May 3, 2011 | Backgrounder on Missile Defense
Abstract: The U.S. missile defenses are not keeping pace with the proliferation of threats. The Obama Administration has made massive cuts in the missile defense programs, cancelled promising programs, disappointed allies by pulling out of joint programs, and negotiated an arms reduction treaty with Russia that imposes sweeping restrictions on U.S. missile defense options. These changes in policy and programs indicate that the Obama Administration is seriously misreading the situation, both domestically and internationally, and trying to use Cold War–style deterrence to counter modern threats. Congress needs to put the U.S. missile defense program back on track and enact into law a U.S. “protect and defend strategy” to replace the outdated Cold War deterrence strategy.
The Obama Administration made large-scale cuts to the missile defense program in fiscal year (FY) 2010, and its proposed budgets for FY 2011 and FY 2012 will not make up the lost ground. Similarly, the Administration has cancelled or sharply curtailed promising missile defense programs and joint projects with U.S. allies, including the Airborne Laser (ABL) and the “third site” missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. Furthermore, the President signed and the Senate consented to ratification of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with Russia, which imposes sweeping restrictions on U.S. missile defense options. These changes in policy and programs indicate that the Obama Administration is seriously misreading the situation, both domestically and internationally. It is attempting to rely on Cold War deterrence, which is inadequate in a world of proliferation of missile technology and weapons of mass destruction.
Congress needs to put the overall missile defense program back on track and enact into law a U.S. “protect and defend strategy” to replace the outdated Cold War strategy of strategic deterrence. To these ends, Congress should increase overall funding for missile defense, restore a number of missile defense programs, and make significant changes to missile defense policy in the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2012. Indeed, the policy changes may be more important than the programmatic and budgetary changes because the policy changes justify and rationalize the programmatic and budgetary changes.
Like other major Department of Defense (DOD) weapons programs, missile defense will ultimately depend on resources. A robust missile defense program, based on strong policies, will require more resources. Congress should begin by adding $850 million to the President’s proposed missile defense budget for FY 2012 to fund the programmatic changes that are described later in this paper.
In 2009, the Obama Administration ordered large-scale cuts to the missile defense program for FY 2010. Specifically, President Barack Obama proposed $1.6 billion in cuts compared to the prior year’s budget estimate. In 2010, the Administration proposed a modest increase in the missile defense budget for FY 2011, but only in comparison to the reduced level for FY 2010. That the Obama Administration was off base regarding the modest increase for FY 2011 has been demonstrated by the fact Congress increased Missile Defense Agency funding in the recently enacted defense appropriations legislation by almost $108 million when it reduced the overall defense budget from the requested level. On February 14, 2011, the Administration released its proposed missile defense budget and program for FY 2012, which includes $8.6 billion for the MDA and $2.1 billion for elements of the missile defense program outside the MDA.
This total $10.7 billion request is roughly $450 million more than the Administration’s FY 2011 request, a 4.4 percent increase in current dollars and less than 3 percent increase in real (inflation-adjusted) dollars. Yet this is almost 2 percent in real dollars below what the Bush Administration requested for FY 2009. In budgetary terms, the missile defense program is clearly not making up the ground it lost because of the FY 2010 cuts.
However, the budget numbers tell only half of the story. Obama Administration policy toward the development and fielding of U.S. missile defense capabilities has exacerbated the problems stemming from the budget reductions. Some critical programs have been canceled outright, including the Multiple Kill Vehicle (MKV) and the “third site” missile defense plan to place missile defense interceptors in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic. The Administration has also curtailed the Airborne Laser and the ground-based midcourse defense (GMD) interceptors deployed in Alaska. Even worse, the Administration agreed to language in the preamble to the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia that imposes sweeping, although poorly defined, restrictions on U.S. missile defense options. New START entered into force on February 5, 2011.
The Administration’s backsliding comes at a time when ballistic missile capabilities are expanding worldwide and are expected to continue expanding. For example, China has an estimated 170 to 180 nuclear-armed ballistic missiles and has deployed roughly 1,100 conventionally armed missiles opposite Taiwan. These include the DF-21D, a missile that can hit large U.S. surface ships and has recently reached an “initial operational capability.” Iran has missiles with a range of 1,200 miles, which can reach targets anywhere in the greater Middle East. North Korea has roughly 1,000 ballistic missiles of varying ranges. Russia is planning to buy 36 new intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and two new missile submarines this year.
Both the policies and programs for missile defense proposed by the Obama Administration are dangerously weak. Some elements are obviously better than others, but the ground lost in FY 2010 is not being recovered. Initially, Congress needs to understand both the good and bad aspects of the Administration’s missile defense policy. Its most important components are:
Given the Administration’s weak missile defense policy, the Administration’s missile defense proposal for FY 2012 and beyond suffers from a number of serious shortfalls:
Congress can reverse the specific Administration policies that have derailed the overall missile defense program since 2009 by adding a series of specific policy changes to the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2012. These recommendations do not require additional funding.
This language, which was added to the New START resolution of ratification, sought to establish a protect and defend strategy to replace the Cold War strategy of maintaining strategic deterrence by threatening retaliation with nuclear weapons. Moving toward a fundamentally defensive strategic posture, which seeks to hold at risk the means of strategic attack against the U.S. and its allies, is the most important and urgent requirement in positioning the U.S. to effectively meet the challenges of the post–Cold War world. This language needs to be given statutory authority.
Given that the U.S. has deployed a rudimentary missile defense “against limited ballistic missile attack” as required by law, Congress should update the law with a new prescription for the United States to deploy a global multilayered missile defense system as soon as technologically possible. This should require that the overall missile defense system protect the U.S. and its allies against missile attacks launched from anywhere in the world and be as robust as technology permits by including strong capabilities to counter ballistic missiles in all three phases of flight.
The process of negotiating and ratifying New START revealed that Russia seeks to limit U.S. missile defense options and that the Administration will agree to such restrictions if it believes it can get away with it. Indeed, the pressure on the U.S. to accept such restrictions will grow as it pursues the next arms control treaty with Russia, which the Administration may see as an opportunity to adopt a “minimal deterrence posture.”
Perhaps the Administration’s most disingenuous step is pursuing ongoing discussions with Russia on missile defense cooperation. While the Administration is not admitting to it in public, what the Administration is calling missile defense cooperation with Russia is in reality cooperation in curtailing missile defenses.
Given the recent experience with New START, Congress cannot afford to permit the Administration to gain the initiative on agreements with Russia that may apply to missile defense. Congress needs to use its legislative authority preemptively to foreclose Administration options to restrict U.S. missile defense capabilities through treaties or other agreements with Russia.
Section 2573 of Title 22 of the U.S. Code clearly states that international agreements that limit U.S. armed forces and armaments must be drafted as treaties. Nevertheless, the Obama Administration appears to be ignoring this legal requirement as it considers signing the Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities proposed by the European Union. By joining the Code of Conduct, the Obama Administration would establish a precedent for limiting, if not prohibiting outright, U.S. space-based missile defenses through non-treaty agreements or arrangements.
The Code of Conduct is not a treaty agreement. Indeed, the Administration could even argue that it is nonbinding, but such an assertion would be pure subterfuge. The Code of Conduct would impose obligations on the U.S., which will certainly limit how the U.S. military can operate missile defense systems in order to avoid generating space debris.
Congress, and the Senate in particular, should insist that the Code of Conduct be redrafted as a treaty. Section 2573 should provide Congress with the authority to demand such a revision. If the Obama Administration chooses to ignore this demand, Congress should amend Section 2573 to remove any doubt that it applies to the Code of Conduct for Space by explicitly defining the treaty requirement to cover informal arrangements.
Technical experts are well aware of the dangers posed by an EMP attack and have described them in considerable detail in the public reports of the congressionally appointed Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse Attack. This is an important issue for missile defense because a ballistic missile is the most effective means of delivering an EMP weapon to a position in space where it can cause maximum damage to the U.S. electrical grid and other elements of the infrastructure.
General public awareness of this threat appears to be low. Accordingly, the House Armed Services Committee should describe the nature of the EMP threat by dedicating a portion of its report on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 to the threat of EMP attacks. It can augment this language in the committee report by holding hearings on the subject at various locations around the country.
Just making up lost ground will not keep the U.S. missile defense programs ahead of America’s adversaries. That would require decisively reversing the Obama Administration’s course of “just barely enough” missile defense and putting the nation on the path to more robust defenses that would protect and defend the U.S. and its friends and allies and that would dissuade potential enemies from investing in offensive missile capabilities. To that end, the Independent Working Group’s 2009 report is an excellent resource for Congress as it considers missile defense legislation as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2012.
Implementing all of the following programmatic recommendations will require Congress to increase the FY 2012 missile defense budget by $850 million above the Administration’s request. This means that the missile defense budget should exceed $11.5 billion in FY 2012. Specifically, Congress should:
Why Is the Administration Abandoning MEADS?
The circumstances surrounding the decision to leave the MEADS program lead to the question of whether an additional reason is driving this decision. The Obama Administration is committed to concluding an arms control treaty with Russia to reduce the number of short-range nuclear weapons. Russia has a tremendous advantage over the U.S. in these systems, and the Obama Administration is likely tempted to use U.S. defense systems against short-range missiles as bargaining chips in negotiations with Russia. From this perspective, the decision to withdraw from MEADS can be seen as a preliminary U.S. commitment to Russia to limit its defenses against short-range missiles. If this is true, the Patriot, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), and certain models of the SM-3 could also be on the arms control auction block.
Given the implications of the Administration’s decision to withdraw from MEADS for both missile defense cooperation with U.S. allies and to limit missile defense options for reasons of arms control, Congress should insist on continued U.S. participation in MEADS.
Establishing a robust ballistic missile defense is the most effective means of addressing the future threats to the U.S. and its allies resulting from the proliferation of missile technology and weapons of mass destruction. As long as U.S. missile defense capabilities remain limited, ballistic missiles will be the most effective means of delivering such weapons. This policy shift toward a robust missile defense would move the U.S. away from the retaliation-based deterrence policies of the Cold War and toward a protect and defend strategy that seeks to deter attacks on the U.S. and its allies by dramatically reducing the likelihood that such attacks will achieve their political and military aims.
The Obama Administration’s missile defense policy and programs demonstrate its reluctance to make this necessary policy shift, indicating that the Obama Administration is misreading the situation, both domestically and internationally. Domestically, the American people clearly want to be protected and expect the federal government to fulfill its constitutional responsibility to the best of its ability.
Internationally, proliferation has put weapons of mass destruction and missile delivery systems into the hands of both states and terrorist organizations that are much less concerned about the threat of U.S. retaliation than the Soviet Union was during the Cold War. On this basis, Congress has the responsibility to push the Obama Administration in the right direction. It can start by incorporating a robust missile defense policy and matching set of programs into the National Defense Authorization Act.
—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.
Baker Spring, “Obama Missile Defense Plan Puts America at Risk,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2292, June 29, 2009, at http://www.heritage.org/Research/Reports/2009/06/Obama-Missile-Defense-Plan-Puts-America-at-Risk.
Baker Spring, “The Obama Administration’s Ballistic Missile Defense Program: Treading Water in Shark-Infested Seas,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2396, April 8, 2010, at http://www.heritage.org/Research/Reports/2010/04/The-Obama-Administrations-Ballistic-Missile-Defense-Program-Treading-Water-in-Shark-Infested-Seas.
U.S. Department of Defense, “Fiscal Year 2012 Budget Request: Program Acquisition Costs by Weapon System,” February 2011, pp. 4-1–4-11, at http://comptroller.defense.gov/defbudget/fy2012/FY2012_Weapons.pdf (March 18, 2011), and U.S. Department of Defense, Missile Defense Agency, “MDA Fiscal Year 2012 Budget Outline,” February 2011, at http://www.mda.mil/global/documents/pdf/budgetfy12.pdf (March 18, 2011).
The Bush Administration requested $10.5 billion for missile defense in FY 2009, including more than $9.3 billion for the MDA. U.S. Department of Defense, Missile Defense Agency, “Historical Funding for MDA FY85–10,” at http://www.mda.mil/global/documents/pdf/histfunds.pdf (March 18, 2011), and news release, “Fiscal Year 2009 Department of Defense Budget Released,” U.S. Department of Defense, February 4, 2008, at http://www.defense.gov/releases/release.aspx?releaseid=11663 (March 18, 2011).
New START Working Group, “An Independent Assessment of New START,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2410, April 30, 2010, at http://www.heritage.org/Research/Reports/2010/04/An-Independent-Assessment-of-New-START-Treaty.
Bruce Klingner, “The Case for Comprehensive Missile Defense in Asia,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2506, January 7, 2011, at http://www.heritage.org/Research/Reports/2011/01/The-Case-for-Comprehensive-Missile-Defense-in-Asia.
Theodore R. Bromund and James Phillips, “Containing a Nuclear Iran: Difficult, Costly, and Dangerous,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2517, February 14, 2011, at http://www.heritage.org/Research/Reports/2011/02/Containing-a-Nuclear-Iran-Difficult-Costly-and-Dangerous.
Klinger, “The Case for Comprehensive Missile Defense in Asia.”
Mikhail Formichev, “Russian Military to Buy 36 ICBMs, 2 Missile Subs in 2011,” RIA Novosti, March 18, 2011, at http://en.rian.ru/mlitary_news/20110318/163075432.html (April 11, 2011).
Baker Spring and Peter Brookes, “What Nuclear Gaming Tells Us About New START,” Heritage Foundation Special Report, September 28, 2010, at http://www.heritage.org/Research/Reports/2010/09/What-Nuclear-Gaming-Tells-Us-About-New-START.
 Congressional Record, December 22, 2010, pp. S10984–S10985.
U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Verification, Compliance, and Implementation, “Ballistic Missile Defense and New START Treaty,” April 21, 2010, at http://www.state.gov/t/avc/rls/140624.htm (April 11, 2011).
Treaty proponents in the Senate fought very hard to defeat an amendment to strike sweeping language in the preamble. For example, see the floor statements of Senators John Kerry (D–MA) and Richard Lugar (R–IN). Congressional Record, December 17, 2010, pp. S10469–S10470.
U.S. Department of Defense, “Fiscal Year 2012 Budget Request,” p. 4-9.
U.S. Department of Defense, “MDA Fiscal Year 2012 Budget Outline.”
U.S. Department of Defense, “Fiscal Year 2012 Budget Request,” pp. 4-4 and 4-11.
U.S. Department of Defense, “Ballistic Missile Defense Review Report,” February 2010, p. 13, at http://www.defense.gov/bmdr/docs/BMDR%20as%20of%2026JAN10%200630_for%20web.pdf (April 27, 2011).
U.S. Department of Defense, Office of the Secretary of Defense, “Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) Fact Sheet,” at http://www.acq.osd.mil/docs/U%20S%20_MEADS_Decision_Fact_Sheet_Feb_11_2011.pdf?transcriptid=4648 (February 16, 2011).
Carlo Munoz, “Air Force, MDA Ink Agreement on New Ballistic Missile Program,” Defense Daily Network, March 28, 2011, at http://www.defensedaily.com/publications/smr/13046.html (April 11, 2011; subscription required).
U.S. Department of Defense, “MDA Fiscal Year 2012 Budget Outline.”
Israeli Defense Forces, “Iron Dome Intercepts Rocket from Gaza,” April 7, 2011, at http://idfspokesperson.com/2011/04/07/iron-dome-intercepts-rocket-from-gaza/ (April 11, 2011).
“It is the policy of the United States to deploy as soon as is technologically possible an effective National Missile Defense system capable of defending the territory of the United States against limited ballistic missile attack (whether accidental, unauthorized or deliberate) with funding subject to the annual authorization of appropriations and the annual appropriation of funds for National Missile Defense.” National Missile Defense Act of 1999, Public Law 106–38, § 2.
Baker Spring, “Russian Control of U.S. Missile Defenses? Just Say No,” The Foundry, April 11, 2011, at http://blog.heritage.org/2011/04/11/russian-control-of-u-s-missile-defenses-just-say-no/ (April 11, 2011).
Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack, “Executive Report,” and Critical National Infrastructures, April 2008, at http://empcommission.org/docs/A2473-EMP_Commission-7MB.pdf (April 5, 2011).
Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, Independent Working Group, “Missile Defense, the Space Relationship, & the Twenty-First Century,” January 2009, p. xii, at http://www.ifpa.org/pdf/IWG2009.pdf (April 7, 2011).
Vice Admiral J. D. Williams, USN (Ret.), “Improving Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense Command and Control,” Heritage Foundation Special Report No. 89, May 2, 2011, pp. 10–11, at http://www.heritage.org/Research/Reports/2011/05/Improving-Aegis-Ballistic-Missile-Defense-Command-and-Control.
Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, “Missile Defense, the Space Relationship, & the Twenty-First Century,” p. xii.
Williams, “Improving Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense Command and Control.”
Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, “Missile Defense, the Space Relationship, & the Twenty-First Century,” p. 130.
GlobalSecurity.org, “Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System Completes Tracking Exercise,” January 28, 2011, at http://www.globalsecurity.org/space/library/news/2011/space-110128-lockheed-martin02.htm (April 7, 2011).
Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, “Missile Defense, the Space Relationship, & the Twenty-First Century,” p. 129.
Baker Spring and Michaela Bendikova, “Medium Extended Air Defense System: Continued Funding Needed,” Heritage Foundation WebMemo No. 3167, February 22, 2011, at http://www.heritage.org/Research/Reports/2011/02/Medium-Extended-Air-Defense-System-Continued-Funding-Needed.