Philosophical Society of Washington

The Science of Missile Defense

Steve Fetter
School of Public Affairs, University of Maryland

2136th Meeting Abstract
Friday, November 9, 2001 at 8:15 p.m.


The desirability and feasibility of constructing a national missile defense (NMD) for the United States have been debated since the advent of long-range ballistic missiles over forty years ago. Despite monumental political changes and remarkable technical progress during this time, the basic arguments against NMD remain unchanged: relatively simple countermeasures can defeat the systems under development, and deploying NMD could trigger reactions by Russia and China that would, on balance, decrease U.S. security. I will review the history and the current status of NMD programs and critique arguments for and against deploying NMD.

About the Author:

Steve Fetter is a professor in the School of Public Affairs at the University of Maryland, College Park, and associate director of the Joint Global Change Research Institute. A physicist by training, his research interests include arms control and nonproliferation, nuclear power and the health effects of radiation, and climate change and energy supply.

Prof. Fetter is chairman of the Federation of American Scientists Fund and treasurer of the Arms Control Association. He serves on the National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on International Security and Arms Control, the Executive Committee of the American Physical Society's Forum on Physics and Society, the Department of Energy's Nuclear Energy Research Advisory Committee, the board of directors of the Sustainable Energy Institute, and the Board of Editors of Science and Global Security. He is a fellow of the American Physical Society and recipient of their Joseph A. Burton Forum Award.

In 1993-94, Fetter was special assistant to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy, for which he received an award for outstanding public service. He has been a Council on Foreign Relations international affairs fellow at the State Department and a visiting fellow at Stanford’s Center for International Security and Arms Control, Harvard’s Center for Science and International Affairs, MIT’s Plasma Fusion Center, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. He received a Ph.D. in energy and resources from the University of California, Berkeley, and a S.B. in physics from MIT.

His articles have appeared in Science, Nature, Scientific American, International Security, Science and Global Security, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and Arms Control Today. He has contributed chapters to more than a dozen edited volumes, is author of Toward a Comprehensive Test Ban, and coauthor of The Future of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy and The Nuclear Turning Point.

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