SECURITY AT A PRICE: The International Politics of U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense.

AuthorHoadley, Stephen
PositionBook review

SECURITY AT A PRICE: The International Politics of U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense

Authors: Nicholas Khoo and Reuben Steff

Published by: Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham MD, 2017, 163pp, US$75 (hb).

This book adds valuable nuances to our understanding of 'defence' as applied to nuclear weapons. It elaborates the counter-intuitive thesis that deployment of ballistic missile defences (BMD) is actually offensive, or at least is perceived to be so by those not deploying them. It also questions the theory of US unipolar stability, arguing that it is not underpinned but rather undermined by Washington's BMD initiatives. And it tackles the prevailing assumption that US unipolar preponderance has forestalled meaningful balancing by showing that counter-balancing is in fact taking place amongst adversaries of the United States.

The strategic reasoning is straightforward: by guarding itself against a nuclear missile attack, a defender disempowers a potential attacker and makes an attack less likely. So far, this is orthodoxy. But credible defence also gives the defender the option to initiate a first strike with impunity. In other words, defence enables offence and gives rise to the 'security dilemma'. Thus the 'mutual assured destruction' paradigm is challenged, and the precarious stability it has provided for a half-century is shaken.

Inasmuch as deterrence can be credited with the absence of nuclear war since 1945, its maintenance, not its undermining, should be the aim of strategic policy-makers. But US leaders have not only initiated, improved and deployed ballistic missile defence systems in US territory but also shared these systems with allies, notably Japan and South Korea. Why, and with what policy responses by adversaries of the United States, is the theme of this book.

Khoo and Steff begin their analysis by introducing basic concepts of strategy. These include the familiar notions of unipolar stability, deterrence and realism (both defensive and offensive). More subde and less recognised are concepts of the security dilemma and soft (diplomatic, economic) and hard (military, cyber) balancing. It is in this regard that the authors provide a fresh perspective by showing that US BMD initiatives are not responses to but rather causes of adversaries' efforts to acquire a nuclear weapon delivery capability and otherwise to employ balancing tactics to lessen US influence.

North Korea's and Iran's nuclear weapon and missile development programmes most...

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