There's something amusing about the debate that's been going on for the last four decades over the question of developing defense systems against ballistic missiles. The facts don't change, nor do they confuse the supporters of defense systems, who will always find reasons to continue investing tens of billions of dollars in advanced technologies that are dubious at best and almost certainly unnecessary.
That's what it was like last week at an international conference mounted by a company called International Quality and Productivity Center, which organizes conferences devoted to security matters. Once again it was made clear that there is no connection between the likelihood of a ballistic threat to the U.S. and the NATO countries in Europe, and the insistence by those who support ballistic missile defense systems on sticking to their traditional positions, which they aren't even ready to reexamine despite the far-reaching changes that have taken place since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Their main argument contends that because countries like North Korea are trying to develop long-range ballistic missiles, the U.S. should deploy a defense system to shoot down the North Korean missiles. The problem with that argument is that it is impossible to imagine a single logical scenario in which the ruler of North Korea - or Iran - decides to fire a nuclear missile at the U.S. or Britain, because it is obvious the U.S. would fire so many nuclear weapons in response, destroying them.
However, the supporters of ABM systems won't allow logic, facts and basic strategic analysis interfere with their way of thinking. Therefore in the last 15 years, the U.S. has allocated some $90 billion developing ABM systems, and as of now, still does not have a single operational system. In a study published in January, researchers from two major think tanks said the costs of American-developed defensive systems against missiles will reach the fantastic sum of somewhere between $800 billion and $1.2 trillion by 2025.
A large number of the lectures in London dealt with the issue that is troubling the administration. The Europeans, it seems, talk a lot about defense systems against missiles but, regrettably for the Americans, are not doing much abut it. No European country has yet begun practical development of a defense system against missiles. Most also evade real cooperation with the Americans, despite the permanent pressure by the administration on its NATO allies to do so.
However, while there are also elements in the security industries of Europe, as well as its parliaments and defense ministries, trying to push for anti-missile systems, the governments are still avoiding accepting the recommendations of John Boulton, the U.S. arms policy official, to develop their own systems, spending the enormous sums required. Already two years ago, British Defense Secretary Geoffrey Hoon promised to conduct a serious debate on the issue of missile defense systems - but no such debate has taken place yet. Nor has one taken place in other countries.
The main reason for this is the differences in views between the U.S. and European governments regarding the nature of the ballistic threat. Most of the European intelligence agencies, like quite a few of the policymakers, do not regard ballistic missiles as a genuine threat and they are far more worried by the way terror is flourishing and the political instability on the southern and eastern borders of the continent.
"Even countries the U.S. calls the axis of evil won't just send missiles flying at Europe," explain European intelligence officials. "If they want to harm us, they'll use much simper and cheaper methods, like suitcase bombs and car bombs containing radioactive material or they could dock a ship containing a nuclear bomb in one of the hundreds of containers on board."
NATO, the military alliance between the U.S. and Europe, also hasn't made a single commitment to developing anti-missile defense systems. The disputes between the member states in the matter are so great that it's doubtful it will be possible to reach a decision on the issue.
What became apparent once again at the London conference is that ultimately there are only two countries in the world developing anti-missile defense systems - the world's only superpower, and Israel. The main difference between us and the Americans is that they can allocate all the money needed to develop unnecessary defense systems while we have to be very careful about major investments in projects that are dubious at best and that a simple strategic analysis shows are unnecessary.
But as opposed to the European states, where parliamentary committees investigate the ballistic threat and defense mechanisms against it, and even publish their reports and studies, the Knesset doesn't get involved in the defense establishment's decisions. Thus the Israeli missile defense system, the Arrow, continues to enjoy huge budgets and a wall-to-wall consensus, without anyone stopping for a minute and asking, like the little boy from the fable, whether perhaps it's all unnecessary.