The latest test of the American missile defense system, which saw a defensive missile destroy an incoming ICBM warhead, is probably the biggest step yet in the quiet neutralization of the ballistic missile arsenals of China, North Korea, and Iran. In this test, a missile launched from a base in Alaska hit and destroyed a target coming from the Pacific Ocean.
One thing to keep in mind is that this test was intended for data collection, not to test if the system could actually kill an incoming missile. The successful takedown was a bonus. The next test, intended to determine how well the system can pick out real targets from decoys, is slated for December.
The system, as it now stands, will have 18 ground-based interceptors (GBIs) by the end of 2007, and is already sufficient to have neutralized China's force of 24 DF-5 ICBMs. How is this so, considering that China has 24 DF-5 ICBMs? Simple subtraction would seem to indicate that at least six ICBMs would get through to their targets in an attempted strike.
It is true, that if the GBIs work and kill their targets, six missiles would get through. But which six will they be? That is a question China would need a clairvoyant or a fortune teller to determine. With the increased level of uncertainty about the success of the attack, China would very well decide not to launch the attack in the first place.
We note that those who scoffed at, and fought against, Ronald Reagan's concept of missile defense have had little to say about the current program. It's true that Reagan's plan called for a space-based defense and the current program employs ground based missiles, but the emphasis on weapons in space was not what earned Reagan's proposal so much opprobrium. Reagan thought it was not only feasible but morally obligatory to defend ourselves against foreign ICBMs. His critics, however, thought, back in the days of the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction, that self-defense was "destabilizing" and likely to result in a pre-emptive attack by the Soviets before our defense shield was up and running. Nobody seems to worry much about that anymore in this post 9/11 world.