Expenditures for Antimissile Systems

Gregg Easterbrook (“An Antimissile Defense? You See It Only in Movies,” Opinion, Sept. 15) writes that, “Tens of billions spent during the 1980s by the Reagan Administration on SDI [the Strategic Defense Initiative] resulted in no practical anti-ICBM—not even the notorious X-ray laser, which itself required detonating nuclear explosions to oppose nuclear warheads.” Readers may be interested to know that the actual amount spent on the SDI and Theater Missile Defense programs since 1983 is $51 billion, including nearly $3 billion for the X-ray laser and other so-called nuclear-directed energy weapons, and for space-based reactors and nuclear propulsion systems (these and other figures are in constant 1996 dollars).

In all, since the mid-1950s we have expended nearly $100 billion in the quest to provide a defense against nuclear missile attack (far more—some $350 billion—was spent on defenses against nuclear-armed bombers). We even deployed an antiballistic missile system in North Dakota in the mid-1970s, albeit one that protected 150 Minuteman ICBMs rather than people. That system—known as Safeguard—cost some $22 billion. It was shut down in 1975, only months after becoming operational, because the Army belatedly determined that Safeguard’s high annual operating costs far exceeded its limited defensive benefits. Proponents of the latest incarnation of ballistic missile defenses would do well to learn the costly and checkered history of these efforts before calling on taxpayers to finance yet another missile defense program.