Trump wants $4 billion for extra missile defenses in what could be the biggest bluff of all time

A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor.

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A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor.
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Lockheed Martin

    President Donald Trump asked Congress for $4 billion to fund additional missile defenses against North Korea, but the record shows missile defenses don’t really work. Even though missile defense has a shoddy record, if the US even has a slim chance of blocking a North Korean attack, it will probably deter Kim Jong Un. Trump’s funding of a failing system may just be a big bluff, but it could work.

President Donald Trump asked Congress for an additional $4 billion in defense funding to “detect, defeat, and defend against any North Korean” missile attacks on the US or its allies – and it may be part of a tremendous series of bluffs about US military capabilities.

The Senate Armed Services Committee seemed warm to the idea, saying it would “welcome” the chance to discuss funding it, and that it “looks forward” to considering the “timely” suggestion.

Trump’s trip to Asia so far has functioned as a kind of sales pitch for US-made missile defenses, with the announcement that Japan would buy additional systems from the US.

Before the trip, Trump told Fox News that the US could knock down North Korean missiles 97% of the time, though it appears he conflated favorable test results with estimates of real-world performance.

According to myriad experts contacted by Business Insider, ballistic-missile defense doesn’t really work. In 2016 the Union of Concerned Scientists published “Shielded from Oversight: The Disastrous US Approach to Strategic Missile Defense,” detailing how the $40 billion ground-based midcourse-defense missile-interceptor system essentially was a waste of money with no tangible results.

The US’s “hit-to-kill” theory of defeating incoming missiles by slamming missile interceptors into them has been likened to “hitting a bullet with another bullet,” in that it’s nearly impossible even in test settings and almost unimaginably hard to do in the field against a determined enemy.

But a mutual nuclear exchange between nations would devastate the world like never before and has never happened in history, so many of its parameters remain theoretical.

Tong Zhao, a leading expert on North Korea at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Nuclear Policy Program in Beijing, previously explained the theories of nuclear deterrence to Business Insider, saying countries like North Korea have to look at the worst-case scenario.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects the intercontinental ballistic missile Hwasong-14 in this undated photo released by KCNA.

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects the intercontinental ballistic missile Hwasong-14 in this undated photo released by KCNA.
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Thomson Reuters

Basically, if there’s even a 1% chance the US or an ally could shoot down a North Korean missile, then Pyongyang risks nuclear annihilation without gaining anything in return.

According to Zhao, “the US will never allow [the North Koreans] to feel their deterrent is credible,” by actively promoting systems like missile defense or cyber attacks.

In that way, Trump’s move to throw down another $4 billion on what experts agree is a failed concept may just be part of a magnificent bluff. Usually Trump criticizes expensive projects with low rate of success, but he appears to have taken a shine to ballistic-missile defense.

North Korea knows the critics dismiss US ballistic-missile defense, but whether they’re willing to call that bluff is a separate question.