US nuclear safety claim is a “dangerous fantasy”

How US strategic antimissile defense could be made to work

From Bulletin of Atomic Scientists

Contrary to a new nuclear strategy adopted by the US government in April 2010, that relies on assumptions that the current missile defense systems will reliably protect the continental United States in the extreme circumstances of nuclear-armed combat, now research presented in this study shows that these defenses have not been tested against real-world threats and would not be effective in real combat conditions.

The Ground-Based Missile Defense system (GND) is currently protecting the continental United States from long-range nuclear-armed ballistic missiles that might be launched in the future from countries such as Iran and North Korea. Making matters worse, the authors write, are the recent Iranian ballistic missile tests that indicate Iran is developing effective countermeasures that would defeat these US missile defenses. The authors conclude that the new US nuclear strategy is based on an alarming “technical myth” that the systems are proven and effective.


The authors show that the United States has the ability to defend itself from long-range nuclear armed ballistic missiles if it builds the right systems—defenses based on stealthy drones that could shoot down ballistic missiles in powered flight after they have been launched from fixed known sites. This same system could defend Northern and Western Europe, and Northern Russia from large and cumbersome long-range ballistic missiles that Iran might build in the future. The defense system would have too few interceptors to pose any realistic operational threat to the strategic nuclear forces of Russia. Because of this, it would not create concerns that could cause Russia to withdraw from New START, or preclude the implementation of further arms reductions with Russia beyond those in New START. At the same time, the defense would be highly intimidating, robust, effective, and reliable against the adversaries of concern and would require no new technologies or science to build. It would replace the current Ground-Based Missile Defense (GMD) system and the future variants of the Standard Missile 3 (SM-3) designed to deal with long-range (not short-range) ballistic missiles, which do not have the capacity to work in real combat conditions. The situation is urgent, as Iran is already demonstrating countermeasures in flight tests that would render both the GMD and SM-3 long-range missile defense systems ineffective.


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Lewis, G., & Postol, T. (2010). How US strategic antimissile defense could be made to work Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 66 (6), 8-24 DOI: 10.1177/0096340210387503

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