Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

March 22, 2006

Are New Yorkers really worried about missile defense?

Filed under: Risk Assessment — by Christian Beckner on March 22, 2006

A group called the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance issued a press release yesterday touting a poll that claimed to show that 75% of residents of New York state supported the idea of a missile defense system. The president of the group, Riki Ellison, made this statement in response to the poll:

“These results show that New Yorkers strongly support a missile defense system as an important part of homeland security and public safety,” said Ellison, who founded MDAA in 2002. “It is clear that New Yorkers are aware of the threat and see missile defense as an additional solution along with diplomacy and international treaties to negate the proliferation of missiles that can carry weapons of mass destruction.”

But here’s the actual question that they asked:

Do you think the United States should or should not have a missile defense system with the ability to protect the United States from an attack by missiles that might contain nuclear, chemical or biological weapons? [WITH INTENSITY] And do you feel that way strongly or not?

This survey question is deeply flawed, in two key ways.

First, why the hell would anyone put biological weapons on a ballistic missile? That’s the most costly and least effective means that I can think of to carry out a biological attack. The biological material would probably be destroyed on impact. Chemical weapons aren’t much better. Basically, this threat is a nuclear one – and by throwing biological weapons and chemical weapons into the mix, the survey question misleadingly heightens the respondents’ fear of the threat.

Second, nowhere in the survey does it explain to the respondents about alternative means of delivery for nuclear, chemical or biological weapons….implying that delivery by missile is the most likely option. But nuclear weapons could enter the country via a seaborne cargo container or smuggled across a land border. Biological weapons could be smuggled into the United States in someone’s carry-on luggage. Both chemical and biological weapons can be manufactured domestically with varying levels of ease. By not presenting the people being surveyed with a full picture of the possible means of acquisition and delivery, the poll gives a false impression that this is the primary threat, which people (quite correctly) will want to stop.

There is a real missile threat to the United States, primarily from North Korea. But it needs to be carefully weighed against other threats to U.S. national security on the basis of threat, vulnerability, and consequence in a way that allows honest, risk-based decisions about homeland security and defense priorities.

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5 Comments »

423

Comment by C-Low

March 24, 2006 @ 11:32 am

“First, why the hell would anyone put biological weapons on a ballistic missile?”
I don’t know maybe because right now currently there is no effect defense to stop a ballistic missile once launched.
“The biological material would probably be destroyed on impact. Chemical weapons aren’t much better.”
Absolute false assumption. Below is proof even by a fellow arms control group of the short sightedness of your statement. China, Russia, have the capability by ballistic missile and I would see it highly likely that everyone else with ballistic missiles and Chem/Bio weapons would be working on getting such capability.
After all as long as people like yourself continue to demand we keep our absolute vulnerability to ballistic missiles it will be effective and worthy investment. If we can achieve a ballistic missile defense then our potential enemies will no longer see ballistic missiles and bio/chem as a worthy investment.
“Potential delivery vehicles include fighter aircraft, artillery, rockets, helicopters, short-range ballistic missiles, and cruise missiles. The former Soviet program planned to deliver certain agents, such as smallpox, anthrax, and plague, by ICBM. “
http://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/cbwprolif.asp
By the way the terrorist, cargo ship, conventional airplane, and ect delivery systems should also be planned for. However all of these are a lot more harder than a ballistic missile capability if by no other means than the fact of how close you must get with such. Ballistic missiles are launched from safe zones or stand off distances making strike easier and less risky.

424

Comment by Fred Smith

March 24, 2006 @ 12:55 pm

I would disagree with the author. There are any number of ways to deliver a whole host of nasty weapons. And we should find ways to stop all of them. What good does it do to protect your ports if you leave your air space open. What good does it do to protect your air space if you leave your ports open.

Bottom line is that North korea, Iran, and any number of other hostile regimes are developing ballistic missiles not because they are useless but because they are the easiest way to deliver such weapons to their target. And we would be stupid to continue to allow them such an easy means.

At least when it comes to smuggling via shipping etc they have a huge ocean they have to get it acorss without interception or detection before they could be successful. With a missile its like 30 to 45 minutes.

I say we take away the easy game. ICBMs. And today as North Korea and Iran both demostrate, ICBMs are easy…

Finally, if one thinks ICBMs are a useless means to deliver Chemical and Biologic weapons one is living in fantasy land. There may be better ways but ICBMs are not useless.. And to think that every nation on this planet is too stupid to figure out how is neglegent at best..

425

Comment by William R. Cumming

March 24, 2006 @ 3:43 pm

Whatever the effectiveness and efficiency of ballistic missle defense today, there seems to be no question that by 2030 we will be staring at a 30/30 national security environment. Namely 30 ballistic missle capable nations with nuclear weapons capacity. 24 will pass quickly. Six (6) Presidential election cycles away the world will not be safer for U.S.

427

Comment by Brian

March 24, 2006 @ 7:15 pm

The author is incorrect. The question is not flawed. I have done polling before, and this is an appropriately phrased question. The fact that the author obviously thinks the answer is “no” does not invalidate the question nor the results.

436

Comment by William R. Cumming

March 26, 2006 @ 12:51 pm

Correction. Sentence in comment should have read “24 years will pass quickly.”

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