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.