A Sociology of Ballistic Missile Defence

Dr Graham Spinardi and Professor Donald MacKenzie

Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) is one of the most challenging and controversial technologies ever developed. Over the last fifty years the United States has spent billions of dollars on its development, but has only deployed a national defensive system on two occasions. The first of these, known as the Safeguard system, was declared operational in 1975, but deactivated only months later. The second the Ground-based Midcourse Defence was deployed by the administration of G. W. Bush, with interceptor missiles based in Alaska and California.

Two key concerns have plagued BMD development throughout its whole history:

  • Is BMD technically feasible?
  • Is BMD deployment desirable?

This project has focused primarily on the first issue, investigating how knowledge about the technical performance of BMD has been constructed, placed in the context of shifting political and international developments.

This project is supported by a grant from the Economic and Social Research Council.

ESRC ISSTI

Technology