Editor's Note: This Backgrounder is an updated
version of a Backgrounder of the same title that was
released on September 20, 2006. This updated version accounts
for the change in the political context of the debate over missile
defense brought about by the outcome of the November 7, 2006,
Today, the United States has only an extremely limited
capability to defend its people, territory, foreign deployed
forces, allies, and friends against ballistic missile attack. At
this point, U.S. territory is defended against long-range ballistic
missiles by just 11 test interceptors, located in Alaska and
California, with an operational capability. U.S. coastal areas are
undefended against short-range ballistic missiles that could
be launched from ships.
This vulnerability is dangerous because the threat of missile
attack continues to grow, as demonstrated by North Korea's launch
of a salvo of test missiles on July 4. U.S. missile defense
capabilities still need to catch up with the threat. The shame is
that these capabilities could have caught up to the missile threat
The danger is compounded by a misguided perception held by
some missile defense proponents in Congress that the debate
over missile defense is all but won. The outcome of the November 7,
2006, congressional election should have shattered this
misperception. Longstanding missile defense opponents-such as
the new Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator
Carl Levin (D-MI)-are now in positions of power.
Missile defense supporters in Congress can better understand the
current state of the debate over missile defense by reviewing
an extensive report on missile defense released by the
Independent Working Group on July 10. The report assesses the
shortcomings of the current U.S. missile defense
capabilities and makes recommendations for how to improve U.S.
missile defense capabilities in a way to catch up and eventually
surpass the missile threat.
Along with this analysis and recommendations, the report
examines why the missile defense debate has endured and how the
opponents of missile defense have succeeded in slowing progress
toward fielding an effective missile defense system.
Specifically, the study examines the arguments that
missile defense opponents continue to use. Missile defense
proponents in Congress need to renew their efforts to counter these
arguments if the U.S. is going to field an effective defense
against ballistic missile attack
Where the Debate Stands Now
Missile defense supporters in Congress understandably think
that the debate is all but won. The Bush Administration has made
dramatic strides in moving the nation's missile defense policy
forward. In 2001, President George W. Bush put missile defense at
the center of his policy for transforming the U.S. military. Later that
year, he announced that the U.S. was withdrawing from the 1972
Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty with the former Soviet Union. The importance
of this step cannot be overstated. The ABM Treaty, as long as it
remained in place, would have blocked any prospect of an
effective missile defense for the U.S. and severely limited the
options for defending U.S. forces deployed abroad and U.S. friends
The Bush Administration has also established a policy goal to
field a layered, global missile defense system. If fielded, this system would
counter missiles in the boost or ascent phase, the midcourse
phase, and the terminal phase of flight. Further, it would counter
ballistic missiles of all ranges and would protect foreign-deployed
U.S. forces and U.S. friends and allies, as well as the people and
territory of the United States. Theoretically, this system would
counter a missile launched from anywhere in the world against any
target in the world.
The problem today is that the actual missile defense programs in
place are not consistent with the Bush Administration's established
policy. Missile defense opponents have effectively shifted their
tactics away from directly taking on the Bush
Administration's missile defense policy to limiting the
programmatic options. They have been effective in the debate over
missile defense programs in large measure because of the enduring
negative impact from the roughly 30 years that the ABM Treaty was
in place. During that time, the treaty drove missile defense
research and development down paths in the direction of ineffective
defenses because it was designed to ensure that the U.S. would not
field an effective defense against ballistic missiles.
In this regard, it is critical for missile defense supporters to
recognize that the ABM Treaty imposed strict limits on development
and testing activities, not just deployment options. Following U.S.
withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, the easiest and earliest deployment
options for those who manage missile defense programs in the
federal government was to push to deployment those limited
areas of development and testing that were permitted by the ABM
Treaty. However, the easiest and earliest deployment options were
far from the most effective options. Missile defense opponents, and
even some proponents, in Congress and the bureaucracy have
consistently fought the rapid exploitation of more promising
technologies. This is particularly the case regarding space-based
interceptors for countering ballistic missile attacks.
For example, the Clinton Administration cancelled outright
the Brilliant Pebbles space-based interceptor program in 1993,
despite its promise. The Brilliant Pebbles program has yet to be
revived. In 1997, President Bill Clinton used a line-item veto to
cancel the Clementine II space probe. This system would have demonstrated the
effectiveness of Brilliant Pebbles technology and advanced U.S.
goals in space exploration. Its predecessor, the Clementine probe,
was highly successful and very inexpensive for a space vehicle. The Advanced
Technology Kill Vehicle (ATKV) program, which was developing
lightweight and small kill vehicle technology from the Brilliant
Pebbles program for use in surface-based interceptors, remains
dormant. The teams of technologists that were advancing
these more capable missile defense concepts have been disbanded and
would now be difficult to reconstitute.
The opportunity cost of taking the path of least resistance in
missile defense deployment is potentially very high for
missile defense proponents. If the limited missile defense
capabilities now in place prove insufficient to protect the
American people when called upon to do so, missile defense
proponents risk losing credibility with the American people.
Therefore, it is in their interest to establish a clear
position on the missile defense program that they want and force
missile defense opponents to explain to the American people why
they cannot have it. At best, proponents will attain the effective
defense that they say they want. At worst, they will at least be in
a position to explain to the American people how opponents thwarted
attempts to provide the American people with an effective
The Enduring Arguments of Missile
Missile defense opponents have relied on a number of core
arguments that have remained consistent and are still being
used today. They are identified in the report of the Independent
Working Group. What has changed is the object of these
arguments. When the ABM Treaty and the policy of mutual assured
destruction (MAD) remained in place, missile defense opponents
directed their arguments against policies that were opposed to MAD
and sought to move beyond the ABM Treaty. However, this
policy-based opposition to ballistic missile defense has given way
to seeking to undermine the most promising missile defense
programs. The arguments are as follows.
Argument #1: Missile defense is
ineffective and therefore wasteful.
During the Cold War, opponents talked about the ineffectiveness
of missile defense in the context of achieving desirable security
Specifically, they argued that a policy to field a missile
defense would lead to an arms race, provoke a hostile
relationship with the Soviet Union, and increase the likelihood of
nuclear war. Today, the argument against the effectiveness of
missile defense is focused on the lack of capabilities in the
systems themselves. The fact that these technological
preferences are designed to produce failure has not deterred the
opponents of missile defense. They are perfectly content to work to
decrease the effectiveness of missile defense systems while at the
same time decrying their ineffectiveness.
Having established a ready-made argument regarding the
ineffectiveness of missile defense, opponents immediately turn to
the question of wasteful spending. They propose a myriad of
alternatives for the funds that would otherwise go toward
missile defense, both inside and outside of the defense budget. The
tautological argument goes like this: Wasteful missile defense
spending is inherently wasteful. This proposition, like all
tautologies, is unassailable. It also lacks merit because it
is true whether or not missile defenses can be made effective and
not wasteful. It is designed to avoid the true state of affairs
regarding the potential value of spending on missile defense.
Senator Levin has already made it clear how he plans to exploit
this argument regarding the effectiveness of missile defenses. He
has stated that he sees it as a mistake to buy missile defense
interceptors until after they have proven themselves in operational
Thus, he has revealed his intention to stop many missile defense
activities because the interceptors and other elements of the
defense have to be purchased and fielded in order to be
tested. This is because missile defenses must be built as an
integrated network of systems. It is not like buying a small
number of test aircraft and proceeding to procure the fleet
following operational testing. Barring the purchase of missile
defense interceptors on this basis will permanently block the
missile defense program because the tests that the Senator is
insisting on cannot be performed. This will drive missile
defense into a programmatic cul-de-sac.
Argument #2: Missile defenses are
During the Cold War, scholars theorized that a posture of
defenselessness against nuclear weapons, particularly
nuclear-armed ballistic missiles, was conducive to stability. This was
the foundation of the MAD policy. At the core of this theory
was the determination that defenses would undermine the reliability
of a retaliatory nuclear strike and thereby encourage first strike
options. This theory became widely accepted during the Cold War and
was codified in 1972 by the ABM Treaty.
Clearly, the opponents of missile defense continue to adhere to
this theory. In a world where nuclear and ballistic
missile proliferation is a reality, the adherents of MAD are
assuming that a theory that was predominantly based on
two-player models is readily adaptable to a setting that includes
more than two "players" with nuclear-armed missiles. This is a
dangerous assumption. Nevertheless, missile defense opponents
remain strongly committed to MAD.
The logic of MAD and the assertion that defenses are
destabilizing are based on the calculation that the defenses will
prove insufficient to provide a comprehensive defense against a
first strike, but will be effective enough to counter a degraded
retaliatory strike and thereby encourage the first strike. A number
of assumptions built into the MAD model, even in the two-player
context, are highly questionable. One of the assumptions
underemphasizes the ability of the defenses to disrupt the
kind of highly precise first strike required to degrade the
retaliatory strike. A second assumption discounts the fact
that national leaders are human beings who may not act in
accordance with what quantitative analyses would calculate as their
highest payoff in determining whether or not to strike an opponent.
Finally, the model removes all moral context and content from the
decision-making process on the critical matters of war and
Part of the reason that opponents' commitment to MAD remains
strong is that this same group is strongly committed to the Cold
War approach to arms control. Their driving assumption is that the
pursuit of defenses will necessarily result in a leapfrogging
arms race in which increments of defense will invite larger
increments of offense and vice versa. The alternative notion that
effective defenses could actually lessen the appetites for
nuclear-armed ballistic missiles, particularly by would-be
proliferators, is rejected. The argument also ignores the fact
that shortly after President Bush's announcement of U.S. withdrawal
from the ABM Treaty, the U.S. and Russia entered into a treaty to
reduce the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons on each
side to between 1,700 and 2,200 each.
Argument #3: Missile defenses will
Missile defense opponents are also likely to be among those
advocating that the U.S. should not weaponize space. This argument
inherently recognizes that the incentive to put missile
defense interceptors in space is powerful because space-based
interceptors will be the most effective defense.
The advocacy against the weaponization of space is based, first
and foremost, on the assertion that space is not already
weaponized. In their definition of weaponization, the advocates
conveniently discount the fact that nuclear-armed ballistic
missiles transit space. They use a variety of supporting
arguments, from the idea of space as a weapons-free zone, to
assertions that any U.S. attempt to dominate space would
generate hostility and ultimately fail and that deploying
space-based interceptors would instigate an arms race in space, to
the claim that the U.S. does not need systems to counter other
nations' space forces.
Argument #4: Possession of missile
defenses, along with its other military capabilities, will give the
U.S. too much power.
This argument combines an extreme variation of the balance of
power of theory with an assumption of moral equivalency in
international relations. Supporters of this argument conclude
that any military imbalance is unstable, regardless of the
propensity of some to be more aggressive than others. They also see
the moral purposes of all military powers as essentially
equivalent, consistent with a view of moral equivalency
between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. During the Cold War, this
group quietly welcomed Soviet acquisition of atomic and later
thermonuclear weapons as an appropriate check on U.S.
The same notion applied to strategic defenses. An America kept
vulnerable to Soviet nuclear threats was an appropriately
restrained America. Following the Cold War, this group was
generally horrified that U.S. power-particularly its military
power-was essentially unequaled. Its members are openly nostalgic
for the U.S.-Soviet standoff of the Cold War.
Argument #5: Developing and deploying
missile defenses is an inherently immoral pursuit.
The moral reluctance to support missile defense is a direct
product of the MAD policy. Under MAD, any attempt to reduce the
effectiveness of the enemy's retaliatory strike was posited to
enable a first strike. Thus, the moral logic of MAD is that any
attempt at self-defense is an inherently aggressive act. The
possibility that such vulnerability may actually invite aggression
is dismissed. Further, the moral conundrum presented by a failure
of deterrence is set aside. That conundrum is whether a
retaliatory strike purely for the purpose of revenge is morally
Despite these shortcomings, moralists argued against the pursuit
of missile defense during the Cold War. For example, a committee of
U.S. Catholic bishops, in an update to a 1983 pastoral letter
on nuclear weapons, made a statement opposing President Ronald
Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative. After the Cold War, the
opposition from various church groups continued. For example,
United Methodist bishops came out in opposition to President Bush's
policy to field a missile defense system in 2001.
Public Choice Theory and the Missile
The fact that the U.S. does not yet possess an effective missile
defense system is not solely the product of the substantive
arguments against it. Missile defense has been a casualty of
how the political process works in a representative democracy.
Economist Dr. James M. Buchanan explained this phenomenon
in his seminal work on public choice theory. The theory explains how
the preferences of a clear majority, even over matters of great
importance, are frustrated by a determined minority.
The product of the decades-long debate over missile defense
in the U.S. is practically a case study in the application of
public choice theory. Consistent polling results leave no doubt
that the vast majority of Americans favor the deployment of the
most effective defenses possible against missile attack.
According to April 2005 poll results obtained by the Missile
Defense Advocacy Alliance, almost 80 percent of the American people
want the government to field a missile defense system. This
support, however, is relatively diffused. The minority, by
contrast, are hardened opponents. The result is that political
leaders have moved to embrace compromises that seek to satisfy
Public choice theory explains why missile defense programs have
been hobbled even while missile defense proponents have been rather
successful at the policy level. When the basic proposition has been
put before the American people regarding missile defense, the
majority sentiment in favor prevails. On the other hand, when the
question turns to which kind of missile defense system to field,
the determined opposition to those systems that are most
likely to be effective prevails. Political leaders' search for
compromise is satisfied by an outcome that embraces strong
statements of principle in favor of missile defense in deference to
the majority and simultaneously marginalizes the most effective
option for missile defense in deference to the vocal minority. This
predictable outcome was noted by Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) in a
January 29, 2007, address at The Heritage Foundation. He stated,
"The past five years have seen serious backpedaling on missile
defense in space, including cancellation of the Space-Based Laser
and the removal of the kill vehicle from the NFIRE satellite. The
2007 budget funded no space-based missile defense work. Modest
funding was to begin in 2008 for a space-based missile defense test
bed, but some are suggesting that even that will be omitted from
the budget when it is sent to Congress in February." Today, the
problem is compounded by the fact that missile defense
opponents are now in positions of power in Congress.
This dynamic is reinforced by the fact that the opposition to
more effective missile defense programs extends beyond those
who are opposed to missile defense in principle. Public choice
theory recognizes that the bureaucracy is a powerful political
actor, particularly in an area as technical as determining the
most effective missile defense options.
Most in the missile defense bureaucracy built their careers on
pursuing the limited technological options for missile defense
permitted by the ABM Treaty, namely ground-based defenses at fixed
locations. Individuals working on these programs are generally
among the majority supporting the deployment of a missile defense
system, but they are also quite reluctant to permit open
competition between their programs and effective alternatives now
permitted by U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty. While their
interest is parochial, it is strongly motivated. Finally, the
bureaucracy is in a position in which its technical expertise and
subsequent advice have a powerful impact on public
policy. Political leaders in the executive branch and Members
of Congress are poorly positioned to question, much less reject,
the technical advice of specialists in the career bureaucracy.
The application of public choice theory makes it clear that the
current lack of an effective missile defense is not primarily the
responsibility of the Bush Administration. First, it is the product
of a political process that makes it exceedingly difficult to
reverse a deeply entrenched policy. The Cold War policies of MAD
and arms control were undoubtedly the prevailing policies when
President Bush took office in 2001. Because of the nature of the
political process, full reversal of the earlier policies,
particularly at the programmatic level, will take time.
Second, public choice theory reveals that the problems
associated with the political process are beyond the President's
control. The political process does not always reward wisdom and
commitment. Indeed, it frequently punishes them.
Successfully Pursuing an Effective
Missile Defense System
Missile defense supporters in Congress needs to work with the
Bush Administration to put a truly effective missile defense system
in place. The elements of an effective defense will include an
array of sea-based interceptors to defend U.S. coastal areas
against short-range ballistic missiles launched from ships and to
defend U.S. forces abroad and U.S. friends and allies, such as
Japan. Most important, it must include space-based interceptors
that build on the technology pioneered in the Brilliant Pebbles
program of the late 1980s and early 1990s, which was cancelled by
the Clinton Administration in 1993. In combination with the
ground-based defenses for countering both short-range and
long-range missiles that the Bush Administration is now
putting in the field, this array of defenses would provide a robust
defense against limited missile strikes.
With these programmatic goals in mind, missile defense
supporters in Congress need to recognize that they will have to
challenge the opponents of missile defense directly. This will
require taking on the opponents' specific arguments in the context
of moving forward with the missile defense programs that they
strongly oppose. It will also require that they overcome the
pressure to settle for counterproductive compromises that are
explained by public choice theory. They can successfully counter
the arguments of missile defense opponents and overcome the
pressure to agree to ineffective missile defenses by taking
the following six steps.
Step #1: Reject proposals for an
ineffective missile defense system.
A truly effective missile defense system is within reach. If the
system that is ultimately deployed is ineffective, it will be
because missile defense opponents and those in the bureaucracy
with special interests have made it so. Missile defense
proponents must insist that opponents cannot have it both
ways. They cannot kill the options for effective defenses and
allow only less effective defense programs to go forward while at
the same decrying the system's ineffectiveness. Clearly, the
opponents are pursuing a policy of failure by design, and they hope
to tag proponents with the responsibility for fielding a less
The appropriate response to proposals for a less effective
defense system is to propose a truly effective one. This
alternative system will include a wider array of sea-based
interceptors and a constellation of space-based interceptors. The
latter component is essential. In proposing this alternative,
missile defense proponents in Congress should make it clear that
those who do not support this alternative are effectively opposed
to providing the best possible defense to the American people,
troops deployed abroad, and U.S. friends and allies.
Step #2: Point out how the policy of
vulnerability is destabilizing in today's world and how a
damage-limitation strategy is the better alternative.
The prevailing policy of the Cold War was that vulnerability to
attack was stabilizing because it would not jeopardize the
effectiveness of a hypothetical retaliatory strike. This
policy, however, was based on two fundamental assumptions: a
bipolar world of only two effective antagonists and
antagonists that are rational actors keenly focused on
maximizing their payoffs. Neither of these assumptions is as
valid as it was during the Cold War standoff between the U.S. and
the Soviet Union.
Today, the U.S. faces the prospect, if not the reality, of
multiple antagonists and more independent friends and allies just
among state actors. The purely descriptive list of antagonists
includes China, Iran, North Korea, and Syria. The friends and
allies of the U.S. that are now more likely to strike independent
positions from the U.S. include Australia, Canada, European states
(both individually and collectively), India, Israel, Japan,
Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and Taiwan. Under this
circumstance, the opponents of missile defense are recommending,
while not admitting it, that the U.S. multilateralize MAD. This
means that any state with the means to impose large-scale damage on
the U.S. and, for that matter, its friends and allies will go
unchallenged in launching an actual attack. Analysis shows that the
policy of multilateral MAD is quite destabilizing even if the
various states are assumed to be rational.
MAD's lack of effectiveness relative to states or non-state
actors that are irrational, in the technical meaning of that word,
is all but beyond dispute. For example, if Iran is committed to the
destruction of Israel even at the cost of national suicide, a
policy of vulnerability is clearly destabilizing. The same is true
of messianic terrorist organizations that come into possession of
biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons. The threat of a
retaliatory strike will have no deterrence value against them.
The better alternative under the circumstances of multiple
antagonists and irrational actors is a damage-limitation
which uses a robust mix of offensive and defensive forces to lessen
both the likelihood of an attack and the effectiveness of any
attack that does occur. Missile defense proponents in Congress
need to remind their colleagues and the American people that the
Cold War is over and that its comfortable assumptions regarding
stability are no longer applicable. In fact, any attempt to
continue the MAD policy will be very destabilizing and will
carry a much higher risk of an unimaginable level of human and
Step #3: Reject the charge that
space-based missile defense interceptors will weaponize space.
As noted earlier, missile defense opponents have shifted tactics
from opposing missile defenses across the board to focusing their
efforts on opposing those missile defense programs that are
likely to be the most effective. Therefore, their highest
priority is to kill any prospects for deploying missile
defense interceptors in space. They have taken the approach of
charging that such a deployment will mean that the U.S. has broken
an international taboo against weaponizing space. The implication
of this argument is that the deployment of missile defense
interceptors in space will be both highly dangerous and wildly
This argument is both factually incorrect and ignorant of the
purpose of missile defense interceptors. It is factually
incorrect because space is already weaponized insofar as ballistic
missiles transit space. This is the reason that space-based
interceptors will be so effective. They will already be located
where the missiles fly. The missiles will be coming to the
interceptors instead of the interceptors chasing after the
missiles. It is ignorant of the purpose of space-based interceptors
because such interceptors are designed to protect the U.S. and its
friends and allies against ballistic missiles that have already
been fired, either in anger or by accident. The idea that for the
U.S. to defend itself under this circumstance is somehow
provocative defies common sense.
The debate over space-based missile defense may come to a head
next year. It is anticipated that the Bush Administration will ask
for initial funds under the missile defense budget to
construct a space test bed. While this funding request by
itself does not represent a serious program to develop and
deploy space-based interceptors, it could serve as the vehicle
for the fundamental debate over the option of deploying missile
defense interceptors in space. At a minimum, missile defense
proponents in Congress will need to ensure the approval of this
request. Alternatively, they could propose directing missile
defense funding to a larger program that revives Brilliant Pebbles
technology and tests it in space. If an impending debate over
space-based missile defense is to take place, it might be
preferable to debate a truly substantive program rather than a more
Step #4: Dare missile defense
opponents in Congress to vote for a resolution that finds that the
deployment of effective missile defenses will make the U.S. too
Direct arguments that the U.S. is too powerful are generally
made by foreign critics of the U.S. and leftist academics at home.
While this view may be shared by missile defense opponents in
Congress, they are reluctant to acknowledge this in open debate.
Missile defense proponents should force them to take a clear stand
on this proposition.
Missile defense proponents could offer a resolution as an
amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill in 2007 (acknowledging
from the outset that they will vote against it). The resolution
could recite the statements of those who contend that the U.S. is
already too powerful and describe how missile defense will
only make the U.S. stronger militarily. The resolution could
conclude with a finding that the U.S. ought to forgo the deployment
of an effective missile defense and leave its people
vulnerable to missile attack specifically for the purpose
of diminishing the excessive power of the U.S.
The resolution would force missile defense opponents in Congress
to make a choice. They could choose to oppose the resolution, which
is the more likely outcome. In this case, they would have chosen to
abandon their liberal base of support and the argument that the
U.S. is too powerful and that an effective missile defense system
will exacerbate the perceived imbalance. On the other hand, they
could support the resolution and take the stand of opposing missile
defense in principle. While such a vote would consolidate their
position with the liberal base, it would also tie them to a
position that is not popular with the larger public. The outcome of
this debate is all but certain to put to rest, at least in
Congress, the contention that the best option for the U.S. is to
diminish its power by refusing to field as effective a missile
defense as possible for the American people.
Step #5: Continue with outside efforts
from across America to demand that the federal government provide a
The moral argument against missile defense is one that must be
fought at the local level. Only individual Americans can determine
that the judgment of the church leaders and other moralists
who oppose missile defense is misguided. The good news is that the
American people instinctively reject the notion that their own
vulnerability to violent attack is somehow just. The terrorist
attacks on September 11, 2001, made this clear for all to see.
While the American people are also willing to accept retaliatory
and even preemptive steps to counter terrorists, first and foremost
they demand that the federal government provide them with a
defense. Arguments questioning the morality of the defensive
response were and remain nonexistent.
Notwithstanding the legacy of the Cold War policy in favor
of offensive deterrence, the American people are not likely to
accept the idea that the missile threat is somehow a special
case-in other words, that a defense against terrorists is a moral
imperative but a defense against missile attack is morally
unacceptable. Evidence of this exists with the adoption of
resolutions by a number of state legislatures in the course of
the past 10 years appealing to the federal government to provide a
defense against missile attack. Such resolutions started appearing in
1997, with one adopted by the Alaska House of Representatives and
Senate in May of that year. In the face of overwhelming public
expressions of support for missile defense at the local level, it
is entirely possible that church leaders and other moralists
will reconsider their past pronouncements.
Step #6: Tie rhetorical support for
missile defense to support for an effective missile defense
Public choice theory explains why the missile defense debate has
resulted in a compromise in which support for missile defense at
the rhetorical level is broad and yet only a less effective defense
system is being put into the field. Missile defense supporters in
Congress need to understand that this compromise will become
increasingly dangerous to the missile defense cause. Missile
defense opponents are all too willing to pursue the cynical
political course of supporting missile defense at the rhetorical
level for now while permitting only a feeble defense and later
attacking the entire enterprise after its shortcomings are
True missile defense supporters in Congress need to go beyond
demanding just rhetorical support for missile defense. True support
for missile defense must be tied to commitments to back the best
possible missile defense system at an affordable price. The
true test of whether a Member of Congress supports missile defense
is his or her willingness to endorse and fund a missile defense
system that includes:
- Sea-based interceptors for protecting U.S. coastal areas
against short-range missiles, including both ballistic and cruise
- Sea-based interceptors that use ATKV technology and
existing vertical launch system canisters aboard Navy cruisers
to achieve an ascent-phase capability, as well as a midcourse
capability against intermediate-range and long-range ballistic
- Space-based interceptors based on Brilliant Pebbles
The debate over missile defense is not over. It has merely
shifted from whether missile defense should be pursued as a matter
of principle to whether deploying a missile defense will be
effective in practice. While victory in the debate over the
principle of fielding a missile defense was a necessary step
forward, it is not sufficient. It must be followed by victory in
the debate over fielding a truly effective defense for the American
This is not to say that the American people are demanding
perfection from these systems. What they expect is that their
government leaders will make an effort to field the most effective
missile defense system possible at an affordable price. Currently,
this is not what their government leaders are on track to provide.
Space-based defenses in particular are being held back by the
This is not a time to be complacent. On July 4, the North Korean
government launched a salvo of test missiles, one of which had the
potential to reach U.S. territory, sending a message that the date
of America's birth could be the date of America's death.
-Baker Spring is F.
M. Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy in the Douglas
and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of
the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International
Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.
Pfaltzgraff, Jr., and William R. Van Cleave, Missile Defense,
the Space Relationship & the Twenty-first Century: 2007
Report (Cambridge, Mass.: Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis,
2006), at (September 18, 2006).
Bush, "Remarks by the President to Students and Faculty at National
Defense University," The White House, May 1, 2001, at
(September 18, 2006).
Bush, "President Discusses National Missile Defense," The White
House, December 13, 2001, at
(September 19, 2006).
Ronald T. Kadish, USAF, Director, Missile Defense Agency, "Missile
Defense Program Brief to The Heritage Foundation," June 20,
Article V of
the ABM Treaty prohibited the development and testing of ABM
systems that could deployed at sea, in the air, in space, or in a
mobile launcher on land. Article VI of the ABM Treaty prohibited
the testing of non-ABM systems such as air defenses in "ABM
For the text
of President Clinton's veto message, see Congressional Quarterly
Almanac: 105th Cong., 1st Sess., 1997 (Washington, D.C.:
Congressional Quarterly Books, 1998), p. D-42.
and Van Cleave, Missile Defense, the Space Relationship &
the Twenty-first Century,pp. i:58-i:66.
McNamara, "Address Before United Press International Editors and
Publishers," September 18, 1967.
example, see Deborah Creighton Skinner, "Q & A: U.S. Missile
Defense," The Wall Street Journal, July 3, 2006, reposted as
"Q & A: U.S. Missile Defense and the North Korean Missile
(August 24, 2006).
example, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) offered an amendment to the
Defense Authorization Bill of 2002 to establish a preference in law
for countering terrorism over countering ballistic missile attacks.
See Congressional Record, 107th Cong., 2nd Sess., June 26,
2002, p. S6066.
DiMascio, "New Direction for Iraq Tops Levin's Agenda as Incoming
SASC Chairman," Defense Daily Network, November 17, 2006, at
(January 24, 2007).
example, see Steven J. Brams and D. Marc Kilgore, Game Theory
and National Security (New York: Basil Blackwell, 1988), and
Thomas C. Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict (Cambridge,
Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1960).
Payne, The Fallacies of Cold War Deterrence and a New
Direction (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2001), pp.
release, "President Bush, Russian President Putin Sign Nuclear Arms
Treaty," The White House, May 24, 2002, at
(September 18, 2006).
description of the arguments against the weaponization of space,
see Baker Spring, "Slipping the Surly Bonds of the Real World: The
Unworkable Effort to Prevent the Weaponization of Space," Heritage
Foundation Lecture No. 877, May 10, 2005, at www.heritage.org/Research/NationalSecurity/hl877.cfm.
description of the arguments of those who were fearful of American
power both during and after the Cold War, see John Earl Haynes and
Harvey Klehr, In Denial: Historians, Communism &
Espionage (San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2003).
Steinfels, "U.S. Bishops Oppose Anti-Missile Plan," The New York
Times, April 15, 1988, p. A18.
Methodist News Service, "Church's Leaders Oppose U.S. Missile
Defense Plan," May 4, 2001, at
(August 22, 2006).
Buchanan, "Politics Without Romance: A Sketch of Positive Public
Choice Theory and Its Normative Implications," in James M. Buchanan
and Robert D. Tollison, eds., The Theory of Public Choice-II
(Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1984).
Defense Advocacy Alliance, "Final Topline as of April 12, 2005," at
(August 22, 2006).
brief description of this overall missile defense system, see
Pfaltzgraff and Van Cleave, Missile Defense, the Space
Relationship & the Twenty-first Century, pp. 112-117.
Stability Working Group, Nuclear Games, pp. 11-20.
The Fallacies of Cold War Deterrence and a New Direction,
brief description of the damage limitation strategy, see Baker
Spring, "Congress Should Back Bush Administration Plans to Update
Nuclear Weapons Policy and Forces," Heritage Foundation
Backgrounder No. 1890, October 28, 2005, pp. 2-3, at www.heritage.org/Research/NationalSecurity/bg1890.cfm.
Pfaltzgraff and Van Cleave, Missile
Defense, the Space Relationship & the Twenty-first Century,