The United States recently activated a $800 million missile defense shield in Europe, which the U.S. says will protect its allies from terrorists and rogue states. But Russia has condemned the move, saying that a European missile defense system upsets a longstanding and delicate balance of power.
Thus we enter the weird realm of ballistic missile defense strategy, where the normal rules of engagement don't apply. As Jules Suzdaltsev explains in this Seeker Daily report, missile defense is an enormously complex and expensive technology, deployed by only a handful of countries around the world.
Missile defense is a particularly exacting military science. It's been described as trying to hit a bullet with another bullet. The idea is to intercept incoming ballistic missiles with smaller and faster missiles, other projectiles or -- in the future, maybe -- directed energy weapons.
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Some history: Missile defense technology was first developed during the Cold War, as the U.S. and the Soviets nervously eyed one another's nuclear stockpiles. Both sides realized that a truly effective missile defense system would negate the deterrence doctrine of mutually assured destruction. So in 1972, the two signed the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which limited their missile defense to cover just the country capitals -- Washington D.C. and Moscow -- as well as their missile launch sites.
In 2002, the U.S. withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, citing security concerns from rogue states and terrorists. Today, five countries have operational missile defense systems -- the U.S., Russia, Israel, India and France. China is currently working with the Russians to develop a system of its own, and France shares its technology with the U.K. and Italy.
Since 1985, the U.S. has spent roughly $180 billion dollars on missile defense. But things have changed dramatically since the end of the Cold War. The new missile defense system in Europe, based out of Romania, is ostensibly aimed at one country in particular -- and it's not Russia.
"As long as Iran continues to develop and deploy ballistic missiles, the United States will work with its allies to defend NATO," said U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work, at the official unveiling in May.
-- Glenn McDonald
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