FAIRBANKS - Alaskans who see a missile defense system as a high-profile target more than a high-tech security blanket shouldn't worry, according to analysts from a couple of Washington, D.C., think tanks.
Alaska won't be a target even with a defense system, such as the one under construction at Fort Greely, because no terrorist with a missile and a mission is going to bother threatening the least-populated region of the United States, they say.
The Fort Greely test range in the short term will not become a rich target for rogue states or terrorists, said Darryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association.
"That's true partly because such a threat is negligible to start with and partly because a terrorist would get more mileage out of other targets," he said.
Baker Spring, research fellow in national security policy at the Heritage Foundation, disagreed with Kimball's assessment of the threat, but agreed a terrorist wouldn't bother with Alaska.
Kimball and Spring usually disagree on missile matters.
"My judgment is that with a relatively crude system, a country like North Korea, for reasons of accuracy and political strategy, will focus on urban, populated centers that they can use to blackmail the leadership of the United States," Spring said.
But what of a potential attack not from a rogue nation with a few missiles but from a country such as China or Russia that has many?
Kimball said such an attack is highly unlikely. And Spring said the missile defense system isn't intended to protect the country from such a massive attack anyway.
Spring said he thinks Alaskans actually might feel safer with a missile defense system in the back yard.
"Obviously the best element of the defensive capability is going to be centered on where that defense is deployed," he said.
Kimball said bringing on the missile defense system is not without risk, though.
"The siting of the test missiles at Fort Greely in my view represents a greater environmental risk than it does a rich target for a Russian or Chinese or so-called rogue state attack," Kimball said. "It is a test range, and it may at some point in the future launch missiles, and those missiles sometimes fail."
The Missile Defense Agency has said the missiles at Fort Greely are for practice only, unless they could be put to use in a real emergency.
Kimball said he thinks the best way to eliminate the ballistic missile threat to the United States is to get at the problem at the source by achieving a verifiable and permanent freeze on North Korea's ballistic missile production, testing and exports.
Spring said the United States must create a missile shield. Without it, the country will be vulnerable, he said. He also said it will be easily blackmailed into inaction when some overseas tyrant with nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles decides to invade a neighbor.
Kimball said the missile defense system won't change that geopolitical equation.
"The tyrant will always have cheaper, easier ways, such as a container ship or a cruise missile, to get a bomb into the United States," he said.
Congress approved about $8.3 billion for missile defense work in this federal fiscal year. About $3.9 billion is going toward work on the ground-based midcourse segment. The work in Alaska this summer will cost up to $325 million.
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