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Shield of Dreams: Missile Defense and U.S.-Russian Nuclear Strategy

Shield of Dreams: Missile Defense and U.S.-Russian Nuclear Strategy by Stephen J. Cimbala. Naval Institute Press, 2008, 256 pp.

Stephen J. Cimbala’s Shield of Dreams offers more than a traditional overview of and discourse on missile defense. In this well-written text, the author seeks to show the reader how strategic force models with different force-structure configurations would affect any missile defense configuration. A nuclear strategist who published extensively on superpower force structures during the Cold War, Cimbala has moved on to the twenty-first century, with its multipolarity and nonstate actors—both of which have an effect on strategy and new defense calculations. Missile defense has come to the forefront in terms of political and strategic relationships because the stability that once defined relations between the United States and USSR regarding delivery systems for strategic nuclear weapons and warheads has shifted to the uncertainty associated with smaller deterrent forces and the proliferation of nuclear weapons in numerous nations in South Asia.

Tracing nuclear arsenals from the early Cold War years to the present, Cimbala explains, from a nuclear strategy standpoint, how defense factored into US-Soviet weapons development. During the second nuclear age, when Russia relied on its nuclear force structure to maintain its great-power status, the United States chose to abrogate the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty to start the deployment of a national ballistic missile defense establishment. To date, these deployments in California and Alaska are designed to protect against a limited threat from North Korea. As the United States sought to expand its defense screen to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and into the former Warsaw Pact countries of Poland and the Czech Republic, Russia’s angry reaction gave prominence to the missile defense debate. The current administration, which changed the Bush-era plan to a more mobile, maritime-based defense, is working with the alliance at the Lisbon ministerial to reach a consensus.

Not a mere history of missile defense, this book utilizes sophisticated computer models to lay out what force structure would best suit each superpower’s national interest and would establish a level of trust between the United States and Russia. This would also allow a reduction in the overall number of nuclear weapons that each side has deployed. Cimbala explores alternative force structures and lays out how Russia could be encouraged to adopt a more stable force structure that would rely less on prompt launch yet assure survivability. Fearful of losing its nuclear edge, however, Russia has recently tested multiple independently targeted reentry vehicles and other defenses in its strategic missiles system to ensure their survival in a postulated missile defense environment. The text concludes that missile defense between the superpowers will not create a defense-dominated world. Arms control, coercive diplomacy, and unconstrained nuclear proliferation—themes that preoccupied the latter half of the twentieth century—will continue into the twenty-first. As usual, missile defense is no substitute for power politics, according to Cimbala.

Other topics examined in the text include nuclear war termination and the role that missile defenses could play in such a scenario, as well as the emergence of a world in which superpower stability and parity factor into missile defense structures. Cimbala also discusses developments in Asia and the growth of nonstate actors who could strike with weapons of mass destruction, together with the inability of defensive developments to minimize such attacks for at least 25 years, given today’s defense technologies. These discussions make the text current as far as international developments are concerned.

Shield of Dreams is a must-read for individuals involved in planning strategic force structure, missile defense, and modeling of nuclear force structures and defensive systems. The variables that Cimbala uses in his models are worthy of further study and incorporation into scenario-based gaming for determining the needs of service and defense posture.

Gilles Van Nederveen

Centreville, Virginia

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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