Thursday 09 Apr 2020 | 23:07 | SYDNEY
Thursday 09 Apr 2020 | 23:07 | SYDNEY

Could missile defence make us less secure?


Sam Roggeveen


11 March 2009 13:54

I've just returned from a very pleasant 24 hours at HMAS Creswell, where my job was to lecture a group of officers about ballistic missile defence (BMD). I also enjoyed the superb hospitality and scenery at the base (the Navy photo below goes nowhere near to doing it justice), but I'm glad I didn't take a swim — I was told a five-foot white pointer was spotted in the bay this morning.

Anyone who's ever given a talk or lecture knows there's no greater compliment the audience can give you than their attention and interest. On that score I was richly rewarded. But there was a bonus too, because in the course of discussion, the group helped me to refine a new idea about missile defence.

This goes back to a post I wrote about a week ago which dealt with a hypothetical regarding North Korea's imminent ballistic missile test: what would Australia do if it already had its air warfare destroyers, with BMD capability? Would we send a ship north to help Japan and the US track and perhaps shoot down the missile? If we did, wouldn't this harm our relatively independent diplomatic stance vis-a-vis North Korea? And if we refused, what would our two major allies think?

I also argued that, in such a scenario, Australia could help protect the US (and Japan) from a North Korean missile, but it could not protect its own territory. This is where the new idea comes in. First, let's make the not completely crazy assumption that this is no test. Kim Jong Il is bonkers, and he has decided, under the pretense of a test, to vapourise Los Angeles with a nuclear warhead mounted on a Taepo Dong 2 missile.

But, he suddenly realises, the US is protected by a missile shield. The US BMD system is notoriously unreliable, so Kim's missile might get through. Still, given North Korea has so few missiles and nuclear weapons, why take a chance? So instead, he decides to fire the missile where the BMD aint. Japan is also protected by BMD, and South Korea is starting a BMD program, so that leaves...gulp.

Well, in fact, there are still plenty of unprotected targets Kim could choose before pointing his missile at Australia, but you see what I'm getting at. In my earlier post I argued that, in this kind of scenario, Australia's BMD capability could play a small part in defending the US, but Australia would remain defenceless. In fact, it's worse than that, because insofar as Australia's contribution strengthened America's defence against North Korean attack, it would make an attack on Australia more likely.