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The Dangers of Laurels: How Relying on Recent Successes in International Diplomacy can be a Dangerous Game for the United States

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By Dr. Christopher W. Smithmyer

Game theory states that if you know your opponent’s possible moves and their goals, then you can predict what they are going to do, most of the time. For many people, most of the time is good enough, but what if the “most of the time” we are talking about is the nuclear situation between the United States and North Korea?

As American citizens, is “most of the time” good enough for our family, our friends and our nation? The United States has maintained its dominance as the sole world superpower through the ability to create massive amounts of offensive capabilities in literally minutes to hours around the world, but the arsenals of the rest of the world are also developing. As the options of our opponents and allies expand, the “most of the time” presented in game theory becomes a very scary “some of the time.”

Any long-term strategy requires that there are three elements: Offence, Defense, and Strategy, and while I am a conflict strategist, not a military strategist, the in-depth conclusion remains the same- that if you overextend your strategy on offence, you tip your hand to your opponent and make their decision on what to do that much easier. History has shown us that conflict has evolved with offense and defense. Primitive man used sticks to attack each other, and then someone made a shield to block the attacks. Man then got longer sticks and bigger shields until we were hurling rocks at each other and building castles to keep us safe.

Now we have missiles that are able to reach anywhere in the world within hours and Russia is boasting that it is well on its way to developing hypersonic missiles that modern air defense cannot track. It is time for the defense of the United States to evolve to meet this new threat. Missile defense is an interesting category. Generally, they are broken down into three categories that are then broken down into sub-categories.

We look at where the missiles are targeted (atmospheric defense positioning), when they are targeted (trajectory phase defense) and how they are targeted (type of missile defense); however, within all of these categories the type of defense can be broken down into three types: the ground based midcourse missile defense, the mobile missile defense, and the integrated missile defense. All of these types are vital for maintaining the safety of the United States homeland; however, we need to start focusing more effort on the ground based midcourse missile defense as it has a higher probability of being used to defend the homeland. Integrated missile defense has the highest level of success in defending from incoming simulations.

The integrated system allows for the defensive capabilities of multiple nations to collaborate in order to shoot down any incoming ordinance. This system does well in simulations; however, the real world testing has been sparse because there have not been many international wars since this system was developed. This system has served its purpose as a deterrent, a shield that never has to be used because of the sword behind it.


The questions surrounding an integrated missile defense system arise from the human element, “if my country is being attacked and my ally is being attacked, who do I defend?” Thus, relying on an integrated system means that you rely on the hope that your allies will choose to defend your homeland rather than theirs. Mobile missile defense has demonstrated its effectiveness in the global theater. We can all remember the visuals of Patriot Missiles shooting down Saddam Hussein’s SCUD missiles in Desert Storm. This system has been shown to be highly effective against intermediate-range and short-range missiles; however, we have not seen it used (at least no publicly released use) against ICBMs. Further, the missile defense system is mostly deployed around the world defending our troops, as it should, rather than stationed to defend the homeland. This will create a system of “are our tools at home where they belong when we need them or are the neighbors borrowing them?” since often a defensive unit is used in other countries. This brings us to the ground based midcourse defense (GDM) system. This system is mostly immobile and connected to the homeland defensive grid. It also deals with the problems that are faced by the other two systems. The ground based midcourse defense system is housed within the homeland, so that it is integrated into a system where it will be in place where and when we need it, plus it is run by the United States military, so no one in an allied nation will have to make the choice between defending our homeland or theirs. This system is the next evolution in the battle between sword and shield throughout human history. Are we ready to ensure that we have the best shield to protect our nation, our families and our children?

Dr. Christopher W. Smithmyer, LLM has been a keynote speaker in Vietnam and India, has presented for the ABA, and in his work with Brāv, the premier online platform to manage conflicts (www.brav.org), has been featured in such journals including U.S. News and World Report, Forbes, Kivo Daily and Yahoo Finance! He is also one of the most lettered men in the world, holding eight degrees.

Remi Alli, JD, MS has worked for publications such as Forbes and Investopedia, and in her work with Brāv, the premier online platform to manage conflicts (www.brav.org), has been featured in such journals including U.S. News and World Report, MONEY, TIME, The Huffington Post and Yahoo! She is a double award winning techie and a three-time award-winning writer, with her most recent: a national legal award.

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