Missile Wars
homethe threatthe technologythe strategydiscussion
the strategy - shield ... or sword?

photo of missile defense sitephoto of congressional hearingphoto of barbed wire, old defense site

Does a good offense require a missile defense? In two Web-exclusive interviews, journalists Bradley Graham and Frances FitzGerald analyze the rationale for missile defense under Bush. Plus, FRONTLINE's interviews with Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and Defense Policy Board Chairman Richard Perle.

america the invulnerable? related readings

A Web-exclusive interview with Bradley Graham, a veteran Pentagon reporter for The Washington Post and the author of Hit to Kill: The New Battle Over Shielding America From Missile Attack (2001). He offers his perspective on how missile defense fits into the Bush administration's foreign policy and national security strategy, and how the so-called "Bush Doctrine" may affect the politics of missile defense on the domestic front.

Manifest Destiny

In this Web-exclusive interview, Frances FitzGerald, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and journalist and the author of Way Out There in the Blue: Reagan, Star Wars, and the End of the Cold War (2000), discusses how George W. Bush's foreign policy owes more to Ronald Reagan than to George Bush the Elder. She also suggests that missile defense can be understood as part of a grand vision of American Manifest Destiny, in which U.S. military supremacy is extended into space.

Interview with Paul Wolfowitz

Paul Wolfowitz is deputy secretary of defense in President George W. Bush's administration and is the former dean of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. He also served as undersecretary of defense in the administration of George H.W. Bush. Here, he talks about the strategic rationale for missile defense, about the need to counter emerging threats, and about the Bush administration's decision to withdraw from the ABM Treaty.

Interview: Richard Perle

Richard Perle is chairman of the Defense Policy Board, an influential group of advisers to the Pentagon. He served in the Reagan administration from 1981 to 1987 as assistant secretary of defense. He tells FRONTLINE that the end of the Cold War has made arguments against missile defense obsolete, and that the United States' status as sole superpower gives it unique rights and responsibilities.

Related Documents
National Security Strategy of the United States

Released on Sept. 17, 2002, the Bush administration's first formal statement of its national security strategy reconsiders the notion of "deterrence," one of the hallmarks of military strategy during the Cold War, in favor of a doctrine of pre-emption: "We must be prepared to stop rogue states and their terrorist clients before they are able to threaten or use weapons of mass destruction against the United States and our allies and friends." Missile defense, the document states, will still factor in to the military strategy. "Our response must take full advantage of ... modern technologies, including the development of an effective missile defense system."

Nuclear Posture Review

Submitted to Congress on Dec. 31, 2001, the Nuclear Posture Review is the result of the Pentagon's year-long study into nuclear weapons and nuclear strategy. "Terrorists or rogue states armed with weapons of mass destruction will likely test America's security commitments to its allies and friends," the report stated. "In response, we will need a range of capabilities to assure friend and foe alike of U.S. resolve."

Bush Speech at National Defense University

On May 1, 2001, less than four months after taking office, President George W. Bush outlined his vision for missile defense in a speech at the National Defense University. "We need a new framework that allows us to build missile defenses to counter the different threats of today's world. No treaty that prevents us from addressing today's threats, that prohibits us from pursuing promising technology to defend ourselves, our friends, and our allies is in our interests," Bush said, referring to what his administration interpreted as the ABM Treaty's limitations on research.

Reagan's "Strategic Defense Initiative" Speech

On March 23, 1983, President Ronald Reagan, in a nationally televised address, called for research and development into missile defenses: "I call upon the scientific community in our country, those who gave us nuclear weapons, to turn their great talents now to the cause of mankind and world peace, to give us the means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete," Reagan said. "[W]e're launching an effort which holds the promise of changing the course of human history." Reagan's critics would deride the plan as "Star Wars."

home · the threat · the technology · the strategy · introduction · map
timeline · producer's chat · interviews · quiz: missile test · discussion
tapes & transcripts · press reaction · credits · privacy policy
FRONTLINE home · wgbh · pbsi

photograph © 1996 CORBIS; original image courtesy of NASA/CORBIS
web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation