Nothing like a healthy dose of fear to sell some military pork. Republicans are cheering as the administration, citing the danger from those unpredictable North Koreans, pours billions of dollars into a hypothetical anti-missile defense system (and tells Russia to forget about the 1972 treaty forbidding such systems). The politicians may love the idea, but many in the Pentagon remain skeptical: "Even if we did manage the amazing technological feat of building such a system," says TIME Pentagon correspondent Mark Thompson, "that would only encourage the crazies to use unconventional means to deliver weapons of mass destruction to the U.S. -- which many in the Pentagon believe they'd be more likely to use anyway." After all, why would America's enemies put a nuke on a missile -- which always carries a return address -- when they could put it in a Piper Cub or a fishing boat?
Last year's North Korean missile tests were primarily an attempt to extort money out of the U.S., Thompson believes. "Now, instead of spending hundreds of millions on supplying them with oil, we're going to spend billions building a shield against their missiles." While Pentagon planners worry that it may siphon off money from other pet projects, the missile defense system doesn't look so bad to legislators who've had to preside over arms-industry downsizing.