Hit a bullet, every time

The Globe and Mail, 03 June 2017

It’s a genuine feat to intercept a bullet with a bullet, which is what the Pentagon says it managed to do with this week’s successful missile defence test (Pentagon Successfully Tests ICBM Defence System For First Time, May 31).

Just don’t confuse that with protection from a North Korean missile attack.

The Pentagon still is not close to reliably intercepting missiles under anything approaching realistic conditions (for example, with active counter measures engaged). The problem is, any defence against nuclear attack with less than a 100-per-cent success rate amounts to catastrophic failure.

Even a missile defence system that reliably performed at a 90-per-cent success level would cede all the advantage to the attacker.

Once North Korea manages to mount a warhead on an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the continental U.S. (something that isn’t imminent but is likely in the absence of any agreement to end its nuclear program), it faces the relatively simpler challenge of building enough such missiles to stay just ahead of a necessarily less than perfect American missile defence system.

North Korea is already doing that in response to the regional missile defence system (THAAD) the U.S. has now deployed in South Korea, as Pyongyang practises regular and multiple firings of tried and true Scud missiles – of which it can build as many as it thinks it needs to overwhelm the defence.

The real accomplishment of missile defence is to create powerful incentives to accumulate ever larger inventories of offensive missiles.

Ernie Regehr, senior fellow, Simons Foundation; research fellow, Centre for Peace Advancement, Conrad Grebel University College

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