By William D. Hartung
If the Pentagon goes ahead with an East Coast missile defense system, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., wants it to be based in New York State. In a recent letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Schumer cited the “thousands of jobs” the project would allegedly create, helping upstate communities “take off.”
Schumer’s plea is off the mark. The Pentagon budget shouldn’t be a jobs program. And at a time of tightening budgets, we can’t afford to waste money on unnecessary, unworkable and unaffordable projects like the East Coast missile defense scheme.
The system is unnecessary because Iran is far from developing a nuclear warhead that can be mated to a long-range ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States, and it may never do so. In the extremely unlikely event that it does, Iran’s leaders would be deterred from launching a nuclear strike against the United States because they know that their country would be completely destroyed in return.
An East Coast missile defense is unworkable because after spending nearly three decades and well over $100 billion trying to develop an interceptor that can reliably block a long-range nuclear-armed missile, the Pentagon has yet to succeed.
No one knows how much an East Coast system might cost, but it will surely run in the billions – if not tens of billions – of dollars. And it will come at the expense of much more urgent priorities.
Today’s security challenges include domestic terrorism, climate change, natural disasters and the spread of nuclear weapons. Bombs and missiles are of little use in addressing these challenges, nor is the multibillion-dollar illusion of missile defense.
We can’t afford to waste money on pipe dreams like a new missile defense project. And at such an early stage in the project, it is irresponsible to dangle the prospect of “thousands of jobs” before the residents of hard-hit upstate communities, especially when the Pentagon has said that the project would create only 400 to 500 jobs.
The time wasted chasing a phantom project would be better spent seeking a mix of domestic investments that create more economic opportunities. A recent study demonstrated that spending on infrastructure and health care creates 1.5 times as many jobs as Pentagon spending, and education spending creates more than twice as many.
Schumer noted that he would press for a New York site “should the Pentagon determine that such a system is cost-effective and necessary for national security.” Experience tells us that it will be neither workable nor cost-effective, and current reality indicates that it is not needed. We should move on and advocate for projects that have a better chance of helping New York, even as they serve real national needs.
William D. Hartung is director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy.