The Heritage Foundation

Executive Summary #1798 on Missile Defense

September 22, 2004

September 22, 2004 | Executive Summary on Missile Defense

Executive Summary: The Operational Missile Defense Capability: AHistoric Advance for the Defense of the American People

The Bush Administration will soon declare that the United States has an operational capability to defend its territory against limited ballistic missile strikes. This is a historic achievement because the Bush Administration overcame severe obstacles to make ballistic missile defense a reality. It achieved this outcome by reevaluating relevant treaties and furthering military technology.

However, the threat remains. China has developed a whole new generation of mobile ICBMs capable of hitting the U.S., and hostile governments, such as North Korea and Iran, continue to develop and produce ballistic missiles capable of inflicting real damage upon American soil. In order to protect the U.S. from these threats, Congress should:

  • Continue to improve on existing missile systems and interceptors;
  • Support the development and deployment of sea-, land-, and space-based missile interceptors; and
  • Construct a worldwide command and control system that ties together all the U.S. missile defense capabilities.

For almost 30 years, the federal government has maintained a military posture that left the American people vulnerable to ballistic missile attack, but this posture of vulnerability to missile attack will end when the President declares a ballistic missile defense for the American people to be operational. The earlier posture was the direct result of a policy that defined the vulnerability of the American people to missile attack as a virtue. The policy was codified in the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty with the former Soviet Union.

President George W. Bush's expected declaration of an operational capability to defend the American people against a limited ballistic missile attack is, therefore, a historic achievement. The federal government is now starting to meet its obligation to defend the American people to the best of its ability.

President Bush's success marks a cardinal victory for missile defense supporters, following a long and sometimes bitter struggle. President Ronald Reagan, recognizing the moral bankruptcy and ineffectiveness of the policy of vulnerability, ended the policy in 1983. However, his Administration and the first Bush Administration were unable deploy a ballistic missile defense before President Bill Clinton restored the policy of vulnerability in 1993.

Congress terminated the policy again in 1999, and the current President Bush endorsed this decision by Congress in 2001. The difference with the current Administration, however, is that an initial missile defense capability will be declared operational and the American people will cease to be completely vulnerable to missile attack.

Missile defense supporters, as they look both back and ahead at this time of historic achievement, should recall the vision that President Reagan shared with the American people in 1983. It is a vision that transcends its era of confrontation with the Soviet Union and the Cold War because it makes a clear commitment to the defense of the American people by advancing technology. This vision of an unshakeable commitment to defense and the need to advance technology should continue to drive missile defense supporters in the years ahead.

Baker Spring is F. M. Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Baker Spring F.M. Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

Related Issues: Missile Defense