New York Times on the Web Forums Science
Russian military leaders have expressed concern about US plans
for a national missile defense system. Will defense technology be
limited by possibilities for a strategic imbalance? Is this just SDI
all over again?
(7957 previous messages)
- 05:56pm Aug 21, 2001 EST (#7958
Mathematics And The National Missile Defense System
As Congress ponders a $3 billion increase in funding for a
national missile defense system, University of Illinois professor
Julian Palmore is looking at the program's prospects for success
from a mathematician’s perspective.
To predict whether deployment of a proposed NMD system against an
intercontinental ballistic missile attack makes sense, the UI
mathematics professor and a colleague looked at applied basic
insights drawn from a mathematical model known as game theory.
Their conclusions are detailed in the August issue of the journal
Defense Analysis, in a paper titled "A Game Theory View of
Preventive Defense Against Ballistic Missile Attack."
The paper's co-author is Francois Melese, a professor of
economics at the Defense Resources Management Institute's Naval
Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif.
At the UI, Palmore is a faculty member in the UI's Program in
Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security and teaches a
course called "Technology and Security – Preventive Defense Against
Weapons of Mass Destruction." He recently was chosen to serve as
guest editor of a special issue of Defense Analysis on ballistic
missile defense; the tentative publication date is April 2002.
Regarding the feasibility of the proposed NMD, Palmore and Melese
write in the current issue that "the underlying assumption is that
the objective of the administration is to minimize overall risk to
the nation (or to maximize deterrence) at the lowest cost to
taxpayers. Game theory asks us to place ourselves in the shoes of
our adversaries as we assess alternative measures in light of
potential threats, hostile intent and preventive defense."
In one scenario described in the paper, Palmore and Melese
consider the outcome of two-player games in which one player is the
United States; the other, an adversary. The object of the game, as
stated, "is to drive the adversary to use weapons other than
ballistic missiles without the U.S. deploying a national missile
The logic is this, Palmore said: "If we build a defense which
everybody including ourselves believed to be 100 percent effective
against any single or small number of ICBMs launched with any
warheads, then obviously one group is not going to spend money
trying to launch an ICBM. They’re going to do one of the many other
things. That’s the point that we raise in the paper: that protection
is a placebo."
Because the proposed defense program is largely unproven and
carries such a steep price tag, Palmore favors a go-slow approach
over the rush to deployment – one that focuses on research and
development and the examination of other credible alternatives.
"Everyone I talk to who thinks about these things is all for
research and development," he said. "It's the deployment issue which
is the main sticking point." - By Melissa Mitchell
Copyright © 1995-2001 UniSci. All rights reserved.
- 06:46pm Aug 21, 2001 EST (#7959
Nice post, Cooper.
- 07:33pm Aug 21, 2001 EST (#7960
I think the analysis is helpful. I don't understand why the
authors think the government should proceed with R&D of a
missile defense, given that they think one shouldn't ever be
deployed. Strange logic there. The other consideration is that an
adversary wishing to strike at the US would have a number of other
less risky and expensive alternatives than launching a nuclear
tipped missile. The limited BMD makes no sense, given the publicly
available information in support of it. Is there classified
information that would support a stronger case for the proposed
system? I don't suppose we're ever likely to find out.
- 08:14pm Aug 21, 2001 EST (#7961
I think that if there were, there would be ways to find out.
In game theory, things depend crucially on the details of the
"game" -- assumptions, etc. And you can "talk about anything."
A super obvious point is the use of nuclear weapons is not a
"game" -- but a horror --- something we need to find ways to avoid.
Academics, because of their culture, have a tendency to be "all
for R and D" . But the question "R and D for WHAT?" needs to be
asked -- couldn't the people involved be doing other things?
There are MANY better things to do.
R and D is a kind of "investment decision" -- in the presence of
risk, where one hopes (for enough "plays" ) for a payoff justifying
It is EASY to find "possible investments" that don't make sense,
just as it is easy to come up with an almost limitless number of
"experiments" that scientists wouldn't want to waste their time on.
Lots of things can't work, in the ways that matter, for reasons that
can be understood.
For R and D as an investment to work, the investments chosen
have to make sense when they are carefully evaluated.
In the case of the missile defense proposals on the table, they
don't make sense.
A key challenge is showing that, and showing it at levels that
people can understand, on the basis of procedures they can respect.
We can do BETTER.
New York Times on the Web Forums Science