MARGARET WARNER: Let me just play devil's advocate with you here. What is the risk of doing this? Why not do it?
THEODORE POSTOL: Well, I think the risk is really -- if you want to call it a risk -- I think the international repercussions are quite serious.
I think people who look at this from a political point of view will see this, as I believe it probably is, an attempt by the United States government to show the world that it's got a large-scale, operating, low-altitude, anti-satellite capability.
Bear in mind that the ships that are going to launch this interceptor are widely dispersed around the world. The United States is in the process of deploying more of these ships armed with these interceptors. And the interceptors themselves are going to be improved over time, carrying larger kill vehicles, and achieving higher speeds and thereby higher altitudes.
MARGARET WARNER: OK, let me get Ambassador Cooper back in this. Is that also one of the reasons for doing this?
HENRY COOPER: I don't know the details of why the Pentagon might have chosen other than the ones they state, which is to protect the people on the ground from this object that's returning from space currently in an unpredictable way, and we have the means to alter that path.
Ted is right, in terms of the ships being deployed at sea. By the end of this year, there will be 18 Aegis cruisers and destroyers at sea that have ballistic missile defense capabilities.
And he didn't imply it, but it's certainly true that any defensive system that can shoot down a long-range ballistic missile can also shoot down a low Earth-orbiting satellite.
What is distinctive about the Navy system is that you can deploy it from a mobile platform, in places within the Pacific Ocean, and pick the place where you want to shoot it down, and give it the greatest chance of avoiding land and people.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. But now, last year, the Chinese shot down a defunct weather satellite, and the U.S. was very critical of that, saying that they were essentially using an anti-satellite missile here.
HENRY COOPER: Well, they used a land-based interceptor. And they shot down the satellite at something on the order of 500-miles altitude, so the debris from that satellite was nowhere near the Earth's atmosphere, and much of it perhaps is still orbiting in space and will be for many years.
The point of the test -- not test, but the operation that's currently in place is to shoot down this satellite when it's about to re-enter. And so we're not going to be leaving for an extended period of time debris in space.
MARGARET WARNER: So, Professor Postol, is your point that this will help, what, trigger a sort of arms race or an anti-arms race in anti-satellite technology?
THEODORE POSTOL: Well, you know, nothing is predictable in the real world of politics. But let me just make a comment about Hank's comment about shooting the satellite.
This is a bus-sized object. And the kill vehicle is maybe a 50-pound kill vehicle that's fairly compact. So it's sort of like shooting an empty soda can with a bullet. So you're going to cause damage to the structure, but you don't know where in the structure you're going to cause the damage.
And if the hydrazine tank was a threat, as claimed -- and I don't think it is -- you would have a high chance of missing it. So it's a little bit unclear how effective you could be with shooting this thing, even if you succeed, although I do think you might succeed.
Now, the question of the Chinese and the Russians is that I think this has some chance of provoking a response from the Chinese and Russians.
I actually think that the more likely response at this point is to try to play it cool, because there's a new administration coming, whatever that administration will be -- whether Republican or Democratic -- and I think the Chinese and Russians will pretty much bet that a new administration will be more sensible in the way they approach these matters.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me give Ambassador Cooper the last word here in the brief time.
HENRY COOPER: Well, let me just say that I believe that the ballistic missile defense programs are useful, important, and it's an inherent capability of ballistic missile defense systems to have this capability to shoot down satellites.
MARGARET WARNER: I mean, what do you think the Chinese and the Russians are going to do?
HENRY COOPER: Oh, with the Russians and the Chinese, I really don't know what they're going to do. Much of this argument is highly political. They understand the technical facts as well as we.
Russia has ABM systems deployed around Moscow. They're nuclear, of course, but they have an inherent capability against satellites, as well, if they wish to use them that way. So in much of this case, I believe this argument is political, rather than substantive.
MARGARET WARNER: All right, well, thank you both for a substantive argument. Ambassador Cooper...
THEODORE POSTOL: Can I...
MARGARET WARNER: Professor Postol, I'm so sorry, but we're out of time. But thanks a lot.
THEODORE POSTOL: That's OK. Thank you.
MARGARET WARNER: Bye-bye.
HENRY COOPER: Thank you, Margaret.