Bad Linkage

Last week we had some discussion about Charles Krauthammer’s article criticizing the linkage between offensive and defensive weaponry coming out of the U.S.-Russia Summit.  Here Peter Scoblic of the New Republic tees off in disagreement.

It’s true, as Krauthammer notes, that U.S. missile defense technology is superior to Russian missile defense technology, but I have no idea what he means when he writes that missile defenses will be the decisive strategic weapons of the 21st century vis-?-vis Russia. Everything we learned during the cold war demonstrates that there is no such thing as strategic decisiveness when it comes to nuclear weapons–there is balance; and there is danger. If we were ever to build missile defenses that actually threatened Russia’s deterrent capability–say, by deploying a system with hundreds, instead of tens, of interceptors–Russia would simply build more nuclear weapons. If we tried to counter that increase with more defenses, Russia would counter with more offenses. And even if we “got ahead” in this offense-defense race, there would never be a point at which we had a 100 percent effective defense, meaning that if there were a nuclear exchange, the United States would quickly cease to be. Defenses would never be strategically decisive, but it’s always possible that Russia might fear they were–which would just destabilize our relationship. Does this sound familiar? It was exactly the problem we faced during the cold war, and frankly I’m not sure why we should have the discussion again.