Frontline airs Missile Wars, a critical look at the missile defense program on most PBS stations Thursday, October 10th.
While Newt Gingrich, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Rep. Curt Weldon, and other supporters of missile defense get plenty of time to make their case, the reporting supports the critics of the program.
We see the site of Safeguard in North Dakota, the only missile defense the US has ever deployed. It was developed during the Nixon administration at a cost of $25 billion and shut down a day after it became operational. Both the military and the contractor building it agreed the system wouldn't work.
Then in 1983, Ronald Reagan called for a stategic defense initiative which would make "nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete." Billions were spent, but it was never technically feasible and soon the Soviet Union collapsed and no longer was a threat.
Supporters of missile defense had to find a new justification for the system. They argued that a system had to be built to protect the U.S. from a possible missile attack by rogue nations like Iraq, Iran or North Korea. But a 1995 National Intelligent Estimate (NIE) found that none of them were likely to develop long range missiles for at least 15 years.
Republicans created an outside panel which included supporters of missile defense, but it agreed with the NIE analysis. Finally, a commission headed by Donald Rumsfield using a lower standard concluded in 1998 there was indeed a threat.
But Richard Garwin, a physicist who had helped develop the hydrogen bomb and the only tech expert on the commission, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times expressing his alarm at the congressional response to their report. Garwin tells Frontline, "The strongest proponents of national missile defense have no technical understanding at all." And the Joint Chiefs of Staff warned that "...these rogue nations currently post a threat to the United States...through unconventional, terrorist-style delivery means."