam quality that would make it effective. And maybe they will. On the other hand, a laser can only destroy a rocket in powered flight, which means that it will target the booster, leaving the warhead or biological payload or whatever else is in there to fall to Earth before it gets here. That would mean a WMD [Weapons of Mass Destruction] payload falling somewhere else, like in Canada. And that might bother the Canadians.

So lasers or other systems, even if effective, wouldn’t solve all the ancillary problems of missile defense: no protection against short-range missiles; no protection for allies; and the slippery slope of arms escalation and even militarizing space.

Right. The question always should be: What do you get in relation to the cost? And, with missile defense -- at least all forms of missile defense that will be available for the foreseeable future -- the answer is: not a lot. My own view is that it is important to analyze these things in a comprehensive way, as opposed to dismissing them out of hand. Because there‘s people out there selling noodles, as the Israelis would say. And the systems sometimes have some merit, but they get oversold -- way oversold in the case of what’s on the table today. Missile defense has been completely politicized.

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It‘s not only politicized, but it has become quite vitriolic.

Oh yeah. I had one guy threaten to attack me. A guy who works for Thad Cochran [Mississippi’s Republican senator, who is an ardent supporter of missile defense] wanted to have a fistfight with me. It was in London, and I was sure he was going to hit me, but a bunch of British officers fell on him just before he got to me.

Maybe you need a Congressional Staffer Defense System.

Right. Well, that‘s the mindset of some of these guys.

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