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Should George Bush Press Ahead with his Plans for National Missile Defence?

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Should George Bush Press Ahead with his Plans for National Missile Defence? When, on the 11th September 2001, the USA was struck by the worst single act of terrorism of all time, many thought a shift of foreign policy adopted by the sole superpower was imminent. Indeed, for a short time, the USA focussed on finding and 'bringing to justice' the terrorist organisation Al Q'aida. Yet shortly after this, connections were made between the terrorists and certain nation states, which had been long time foes, or at least not allies, of the USA. This is shown clearly by George W. Bush's 'State of the Union' address in 2001, in which he identifies an "Axis of Evil"1 of Iraq, Iran and North Korea. From this, it can be seen that the USA perceives its primary adversaries as not the old rivals of the USSR and China, but of smaller, 'rogue' states. Given the extent to which weapons of mass destruction (WMD) are spread over the globe and that the means of delivering them, notably Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM), seem more widely available than ever, it is no wonder that the debate over National Missile Defence (NMD) has once again been brought to the fore. The basic theory of George W. Bush's plans for NMD is that a number of sensors placed around the globe could detect a launch of a missile. These may be land, sea or space-based, and allow for 'interceptors', also at various points, to be deployed to strike the missile, destroying it. ...read more.


This resulted in both sides having more than enough nuclear weapons to totally obliterate the other many times over. Added to this the fact than a strike by either would still allow the other to respond by launching its own missiles, created a situation of 'mutually assured destruction' (MAD)12. This is the basic principle of deterrence, that no one state would launch missiles at another state with comparable capability, as this would result in both sides being destroyed. This situation during the 'Cold War' was locked in by the signing of treaties. The most relevant of these is the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972, to the extent that President Clinton called the treaty, "a cornerstone of stability"13. This act forbade either the USA or USSR from developing defensive systems to counter a missile attack. The logic being that if, for example, the USSR could defend itself from a counter-strike by the USA, thus throwing MAD out of the window, it would be more likely to attack the USA first. This principle is what many credit for the prevention of a third world war between the superpowers. 'Deterrence theory' dominated the thinking of USA foreign policy so much, that even after the end of the 'Cold War' it was still held by many to be the best option, "Deterrence worked throughout the cold war, it continues to work now, it will work well into the future"14. Yet this is not the case. Deterrence did work in the 'Cold War', but that was a specific situation and it does not necessarily follow that the same applies to a post-Cold War era. ...read more.


The potential threat from 'rogue' states, as acknowledged by most experts in the field, is a serious one and will only gain in severity over time. It has also been shown that, while previous plans for a form of NMD or SDI were unavailable due to the constraints of the ABM Treaty (1972), they were also held back by the costs involved. These costs have diminished since the end of the Cold War, and thus not only is NMD still a viable course of action, it is now more practicable then ever before. This piece has also attempted to show how the policies of the superpowers during the Cold War, namely deterrence, are no longer applicable to current security concerns. That the threat posed by 'rogue' states does not conform to the situations that allow deterrence to be successful. The USA will continue to act, or desire to act, in many regions of the world; this can be seen clearly. Given this, it has been shown how the need for NMD is crucial for the USA to retain its ability to do so, without threatening the lives of its citizens at home. Finally, it has been seen how one of the key arguments against NMD; that it will increase weapons proliferation, is inadequate. Proliferation existed throughout the Cold War and has accelerated since its end. The deployment of NMD will not stop proliferation of weapons, but neither will the status quo. Therefore for the reasons given, it can be seen why George Bush is right to press ahead with a National Missile Defence initiative. ...read more.

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