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Experts Debate Space-Based Missile Defense Assets

Illustration of an Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) in orbit.
By Jessica Taylor
UPI Correspondent
Washington (UPI) Jul 26, 2006
A new report claims U.S. anti-ballistic missile defenses must be deployed in space to be effective, but critics disagree. Several analysts say the study is based on false pretenses and the deployment of defense mechanisms into space is not in national security interests.

The Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, a Washington think tank, has issued a study saying the implementation of plans for space missile defense is critical for U.S. national security and an effective system against at least some intercontinental ballistic missiles from so-called rogue states should be in place no later than 2010.

"The absence of a space strategy is a gap in national security," said Robert Pfaltzgraff, president of the IFPA, during a roundtable on the new report hosted by the American Foreign Policy Council, a small conservative Washington think tank, last Friday on Capitol Hill. "Only space can give us a global missile defense."

The threat is even more immediate, many fear, following several missile tests on July 4 by North Korea. While their long range Taepodong-2 ICBM was unsuccessful, several short range No Dong missiles appeared to work effectively in the tests. One of North Korea's main exports is weapons, and Pfaltzgraff said the United States should be increasingly concerned that these short range missiles could end up in the hands of terrorists aiming to launch them from domestic shores.

The IFPA analysts claimed that U.S. ballistic missile defense must be revaluated in light of these developments. However, other analysts said the Bush administration has failed so far in adequately developing its BMD programs.

"This won't do anything for security and will blow the defense budget," said Craig Eisendrath, board chairman for the Project of Nuclear Awareness and a former State Department analyst who dealt with space and nuclear policy.

Similar criticisms were prevalent following President Ronald Reagan's proposal of a Strategic Defense Initiative, also known as "Star Wars," that originally conceptualized deploying nuclear missile defenses in space.

The suggestion was revived again under the current Bush administration with the idea of "Brilliant Pebbles."

"The idea was that a small satellite with good brain that would see enemy missiles and dash off after it, hit it and knock it down," said Philip Coyle, senior advisor at the Center for Defense Information.

However, this concept would have required multiple satellites, perhaps as many as 1,000, in orbit to be effective.

"You can't have one interceptor parked over North Korea," said Coyle. "You need another to take its place." Coyle also questioned the monetary feasibility of the program.

"It would be, by all measures, very expensive. And it's still problematic as to whether would work," Coyle said. "They've been projecting [costs] for at least 20 years and it doesn't seem to happen."

Pfaltzgraff said that U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2001 opened up additional options in the use of space-based weapons for missile defense. However, the Bush administration had not adequately explored these options and current U.S. missile defense policies remained virtually unchanged since the Clinton administration, he said.

"Bush will eventually be judged by what he does in the next two years" of his waning presidency, he said.

Eisendraft said U.S.withdrawal from the ABM treaty had been a negative move for the United States and that many of America's missile defense challenges today stemmed from that pullout.

Current ABM defense systems deployed in California and Alaska were inadequate, he said. Should a missile be launched, the 11 ground-based midcourse interceptors currently deployed would probably be unable to distinguish between an actual threat and a decoy.

The United States has also refused to join in a treaty banning the use of space for missile defense. China, Japan, and the European Union are all willing signatories, Eisendraft said, who helped draft the original treaty.

"This is crazy when the rest of the world is completely willing to sign on and kick the rest of this out," he said. "The United States is acting in a completely irresponsible manner." But the biggest factor in the push for space weaponry is corporate interests rather than economic and security sensibility, said Eisendraft.

"We're dealing with a situation not driven by security aspects but money," said Eisendraft. "Across the board, we're not dealing with anything that's looking promising" in the use of space."

Source: United Press International

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