My Preferred Weapon of Mass Destruction

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am a believer in national defense. That is why I favor the kind
of non-aggressive foreign policy that George Washington recommended
in his Farewell Address. The best way to avoid needing to defend
this nation by war is to make it worth other nations’ while to
leave us alone. Free trade is a good positive way to achieve this

The second best way is negative: give nations effective military
reasons for leaving us alone. I want to talk about one of these
reasons — actually, the same reason about a thousand times

Almost twenty years ago, my friend Lannon Stafford, who had been
a pilot with the Strategic Air Command, told me his technological
solution for the successful defense of the United States. The
thing was so simple and so cheap that I knew it would never get
a hearing.

His solution is a cruise missile armed with a nuclear warhead
— actually, about 1,000 of these missiles.

A cruise missile is slow. It putts along at about 500 to 600 miles
per hour. It is useless as an offensive first-strike weapon. It
would take too long for one to reach its target. If the targets
of cruise missiles were other missiles, they would hit empty silos.
The enemy would have launched its missiles hours before.

As a defensive weapon, they are sensible, in a Sears Catalogue
sort of way. First, they would be cheap to mass produce. The technology
is old: off-the-shelf. This is why we do not see a cost-overrun-prone
defense industry lusting after it. This speaks well for it.

Second, the military could put them on train cars and keep moving
them around. They could be put on our ships. They would be impossible
to hit in a first strike.

Third, there would be too many of them to defend against. They
fly low to the ground, below radar. They would come in from all

They would be aimed at military installations. They would not
be aimed at civilian populations that were not part of a military

A generation ago, A.J.P. Taylor argued that World War I began
because of the strategic military pressures of train schedules.
(War by Timetable, 1969). It is as good an explanation
as any and better than most. Surely, the 20-minute timetable of
an ICBM first strike puts the President on a tight schedule. It
would be nice to let him take his finger off the trigger.

Upon word of an offensive missile launch by an enemy, which can
be easily traced back to the source, the President could order
the cruise missiles launched upon the first hit on an American

The wonderful thing about a cruise missile defense is that it
need not be part of a launch-on-warning defense. The President
could more safely bide his time when informed of a supposed launch
by an enemy.

What if the President did order a launch, and then he found that
the cause for alarm was some sort of radar glitch? He could tell
the military to recall the missiles. I call this the "oops"
response. Cruise missiles go so slowly that any distant enemy
would not immediately have to launch its ICBM’s on warning. The
warning would be nice and long. There would be time for telephone
calls between leaders. The hair-trigger effect of an ICBM-based
defense would be removed. When it comes to nuclear war, I recommend
slow, gooey triggers.

We need an anti-ballistic missile defense system that uses nuclear
warheads to blow up incoming missiles at a distance, but we haven’t
got it and probably will never get it. A civil defense system
would be nice, too, since the government’s goal should be to defend
its citizens. The ideal of mutual assured destruction — putting
one’s own citizens at risk of annihilation — has been popular
among American military strategists for too long. A just war does
not deliberately target enemy civilians or deliberately expose
one’s own.

If enemy nations would adopt the same technologies — cruise
missiles, civil defense, and anti-ballistic missiles — everyone
would be better off. They would make a nuclear first strike too
costly. The old rule is this: when the price of something rises,
less of it is demanded.

The first job of the Defense Department should be national defense,
yet its weapons of choice are offensive. The Old Testament had
it right: kings were not to multiply horses (Deuteronomy 17:16).
Horses were offensive weapons. A mule was just fine for defense
— not very fast, but steady. A mule was for repelling invaders,
not for going abroad in search of conquests.

A cruise missile is a mule. An ICBM is a horse. It is time for
a swap.


Gary North [send him mail]
is the author of an eleven-volume series, An Economic Commentary
on the Bible. The latest volume is Cooperation and Dominion:
An Economic Commentary on Romans. The series can be downloaded
free of charge at

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