Missile Wars
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In a post-Sept. 11 world, what role should missile defense play in America's national security?


Excellent report, but very frightening. Another case of non-technical persons making technical decisions. It is epidemic in government and business... Very expensive for everyone involved. Pork, Pork, & More Pork.

Peter Earle
oriskany, ny


We are going about this in the wrong way. Ask yourself. Is it easier to hit a target that's close or far away. Close of course. If missles are going to release dummy warheads, how do you hit the correct target? Answer, you hit the delivery device before it releases the dummy warheads.

The Russians suggested some time ago that we install missles on the ground that can intercept the rocket when it first leaves the ground. Seems like a simple idea to me. It's less expensive and far more efficient. I also doesn't violate the ABM treaty. We could do this through UN countries who would allow these missles to be placed in their countries or place them in the countries of our allies and on our subs.

So when is this simple idea going to be floated. Probably never because it doesn't put enough money into the coffers of the military/industrial complex.

Dewey Pasquini
mcarthur, ca

FRONTLINE's editors respond:
Read "Boost Phase: Pros and Cons" for more information about intercepting missiles directly after they're launched.


Frontline and others imply that the money for missle defense and other military capabilities is used to line the pockets a few warlords.

Not true! That money goes to pay the salaries of all the people involved in building these capabilities. They range from the guy sweeping the floor, to the engineer creating the design, the machinist building parts and the managers working overtime to keep the program on time and under budget. These programs contribute to the Gross Domestic Product and to the advanced technologies that we all enjoy.

Should we not fund this capability, the liberal left wingers would be the first to point their fingers if a missile landed on our shores. This is the same group (in Congress) who cut the funding for the FBI and are now complaining that the Bush Administration failed to prevent the World Trade Center catastrophe.

houston, tx


Thank you for your excellent show. A point that was made during the show I think needs to be expanded on, perhaps even as the subject of another segment.

It would seem the only reason for pursuing a missile defense, which is sure to take at least a decade of additional research to develop a system with an even partial abilities, is for offensive rather than defensive purposes. The idea that this iniatiative is for the prevention of attack by rogue states is somewhat ludicrous.

The real value of a missile defense network would be to negate the strategic doctrine of MAD. If nuclear weapons, delivered by Russia, China or a future world power are no longer a credible threat against the US, there is very little to constrain the US from pursuing whatever foreign policy it wishes to, without any fear of reprisal in the conventional sense.

Coupled with recent policy statements of the Bush administration, specifically statements that the US would pre-emptively strike any country which was attempting to compete militarily with the US, the goal would appear to be american imperialism.

Daniel Schachtel
palm springs, ca

FRONTLINE's editors respond:
To further explore the Bush administration's missile-defense strategy, go to "The Strategy: Shield ... Or Sword?" to read Web-exclusive interviews with Washington Post reporter Bradley Graham and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Frances Fitzgerald.


In "Missile Wars" you left out the most important part: Who profits? Who profits from the defense contracts? Who are the people at General Electric, Boeing, etc. who actually make money from these contracts? How many of these people are connected with or have been connected with government? What family members of congressmen, bureaucrats, business people and others have made money from defense contracts? Frontline and all the others always leave out the most important questions.

r murray
frederick, md


I'm a diligent "Frontline" viewer. But I had a problem with one of the core premises of this report. The report seemed to imply that because the intelligence community felt there was little threat from rogue nations developing an ICBM with WOMD (weapon of mass destruction) capability, we should not waste time or treasure developing a defense against such possible threats. But as I watched your report unfold, I had to ask myself, "Aren't these the same intelligence experts that completely underestimated the threat from Al Qaeda until it was too late?"

And I found the soundbite you used from Gates' testimony before Congress chilling -- as it seemed to provide more weight to the cause of missile defense, not less. His comment that we shouldn't worry about a third world nation developing ICBM capability "until 2010," gave me little comfort, considering that's a bare seven years away.

As many of our leaders express their reluctance to go to war with Iraq, they keep citing the lack of proof of an "imminent" threat. By their actions and words, I can only interpret that to mean they wouldn't go to war with Iraq unless a clear and present danger were 24 hours away. That's too late.

We also hear a lot these days about a lack of a "smoking gun" tying Al Qaeda to Saddam Hussein. I'm less worried about a smoking gun, and much more concerned about a smoking Chicago or a smoldering Dallas after an attack by a WOMD unleashed by terrorists or through ICBM capabilities.

3,000 people died more than a year ago, because our intelligence community utterly failed to anticipate the threat. Now, our president wants to remove future threats before they arise. Why is this a problem?

Damon Gardenhire
oklahoma city, oklahoma


Thanks for another excellent and balanced program. Right-wingers constantly carp about liberal bias on PBS, but you gave much more time to supporters of national missile defense (Gingrich, Wolfowitz, etc.) than NMD's detractors might ever expect to get on such media outlets as the supposedly "fair and balanced" Fox News Channel.

The description of the NMD system currently being deployed as a "high-tech Maginot Line" is perfect. It won't stop the most likely nuclear threat the nation faces: a weapon being smuggled into the country. Spending billions on this system while we also need to make large expenditures to combat the terrorist threat borders on being criminal. Unfortunately, the Bush administration's insistence on deploying NMD in its current state, even though testing has shown the system doesn't work, demonstrates their lack of true tactical and strategic imagination. Like the proposed war on Iraq, this feels like a Bush decision to do what we are capable of doing (Gulf War II, despite misgivings I have for its consequences on our position in the Muslim world, will probably be a walkover), rather than to do the more difficult things (improve intelligence gathering, covert action capabilities and border security) we need to do.

As for long term consequences of deploying NMD, no one in the administration seems to care or understand. Do we really want other nations to think our word is no good, as when we unilaterally abrogated the ABM treaty with Russia? Do we really want to motivate China to upgrade their offensive missile capability so as to counter NMD? And do we really want an American president in some future crisis to think he can call a potential aggressor's nuclear bluff because we have a missile shield that probably won't work?

Unfortunately, the adage that "the best defense is a good offense" holds true even for nuclear missiles. The best deterrent against a nuclear rogue state is the threat of their assured destruction if they dare to launch a missile at the US. Anything else at this time is just wishful and wasteful thinking.

Brian Grady
valley stream, ny


I don't get it. If we can tell where an ICBM is launched from, why couldn't we just threaten TOTAL DESTRUCTION of any country that launches said weapon at us. It's worked for 50 years.

It takes more than one person to create and launch a ICBM, surely not all of them would want their ENTIRE country destroyed. I think this is more about providing jobs to ex-government/military individuals than making Americans feel safer.

Call me cynical.

Steve Holzman
athens, ga


I think that this program should be mandatory viewing for anyone who has an opinion on our current state of National Defense and the impending war with Iraq.

Ralph Lorenz
columbia, sc


As I watched this Frontline program on Missile defense and reflected on last week's program about John O'Neil, I became even more enraged than I thought I could. Even after September 11th. It is crystal clear that politics as usual and defense contractors are more in charge of the American government then ever before. I am beginning to fear we are in very, very serious trouble. Thank goodness for programs like Frontline. Even if I'm going to bed frustrated and fearful. If only more Americans watched programs like this we might actually be able to fix this mess.

Jon Marinello
sanat barbara, ca

FRONTLINE's editors respond:
See "The Man Who Knew" for background on John O'Neill.


This adiminstration and the conservative leadership in the Congress always want to apply a needs and cost-benefit analysis to every Federal environmental or social program to evaluate the program's effectiveness and justify the money spent. It's time to start applying a needs and cost-benefit-risk analysis to every program in the defense budget, starting with the Missle Defense Program and proposed war on Iraq. The American Taxpayers deserve to start seeing some unbiased quantitative analysis to justify expensive and risky policies and programs as opposed to the now daily ritual of unsubstantiated scare PR coming from the administration and certain members of Congress.

boulder, co


I find it significant that the report focuses on Iraq, Iran and North Korea while almost entirely ignoring China. It also seemed to limit the focus on domestic missle programs while appearing to ignore the likelyhood of assistance from foriegn powers. In China we have the example of technical espionage conducted within this nation during the previous administration. It is reasonable to assume that China's efforts at gathering technical data relevent to missle and warhead systems was more successful than what was detected and reported by the popular media. China's growing economy could easily finance development and extensive production provided they get a research boost through industrial spying. Further research into defense against both ballistic and cruise missle attack are warranted against eventual Chinese threats. Deployment can wait for a greater realized threat.

David Morehead
dallas, texas


In Chicago several black school children killed while they were walking to school by crossfire of gang shootings. I have a friend at Garry Indiana, he is blues singer, and he says that some mothers taking their children to basement or sometimes to bathtub.

A year ago I went to south side schools with Operation Push officials; I found school with leaking roof, asbestos, fungus, and rat problem. Economy is going bad many corrupt CEO filling their chest and living many people without life savings and no future.

Instability is increasing on the world, many stable nations falling into misery and famine. The terrorists once we supported against Russia, and neglected or pushed aside democratic forces like pro USA junta of Pakistan, Turkey, Indonesia, Marcos of Philippines created perfect milieu for terrorism, and they are turning their weapons on our and world innocent civilians.

The Prince of Darkness R. Perle, Wolfowitz and other ideologues after spending 65 billion dollars still insisting on star wars, many Nobel winning scientist found futile project and right wing hallucination, so these ideologues, can threaten world and crush all opposition, and rule the world, they and their families will never go to war, silver spoon fed, educated ivory towers, and they dont give a damn on world opinion or the principles of our founding fathers, they can unilaterally against environmental regulations, Kiyoto so big business increase their profit and personal wealth while people of the world try to survive in poison, they are against the International Court of Justice, so they can install puppet like in Chile, Salvador, Peru, then send US army mainly poor blacks Latinos trying to get job or college money, if there are atrocities they will be above the law like Kissinger and ITT destroying Chiles democracy.

Increasing instability of war and destruction on the world will help only terrorists and endanger our citizens, US is not only military superpower, its economy, its scientist and businessmen, on the world doing immense job, they will be the first targets they are the cream of USA

While our harbors, nuclear plants are not safe according to government reports, sixty per cent of containers were not inspected, they still find guns, knifes at the airports, our private health system and immunization facilities are in shambles even postman diagnoses himself on 911 and dies, 25 billion dollar budget CIA, FBI after many indicators, and warnings, can not detect danger and protect us, and simple field officers after doing their jobs facing negligence, mismanagement from top managers, still nobody takes and accepts responsibility.

These right wing activists at the top places are representing only the huge military-industrial complex warned by great general and President Eisenhower. They only present their big egos to be a new Caesars of the world and big business that is feeding them. They will isolate our nation, endanger our national security, pursuing the adventures abroad they will create clash of cultures and religions at the end our people will lose and still losing even hardly keeping their jobs and savings.

Prof. Adam Mumcu PhD
chicago, il


Most of the discussion about missile defense has centered on the deterrent of intercontinental ballistic systems. What Frontline and many of the opponents of this technology fail to mention are the great strides missile defense technology has made in combating regional missile threats. The Missile Defense Initiative recently deployed an entire new class of the Patriot Missile System in Israel to combat the growing threat from Iraq. These new systems are far more accurate than the Patriots that defended Israel and Saudi Arabia in the early 1990s.

China and North Korea fall in to the category of Cold War strategy. These nations will not launch their ballistic arsenal against either the United States or United States Pacific Rim allies for fear of full retaliation. I do anticipate another Soviet Union type Cold War with these countries as their ability to produce and deploy new offensive technologies increases. In conclusion, missile defense will be an important factor, not only against the new technologies of intercontinental threats, but also against more pressing regional issues in the Middle East. If future missile defense systems are not deployed, $200 billion will pale against the massive loss of life in the Middle East and at home.

Alan Lee
montgomery, al


Given the deplorable history of military technology in general, in both its technical efficacy and the lies and foolishness in its application, and the evidence concerning the woefully ineffective but massively expensive anti-missile technology in particular, I see virtually no role for major expenditure on anti-missile technology. Money is far better spent on well-targeted programs both internally (e.g. health care and education) and externally. The latter may well include military expenditure but also appropriate aid and particularly investment to foster development in countries with struggling economies, so as to address as best we know how the root causes of widespread dissatisfaction that manipulative terrorist leaders (e.g. bin Ladin) manipulate for their own destructive purposes.

madison, wi


Whenever I watch an excellent show such as this Frontline I wait for the answer to my question... and it never comes. 65 Billion dollars and perhaps another 200 Billion spent on missle defense... WHO is making all that money??? Could it perhaps be the people who are pushing the project??? When will we have an investigative report into THAT question?

S. Buhler
st.augustine, fl


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