Theodore Postol on Missile Defense
to a Committee for the Republic Salon
Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. (USFS, Ret.)
Washington, DC, 3 March 2015
Ted Postol is an MIT professor. He was born with a passion for science and a gift for sniffing out fraud. His scientific colleagues swear by him. Those making money from the missile defense program swear at him.
Ted exemplifies Einstein’s observation that, while “most people say that it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character.”
Ted Postol speaks forthrightly in public as well as private. If you ask them, most others in the field will tell you that they agree with Ted=s findings. Our missile defense program doesn’t work and almost certainly can’t. They keep their conclusions pretty much to themselves. Ted doesn’t. He speaks out.
Ted first came to my attention when he investigated the performance of the Patriot missile during Desert Storm and claimed it didn’t=t work. I thought he was whacko. After all, I had stood on my balcony in Riyadh and seen and heard what appeared to be nightly Patriot intercepts of Scuds. My garden was full of shrapnel from those intercepts.
The Patriot was enormously reassuring. It made the Scuds less terrifying and boosted morale. The problem is that it didn’t work. Ted has proved that it was intercepting fuselages, not warheads. That explains both the shrapnel and why 100 civilians were killed in Riyadh over the six weeks in which Saddam’s Scuds targeted us.
It would be great if we could intercept warheads on missiles, especially nuclear warheads on ICBMs. If we could kill incoming warheads, we could take a much harder line with countries like Russia and China. If we could hit them but they couldn’t hit us, we might be able to win a war — even a nuclear war — with them with minimal damage to ourselves. Of course, if they thought we could do that, they might decide to take us out before we attacked them.
Most Americans — including members of Congress — are convinced we do have a working missile defense system. The Russians, Chinese, and others don’t think so but aren’t sure.
We have actually deployed a limited system despite our inability to prove it can work even under ideal circumstances. This is a little like building an air force to defend us with planes that have never flown and maybe can’t. It’s betting the country on magic and the expectation of miracles rather than science. Of course, as Arnold Glasow once pointed out: “the fewer the facts, the stronger the opinion.”
If the science isn’t there, we’re not just wasting tens of billions of dollars on a missile defense program, we=re actually increasing the risk of nuclear war by doing so. Ted Postol is convinced the science isn’t there but that the waste and increased danger are.
I now invite Ted to make his case. After he does so, I’ll ask him a few questions before letting you interrogate him.