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March 24, 2002

Representative Ellen Tauscher
1122 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Representative Tauscher,

This letter is a response to your article about missile defense published today (Sunday, March 24, 2002) in the San Francisco Chronicle:

National Defense: Missile Defense System is not ready for prime time

URL: <http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2002/03/24/ED173044.DTL>

In your article you express concerns over the state of current missile defense technologies. It is probably true that the currently available technologies are not yet up to the task of supporting a national missile defense but there are other, more interesting, uses to which a limited defense might be put. So, while your concerns about the maturity of the technologies are worth noting I feel there is also a need to express a generally unobserved motive for investing in them.

Back in December of 2001 I thought a bit about the tasks to which a missile defense would be put and it occurred to me that there was at least one use that was not being discussed. I wrote a short draft about the subject which I have included below and I hope you can make use of my input as I do not believe the observations I make are generally included in the public debate over missile defense. Admittedly, these ideas are probably excluded because they tend to indicate preparations for an invasion of other countries as a response to terrorist attack. They are nevertheless worth considering given the gravity of the consequences of ignoring them.

The paper included below is still in an evolving state and is thus subject to revisions in the future. The evolving draft may be found at <http://davidwoolsey.com/ideas/notes/missiledef/missile_def-1.html>.


  1. This paper is a very brief discussion of a compelling reason why the United States should build a modest ballistic missile defense system as part of a unified defense against stateless terrorism.
  2. The principle reason for building a missile defense system is not the direct threat posed by nations with ballistic nuclear capacity. Neither is it the threat posed by stateless nuclear terrorism. In the first case the offending nation would be destroyed outright if they launched against us. In the second case there would be no nation state to retaliate directly against nor would the likely delivery system be a ballistic one. The motivation for building a missile defense is instead to deter nations who may support stateless terrorists and are also ballistic nuclear missile armed. The following scenario should serve to illustrate why.
    1. The scenario to consider is what would happen if a stateless terrorist organization were to use a significant weapon of mass destruction against the United States and then retreat into or near a nuclear armed country. The U.S. might not be able to attack that country with conventional forces because of their capacity for a nuclear defense. The enemy's nuclear defense might be able to reach targets within the U.S. or might only have enough range to hit countries friendly to the U.S. Either case could pose a significant obstacle to the use of conventional force against the terrorists or their supporters. At the same time the U.S. might not have the degree of commitment to antipathy to use nuclear weapons against the nation harboring the terrorists. This would be an unacceptable standoff but one which a clever opponent could logically be expected to plan on and arrange for.
    2. Because of the likelihood of an opponent selecting when and where to attack and what environment to retreat into the U.S. must be able to project force into as many possible theaters as can be imagined. The simple reason for this is that it is the theaters into which force can not be projected - either because of lack of military preparedness, political will, or the ability to imagine and anticipate the need - that are the most likely to be selected by terrorists as their havens. A major part of the projection of force is the defense against any counter strike by the enemy. A missile defense system will add a substantial capacity to our force's ability to resist a counterattack and/or nuclear blackmail during a military response to terrorism.
  3. In the scenario outlined above an effective missile defense would not need to be capable of defeating more than a few dozen missiles and is thus likely to be a fairly high return on the investment needed to construct it. It might therefore be called "modest". A modest missile defense will also have benefit beyond the direct defense of our forces by reducing the likelihood that nuclear weapons would even be used by an enemy state under conventional attack by the U.S. because it would reduce the perceived effectiveness of a small nuclear arsenal. Nobody wants to be caught in the nasty situation of having fired the first round in a nuclear exchange if that first round is ineffective.
  4. Therefore I conclude that it would be prudent for the U.S. to proceed with the development of at least a modest missile defense system that is (ideally) useful both against intermediate and long ranged ballistic missiles as one aspect of a defense against terrorism and its consequences.

Left unstated in the paper is the morality of not constructing a limited defense. Without the availability of a limited missile defense in the scenario cited above the only responses are either to submit to "nuclear blackmail" or attack regardless of it. In the event of our attacking the host nation (in the example scenario) for its support of terrorism they would likely fight back. If our goal was to replace the offending political leaders with ones who would not support our enemies there would be little incentive for them to refrain from using their nuclear arsenal against our invasion forces. Our most likely (and probably only realistic) recourse would be a counterattack using weapons of equal or greater destructive force. The real losers in an exchange such as this would be the population of the enemy country at large. Do we really want our only realistic alternative to be tantamount to a genocidal counter strike? The problem with not building a missile defense is that it forces us to rely on assured destruction of our enemies as a deterrent and that has problems from a moral standpoint.


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David Woolsey

The original of this article may be found on my web site at

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