March 21, 2014 | Issue Brief on Missile Defense
Russia has invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea in blatant disregard of Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty and international law. Russia’s crude steps carry important implications for U.S. missile defense policy.
Currently, the Administration’s policy is not to affect the “strategic balance” with Russia in terms of ballistic missiles. In reality, there is no strategic balance between the two countries. Given Russia’s demonstrated willingness to use force to alter nations’ boundaries and act against U.S. interests, it is clear that the U.S. should expand its ballistic missile defense to protect itself and its allies from Russia’s ballistic missiles.
Russia is currently engaged in the largest nuclear weapons buildup since the end of the Cold War. It is planning to spend over $55 billion on its missile and air defense systems in the next six years, compared to about $8 billion a year that the U.S. spends on its missile defense programs.
Russia has over 1,400 nuclear warheads deployed on long-range ballistic missiles. These missiles can reach the U.S. within 33 minutes. It is also engaged in ballistic missile modernization and is reportedly developing intermediate-range ballistic missiles that are prohibited under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with the U.S. These missiles are most threatening to allies in the European theater.
In 2009, the Obama Administration canceled President George W. Bush’s plan to deploy two-stage ground-based midcourse defense (GMD) interceptors to Poland and highly capable X-band radar to the Czech Republic while also launching a “reset” policy in an effort to placate Moscow.
To replace Bush’s missile defense plan for Europe, the Obama Administration proposed a four-phased missile defense plan, the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA), consisting of two missile defense sites in Poland and Romania and forward-deployed radars. Phase Four—deployment of SM-3 Block IIB interceptors capable of shooting down medium-, intermediate-, and intercontinental-range ballistic missiles—would likely provide the U.S. and allies with better capability than the 10 GMD interceptors that were supposed to be deployed to Poland under the Bush Administration’s missile defense plan. However, the Administration unwisely canceled Phase Four of the EPAA last year.
Nonetheless, at this time, it would be unwise to cancel the EPAA. U.S. allies in Poland and Romania are already politically invested in missile defense sites on their territories, and Poland has already been snubbed by the Obama Administration’s surprising change in U.S. missile defense policy. It is also likely that costs and timelines involved in returning to the original plan would be high.
Rather, the geopolitical realities of the Russian aggression in Ukraine present an opportunity to assess how the current missile defense plan can be improved and where it would be suitable to add capabilities to it. An X-band radar in Europe would massively improve U.S. tracking capability, which would benefit both European allies and the U.S. homeland.
Russia’s actions also underscore the importance of maintaining U.S. missile defense resources. Currently, the budget of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), which is responsible for developing and acquiring U.S. missile defense architecture, is less than 1.5 percent of the Pentagon’s overall budget. These investments are highly cost-efficient, especially considering that a successful ballistic missile attack would cost the U.S. significantly more in lives and treasure. The value of what is being defended matters, as do the costs of escalation after the attacked nation is compelled to defend itself by other means.
To address U.S. vulnerability to an international ballistic missile threat, including that from Russia, the U.S. should:
Russian aggression affords the U.S. an opportunity to take a new look at its missile defense policy. It also demonstrates that Russia is willing to use force to change the status quo and act against U.S. interests. If the U.S. does not pay attention to this threat, it may pay a huge price later.
—Michaela Dodge is Policy Analyst for Defense and Strategic Policy in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.
 U.S. Department of Defense, Ballistic Missile Defense Review Report, February 2010, http://www.defense.gov/bmdr/docs/BMDR%20as%20of%2026JAN10%200630_for%20web.pdf (accessed March 19, 2014).
 Ria Novosti, “Russia Plans $55.3Bln Expenditure on Aerospace Defense by 2020,” February 28, 2014, http://en.ria.ru/news/20140228/187971313/Russia-Plans-553Bln-Expenditure-On-Aerospace-Defense-by-2020.html (accessed March 19, 2014).
 Michaela Dodge and Ariel Cohen, “Russia’s Arms Control Violations: What the U.S. Should Do,” Heritage Foundation Issue Brief No. 4105, December 11, 2013, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2013/12/russia-s-arms-control-violations-what-the-us-should-do (accessed March 19, 2014).