For Our Elites, No Place for Missile Defense?

Writing recently in the Wall Street Journal, former cabinet secretaries Shultz, Perry, and Kissinger, along with former Senator Nunn, called for a reconfiguration of nuclear deterrence policies, arguing that in an age of nuclear proliferation the doctrine of “mutual assured destruction” (MAD) was obsolete. The doctrine has been the centerpiece of nuclear deterrence since the 1960s and was codified in the 1970s ABM Treaty. Even though the second President Bush withdrew from the treaty after 9/11, the MAD doctrine remains firmly in place.

Briefly, the doctrine of mutual assured destruction originally allowed the former USSR and the U.S. to arm themselves with nuclear weapons, provided they did not exceed certain limits. Purpose: to give each side enough weapons to destroy each other -- so that a “balance of terror” was effected, on the theory that neither side would be irrational enough to kill each other off.

To make it work, neither side was to provide for any direct defenses of its own population. Needless to say, the good old USA played it straight. No missile defense. The USSR was a bit more cagey.

That’s history now. But, with more than a dozen different nations now moving to arm themselves with nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, the idea of holding populations hostage to an aggressor’s weapons is even more irrational now than it was thirty years ago. The four authors of the essay seem to agree.

Or do they? They call for America retaining “a safe, secure, and reliable nuclear stockpile primarily to deter a nuclear attack [...].” (That's a good thing.)

But other than that, it appears about all the authors come up with in rounding out their suggestions to eliminate MAD is to strengthen international cooperation. Negotiations are needed, they say, to encourage nuclear-inclined proliferators to give up the notion -- presumably by adjudicating whatever regional gripes they have through some international regime, which is not specified. In fact, no specifics are given concerning “cooperation” or “negotiation,” including the call for a mutual U.S.-Russian “build-down” that the world -- presumably including China -- should follow.

To paraphrase Sherlock Holmes, one dog is not barking: missile defense. The irony here is that these national leaders who decry MAD as a relic of the Cold War are the very ones to keep MAD in play by denying the need for missile defense.

Some observations are in order.