Recommitting America to Missile Defense

Within the first year of his presidency, Barack Obama has systematically reduced the capability of the United States to defend itself from the growing threat of global nuclear proliferation. Recent developments have signaled Obama's willingness to acknowledge the significance of this threat; however, the president's recent change in posture still falls short in addressing the security needs of the United States. Security in the 21st century requires a vigorous commitment to a comprehensive missile defense system.

In a recent announcement, the president sought to deploy land-based Patriot missile defense systems in four Persian Gulf states -- the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait -- as well as increase the amount of SM-3 missile defense interceptors aboard U.S. Navy ships in the Gulf. Obama's call for an increased presence in missile defense systems in the Gulf region is a welcome event, and it may help reduce Iran's proclivity toward hostility both locally and abroad. Additionally, the proposal increases the protection afforded American interests in the region and offers a broader umbrella of safety for those states living in close proximity to the unpredictable Iran. Unfortunately, the steps taken by the Obama administration are insufficient and fail to recognize or attend to the more global nature that encompasses the current and future nuclear threat.

None of the recently proposed missile defense deployments offers protection against the Iranian Shahab 3, a long-range missile system designed to strike targets far exceeding the confines of the Gulf region. While some intelligence estimates place Iran's capability in successfully developing the Shahab 3 at several years away, such estimates should not deter the Obama administration from aggressively adopting a policy that seeks to compel Iran to dismiss its nuclear ambitions. One successful nuclear attack directed toward the United States homeland emanating from Iran or North Korea would produce devastation beyond imagination. As history has shown, intelligence estimates are not always accurate, and the government, above all other considerations, has an obligation to provide for the common defense of the people. Rhetoric does not substitute for tangible, proven defense systems in achieving that end.

As such, the Obama administration should reconsider its September 17, 2009 announcement canceling the deployment of ground-based missile interceptors in Poland and missile-tracking radar systems in the Czech Republic. These systems were designed to ostensibly provide an additional stratum of security within the broader constructs of our missile defense system. Any effective missile defense system should be based on both redundant and complementary mechanisms designed to combat short-, medium-, and long-range nuclear missile threats. In deserting the Bush administration's plan to deploy both interceptor and radar systems within Europe, the Obama administration removed one important layer of protection from our arsenal.

In his zeal to improve diplomatic relations with Russia, ostensibly designed to improve back-door diplomatic negotiations with Iran, President Obama abandoned Polish and Czech leaders who secured terms of deployment favorable to the United States, often at great personal and political cost. Of course, in so doing, the United States has not seen any outward indications that Russia will be a complicit partner in helping to pressure Iran into abandoning their nuclear ambitions. As research from the Heritage Foundation outlines, Russian assistance in such an endeavor cannot be relied upon due to the nature of their relationship with Iran and their belief that enhancing ties with Iran will provide the necessary ballast that alters the fundamental power of each nation within the region.

President Obama's actions conflict with his stated desire to provide an ambitious nuclear defense apparatus designed to protect U.S. interests. His recent budget proposal amounts to an increase of over six percent in funding designated to missile defense interests; however, it still fails to recoup the cuts his administration placed on the missile defense budget from a year earlier. If the president is serious about missile defense, then his administration needs to allocate funding commensurate to the needs of the United States and her interests abroad.

In a recent Washington Times editorial, Representative Michael Turner, Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, chided the Obama administration for its unrealistic desire to improve strategic missile defense capabilities while not significantly increasing funding for such improvements:

The administration's policy cannot be funded if the missile defense budget remains flat. There are simply no more future programs like Airborne Laser, Kinetic Energy Interceptor and Multiple Kill Vehicle to take money from. Unless the Administration decides to further cut the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, take resources from critical programs such as testing and targets, or perhaps slow roll the implementation of its new policy, it cannot follow through on its stated commitments. A better solution is to restore top line funding for missile defense.

While the nature of the nuclear threat differs in its current manifestation from that which occupied the nation's consciousness during the Cold War, it is nonetheless as salient as ever. The threat from rogue nations such as Iran or North Korea remains and increases as each year passes. Additionally, the potential for terrorist organizations obtaining and using nuclear weapons against the United States further exacerbates the broader nuclear threat and renders previously held theories of containment, such as Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), impotent -- such theories do not resonate with groups willing to die for their cause. The greatest fence against these nuclear threats rests in developing as impregnable a defense system as possible, and that requires the Obama administration to substantially increase its commitment to missile defense.

Scott G. Erickson works in public safety and holds his Master of Science degree from the University of Cincinnati. Follow him on Twitter @SGErickson.
If you experience technical problems, please write to