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Bush Says Chances of Shooting Down N. Korea Missile “Reasonable”

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President Bush held a much vaunted "beyond the beltway" press conference on Friday at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago during which he claimed that we had (and presumably still have) "a reasonable chance" of shooting down a U.S.-bound missile fired by reclusive madman and Hollywood film aficionado (connection, anyone?) Kim Jong Il of North Korea. Sounds nice, but, to paraphrase the Oval Office's previous tenant, it all depends on what the meaning of "reasonable" is.

America's missile defense "system" has a less than stellar performance record, with only a 50% success rate in tests. Bush might think that's "reasonable", but I think it's a pretty dodgy number when it comes to the threat of thermonuclear destruction. To make matters worse, the 50% success rate is based on only 10 tests, and, according to Media Matters, "no successful test has occurred in roughly three years and…no test of the currently deployed system as a whole has occurred." I believe things just took a turn from reasonable.

To make worse matters still more worse, the 50% figure is inflated. A couple of weeks ago, Jim Bohannon had Victoria Samson as a guest on his popular radio show. Samson is a research associate at the Center for Defense Information and a former contractor for the Missile Defense Agency. She was dubious about our chances of shooting down one of Kim's ICBMs, noting that all of the military's tests were conducted under highly controlled circumstances.

The missile interceptor crews knew where the missiles were going to be launched from, when they were going to be launched, and what the intended targets were — and they still got it wrong as often as they got it right. Thanks to vigorous intelligence, we may know the North Korean launch sites, but we don't have the other pieces of the puzzle.

Put all this together and it's apparent that the Bush administration's definition of "reasonable" may not be the same as the one you'll find in Webster's. Well, heck, they don't know what "compassionate" or "conservative" mean, either.

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  • Even a 10% chance of shooting down a North Korean nuclear missile is better than a 0% chance. That being said, on the whole I’d have to say our best current defense against nuclear missiles involves finding ways to make sure they never get launched in the first place.

    In the Cold War, we maintained a sizable nuclear arsenal of our own and relied on the sane instinct of self-preservation to keep our enemies from launching any attack that might trigger retaliation from us. That wasn’t exactly the brightest idea, but it seemed to work for over forty years.

    In the case of North Korea, it’s probably even less safe to rely on the sanity of their leadership.

  • 10% is better than none, but it’s not “reasonable” by a long shot. L.A., San Francisco and San Diego piles of radioactive rubble, but thank god Sacramento is safe. Doesn’t sound too good.

    I agree that it makes more sense to trust US leadership than North Korea. Still, we’re not in a good position to demand that they not have ICBMs for “defensive” purposes when we have thousands of them ourselves.

  • Of course 10% is only a hypothetical figure. I don’t actually know what the real percentage chance of success is for our current anti-missile systems to shoot down every warhead in a barrage of nukes on its way from North Korea to North America.

    I doubt our systems are good enough yet to make it “reasonable” for us to rely on them as the primary protection for our cities. However it would certainly be reasonable to try shooting down the missiles, if we fail in our efforts to deter North Korea from launching those missiles in the first place.

    I’m far from a knee-jerk Bush supporter, but I think I’d need to see more of the context of this statement before I could fully disagree (or agree) with what he said in this case.

  • Dustin

    I have personally witnesed the United States Missle defense system in Iraq. I do believe that the 50% take down average is correct, but to make it 100% we would fire 10 defense missles for every 1 enemy scuds. There you go 100%.

  • Is that the same system we would use against nuclear ICBM’s, though?

  • Okay, now I’ve had a chance to go read the transcript of the actual press conference, and I must admit Mr. Bush’s comments sound more… well, reasonable when placed in their full context than in the fragmentary account given in the article here.

  • I would have to hope that with the relatively primitive nature of Kim’s ‘dong’ missile and the years we’ve been working on missile defense targeted at more sophisticated system we’d have a damned sight better chance of shooting it down than 10%.


  • Awesome amazon link, btw.


  • Bliffle

    “I have personally witnesed the United States Missle defense system in Iraq. I do believe that the 50% take down average is correct, but to make it 100% we would fire 10 defense missles for every 1 enemy scuds. There you go 100%.”

    Even an elementary knowledge of Pascals probability theory would show that the conclusion cannot follow from the premise.

  • The Patriot system for Scuds is entirely different from the one we’re talking about here. Scuds travel super-slow compared to ICBMs and they have a miniscule range, comparatively. Apples to oranges.

    Bush was right to hem and haw, but to call our chances “reasonable” is hopelessly vague and even that level of optimism is not borne out by the facts.

  • Dave Nalle

    Scuds also fly low. With Kim’s big dong we’re talking about a ballistic missile way, way up in the sky.


  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Look at it all this way, folks. Let’s say that the US “missile shield” is 80% effective. I think that is being terribly over-optimistic, but let’s say, for argument’s sake.

    One bright day those lovely folks in North Korea send you all a little present of 20 ICBM’s with nuclear warheads or whatever for a flavorful topping. America’s missile shield knocks out 80% of them. That’s sixteen. The issue is “what level ‘megadeath’ do the remaining four that hit inflict?” Part of the answer is “it depends where the missiles hit.”

    None of us know what Bush meant when he said “reasonable.” My own personable opinion is that “reasonable” means that his ass doesn’t go up in smoke, but a lot of yours do.

    Something enjoyable for you to contemplate, eh?

  • Well, the good news is their missile capabilities appear to be even worse than our missile defnese capabilities. For now.

    One hopes that they don’t send us a present of 20 (or one) ICBMs. The level of megadeath in N. Korea when we hit them back is sure to be worse than whatever they do to us. What we need to do is figure out a way to make sure it never comes to that.

  • Dave Nalle

    You know, we need a way to get rid of all the nukes we don’t really need. We could just drop them on North Korea and then we wouldn’t have to worry about warhead disposal or anything.


  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    This opinion column gives an interesting view of the problems faced with north Korea. After 10 paragraphs of the usual baloney laced with some history, Niall Ferguson finally gets to the meat of the matter.

    The North Korean dictator is dependent upon Red China.

    IMHO, the only rlatively simple way out of this mess is to return North Korea to the status it had before 1895 – a protectorate of the Chinese Empire – a.k.a. Red China.

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Screwed up on the html tags Sorry!!