This has to be the least surprising news I’ve seen in awhile. Star Wars/ABM/Missile Defense is worthless! Na-a-awwww! Re-e-eally?!?!? Gee, who’d a thunk it? I did a paper on this back in college during the late 1980s, concluding that, yes, “shooting down a bullet with a bullet” can be done, but missile warheads are very small, move very quickly and devices used to detect them are not difficult to fool.

A Polaris Missile in a museum

Polaris Nuclear Missile (Photo: Gene Hunt / Flickr)

Any system for stopping missiles is very easily overwhelmed with lots of real warheads, chaff (clouds of small bits of metal) and decoys. To take just one of the more obvious examples, a multi-stage ballistic missile takes about 30 minutes to get from Russia to the United States. Over 20 of those minutes are spent in space where there’s no air friction, where a decoy can be as simple as a balloon coated with metal-based paint. Such a decoy can’t be deployed until the real warhead is in space and will quickly burn up on re-entry, but it’s pretty much impossible to separate such a decoy from a real warhead when your detection devices are hundreds to thousands of miles away. A single warhead could pop out 20 to 30 decoys, and with small air-sprays, they can all follow different, widely divergent paths. If you want to stop them mid-course, all of the warheads, both the real ones and the fake ones, have to be stopped, or at least a good 80-90% of them. An ABM system will have very little time between the time all the balloons burn away and the warheads impact their targets. A system would have to be extraordinarily fast and capable to deal with the dozens, perhaps hundreds, of remaining warheads. And:

The GMD system, however, is widely considered to be ineffective. Despite the billions of dollars spent, the system has not had a successful intercept test since 2008, with two failures in 2010. A recent report by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences found that, “The current GMD system has serious shortcomings, and provides at best a limited, initial defense against a relatively primitive threat.”

In other words, the US spent from the Eisenhower era to the 1972 ABM treaty developing anti-missile defenses, private entrepreneurs continued researching means and methods from 1972, with the government again picking up the tab for research in 1983, whereupon the government has continued to fund research and development ever since. What has the US accomplished in all that time? Doesn’t sound like six decades of research has accomplished very much.

What has the impact been on US-Russian relations?

In past years, Russia has opposed the missile shield program. It considers the program to be a serious threat to its national security and disapproves of NATO forces continuing to build military bases in Europe. The US government called Russia’s reaction “unjustified” and defended the program by citing increased threats to Europe from the Caucasus and the Middle East. An important political figure, Alexander Vershbow – NATO’s Deputy Secretary General and former Ambassador to the Russian Federation – stressed at the Moscow Conference that the missile shield program is not meant to be hostile to Russia. He also added the US and NATO respect and take seriously the Russian government’s concerns.

If you have to assure the other party that your weapons system is “not meant to be hostile,” your diplomacy has pretty much completely and utterly failed. And sorry, but when the US took Georgia’s side against Russia during their 2008 conflict, any thought on Russia’s part that the US wasn’t hostile was dashed to the ground.

And speaking of old issues, one of the major issues that progressives had with NAFTA and the World Trade Organization back during the Clinton Administration was that the system that they set up was designed to override national sovereignty in favor of corporate interests. Well, a leaked document from the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations demonstrates that, yes indeed, the newest “free” trade negotiations are again, designed to do precisely that.

Under the agreement currently being advocated by the Obama administration, American corporations would continue to be subject to domestic laws and regulations on the environment, banking and other issues. But foreign corporations operating within the U.S. would be permitted to appeal key American legal or regulatory rulings to an international tribunal. That international tribunal would be granted the power to overrule American law and impose trade sanctions on the United States for failing to abide by its rulings.

The terms run contrary to campaign promises issued by Obama and the Democratic Party during the 2008 campaign.

So, even though Americans have opposed turning over decisions best made by national governments to a body that will privilege corporations over people and even though President Obama promised that he wouldn’t take part in any such thing, we’re seeing our government again planning to do precisely that. As the blogger says:

This is really important stuff. We’re talking about restricting access to life-saving drugs, and giving up sovereignty over key domestic laws and regulations to foreign multinationals. That would be true for foreign companies in the US and domestic companies in the eight Pacific nations engaged in the trade pact. This is completely in line with the NAFTA consensus, which also allowed corporations the right to sue nations party to certain trade treaties. Private sector lawyers would be the judges on the international tribunals, with clear conflicts of interest, as they advocate for and serve the clients who would be suing the government in this case.

The march of folly continues and decisions that were awful the first time around are no better years later, but they continue to be pursued.