Missile Defense Comes of Age

By Daniel McGroarty
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Not everyone is embracing the new defense realities. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists -- which maintains a 100 percent success rate in knocking down every pro-missile defense argument -- is officially unimpressed by Iron Dome. Among its reasons: Iron Dome's operators haven't been transparent, just like Raytheon's Patriot missile developers during Desert Storm in 1991; Patriot's Desert Storm hit-rate proved to be exaggerated; ergo Iron Dome's hit-rate will prove equally dubious. As syllogisms go, it's more Alfred E. Newman than Aristotle.

Next comes the Bulletin's scorn for the "high cost" of operating Iron Dome, which -- at a cost of $50,000 per interceptor rocket -- ran up a tab in the "latest conflict ... between $25 million and $30 million." Sounds like a lot of money to take down 400 rockets. And yet in the pre-Dome days of 2006, when Hezbollah rained down rockets from installations in southern Lebanon, the cost to Israel in terms of damage and lost economic activity was estimated at $3.5 billion.

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Then there's the human cost. In 2006, Israel recorded 43 civilian deaths and more than 1,000 injuries from rocket fire. Last month, with Iron Dome in place, the death toll was five, with several dozen injured. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists may tut-tut at the cost per Iron Dome missile, but Israel's public officials may find the cost-benefit in terms of civilian lives saved worth the investment.

MAD diehards will point out the difference between shooting down rockets and hitting ballistic missiles in flight, but it will be hard to redeploy the MAD doctrine on this slippery slope, arguing that missile defense is acceptable against little threats but not more lethal ones. Old arguments that less-than-perfect missile defenses deter less than the no-defense theory of Mutual Assured Destruction are falling to the practical value of blunting even some of the missiles showered down on apartment buildings, schools and shopping malls.

But the surest sign that the war on missile defense is over comes from the Obama administration -- direct descendant of Ted Kennedy's Star Wars school of Anti-Anti-Missile Defense -- now waxing Reagan-esque in lauding its funding for Iron Dome, and providing American Patriots for Japan and Turkey. In a world where more and more regimes loose rockets against civilian populations and pursue ballistic missile capabilities, fewer and fewer are persuaded that if you can't stop every missile fired against you, why bother trying to stop any at all? That's a logic that works better from the comfort of a tenured chair at an elite university than next door to Bashar al-Assad or Kim Jong-un, or from a home within rocket range of Gaza.

Increasingly, the civilians of the world and the governments who represent them have a choice: They can be shielded by the academic arguments of the anti-anti-missile crowd -- or by the less-than-perfect anti-missile technology of the day. The latter view seems to be increasingly popular within the Circular Error Probable of the rockets of Pyongyang, Damascus, Gaza and -- perhaps one day (too) soon -- Tehran.

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Daniel McGroarty, principal of Carmot Strategic Group, an issues management firm in Washington, D.C., served in senior positions in the White House and at the Department of Defense.
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