Cato Studies: “Missile Defense System Needed”

May/​June 1999 • Policy Report

Cato Studies:

Missile Defense System Needed to Deter Rogue States

A new Cato study says that the greatest threat to the United States in the post–Cold War world comes from the five rogue states of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and North Korea, all noted sponsors of international terrorism. “Disreputable regimes around the world have been steadily advancing their efforts to obtain the technical know‐​how and components to threaten their neighbors,” and ultimately the United States, with ballistic missiles, contend Timothy M. Beard, a former research assistant at the Cato Institute, and Ivan Eland, director of defense policy studies at Cato. In “Ballistic Missile Proliferation: Does the Clinton Administration Understand the Threat?” (Foreign Policy Briefing no. 51), the authors recommend that the United States respond with development and deployment of a national missile defense system, which “should proceed at a measured pace.” Beard and Eland offer a country‐​by‐​country review of the threats posed by the rogue states. They find that “each of those nations has made a diligent attempt to acquire ballistic missiles and some sort of WMD [weapons of mass destruction] capability either through an indigenous development program or by purchasing the technologies on the open market.” Although the authors recommend development and deployment of a limited national missile defense system, it should be done “at a pace that the technology can support and that test results will bear out. No matter what the threat is, rushing to develop a system that fails to work is not an attractive remedy.”

Betting on the Internet

Attempts by various levels of government to ban Internet gambling are destined to fail, writes Tom W. Bell in a new Cato study, “Internet Gambling: Popular, Inexorable, and (Eventually) Legal” (Policy Analysis no. 336). “The architecture of the Internet makes prohibition of on‐​line gambling easy to evade and impossible to enforce.” The result, Bell says, is that “attempts to outlaw Internet gambling will inevitably fail.” As Bell points out, Americans are unlikely to give up gambling. At least 56 percent of Americans gambled in 1995, wagering some $600 billion, of which $100 billion was on illegal sports gambling. “Outlawing Internet gaming services domestically will simply push the business overseas.” Countries such as Australia, New Zealand, and Costa Rica have legalized and licensed Internet gaming services. Bell also points out that Americans, including Founding Fathers such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and John Hancock, have long gambled. Lotteries, Bell writes, “even helped to pay for the first home of the U.S. Congress, as well as for public buildings throughout the new U.S. capital.” Bell concludes that legalizing Internet gambling “will reaffirm the values, so dear to the Founders, of individual liberty, property rights, and the pursuit of happiness. And it will establish the Internet as a bona fide technology of freedom.”

Risk Mismanagement

Why do people respond to risks differently than the experts often predict they will? In a new Cato study, “Cars, Cholera, and Cows: The Management of Risk and Uncertainty” (Policy Analysis no. 335), British scientist John Adams says that risk experts fail to see that people view risk through a “cultural filter.” Adams describes three kinds of risks that experts fail to distinguish among: (1) directly perceptible risks, such as those of climbing a tree, riding a bicycle, or driv‐ ing a car; (2) risks that we understand through the application of science, such as those of cholera and other infectious diseases; and (3) virtual risks, about which scientists either do not or cannot agree (e.g., global warming and numerous suspected carcinogens). The failure to distinguish among the risks and recognize that people view risks differently leads to failed risk assessment. “Professional attempts to manage risks are thwarted by people who insist on being their own risk managers.”

Examining Missile Defense Options

The debate over developing a national missile defense (NMD) has frequently resembled a theological debate. A new Cato study analyzes and evaluates actual options for deploying an NMD. In “National Missile Defense: Examining the Options” (Policy Analysis no. 337), Charles V. Peña and Barbara Conry contend that “a limited NMD, which would afford the United States protection against long‐​range ballistic missile threats from rogue states, is feasible and probably can be deployed at a reasonable cost.” Peña, an independent consultant on missile defense, and Conry, an associate policy analyst at the Cato Institute, do warn, however, that “the development of an NMD system should proceed at a measured pace because an excessively rapid development program could waste taxpayer dollars on an ineffective system.” Peña and Conry note that perhaps the biggest obstacle to NMD is the Anti‐​Ballistic Missile Treaty. “In the final analysis, U.S. leaders should not permit the ABM treaty to be an insurmountable obstacle to NMD, if such a system can be shown to be in the best interest of U.S. security and to be cost‐​effective.” Peña and Conry examine the missile threat from rogue states, limitations of NMD, and the various NMD options: ground based, layered (ground and space based), sea based. “The debate should not be about whether or not to build missile defenses,” Peña and Conry conclude. In‐​stead, “the debate should be about the nature and capabilities of a limited NMD system that will accomplish the mission of protecting the nation against threats from rogue states, and do it cost‐​effectively.”

This article originally appeared in the May/​June 1999 edition of Cato Policy Report.