Cliff May
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On Tuesday, June 28th, outside the holy city of Qom, the rulers of the Islamic Republic of Iran test-fired 14 ballistic missiles, including long- and medium-range Shahab missiles and short-range Zelzal missiles. Also near Qom, new and improved centrifuges are turning out more enriched uranium for nuclear weapons.

In addition: Departing Defense Secretary Robert Gates noted last month that North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile development “now constitutes a direct threat to the United States. …They are developing a road-mobile ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile]. … It's a huge problem.”

For national security experts, these developments raise a list of troubling questions. For the rest of us, they should raise just two: Do Iran and North Korea represent threats we should take seriously? The answer, clearly, is yes. Are we building the missile defense system we need to protect America against these threats? The answer, just as clearly, is no.

To understand how this situation has come about, recall a little history. During the Cold War, the United States adopted a strategic doctrine called MAD: Mutually Assured Destruction. The logic behind it was both perverse and compelling: So long as we were vulnerable to missile attack by the Soviets, and so long as the Soviets were vulnerable to missile attack by us, neither side would benefit by attacking first – on the contrary, a devastating retaliation would be assured. Assuming that both we and the Soviets were rational, the result would be a stand-off, stability and peaceful coexistence.

Veterans of the Cold War, still influential in the foreign policy establishment and the Obama administration, believe that if this kind of deterrence worked then, it can work now.

The current occupants of the Kremlin go further. They claim it is destabilizing and provocative for Americans and Europeans to attempt to protect themselves from the possibility of an Iranian or North Korean missile attack by building a missile defense system that may one day be robust enough also to thwart a Russian missile attack. “If NATO wants to reduce tension with Russia,” Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s ambassador to the Atlantic alliance recently said, “it should cancel the missile defense project. We have always criticized these plans as deeply anti-Russian.”

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Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.