The growing threat from long-range nuclear missiles endangers the lives of millions of Americans while upsetting regional and global stability. America needs a comprehensive ballistic missile defense system that employs a multilayered defense system of sea, ground, air, and space-based systems.
Since President Obama took office, the White House has systematically undercut comprehensive missile defense and thereby placed the U.S. homeland and our allies at greater risk. On February 1, 2010, the Administration released its Ballistic Missile Defense Review Report, which indicated that the Administration would continue to pursue a less-than-robust effort to protect the homeland against long-range missile strikes. As Iran has again launched a space rocket, which has much in common with long-range missiles, the U.S. is likely to be at greater risk in the future.
Iran is not the only state that is likely to consider using missiles in an attack against the United States. North Korea has launched the Taepodong 2 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which has the capability to deliver a nuclear warhead to Hawaii. A third stage could boost the weapon’s range to include the continental United States. The best way to contain the threat from North Korea will be through missile defense.
While Russia is not likely to launch a missile attack against the United States, President Obama’s policies toward Russia have made the United States more vulnerable to attack by undermining both U.S. strategic superiority and the international stability that it provides. It essentially fails to recognize the need for an arms control policy that is compatible with a defensive strategic posture in light of greater proliferation pressures. The Heritage Foundation has articulated such a posture as a “protect and defend” strategy.
The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), a centerpiece of the Obama Administration’s “reset” policy toward Russia, is fundamentally flawed, putting the United States at a disadvantage. It requires the U.S. to cut its strategic forces significantly. The already overstretched defense budget will have to bear additional costs associated with implementing New START, such as building specialized storage sites.
By comparison, under New START, Russia is allowed to expand its nuclear arsenal, which the most recent data exchange under the treaty reveals it is doing. Russia has also determined that language in the treaty’s preamble would allow it to threaten to withdraw from the treaty should the United States expand its ballistic missile defenses.
- Commit to funding the overall ballistic missile defense program at an average of $14 billion per year over the five-year period covering fiscal years 2012 through 2016. To protect Americans effectively against rogue attacks in the near future, a rigorous program of testing, development, and deployment of missile defenses must be implemented. Adequate funding must be dedicated to these systems. The Administration’s proposed FY 2012 allocation of $10.7 billion—just 1.6 percent of the $584.8 billion total core defense budget—is not nearly enough to deploy a comprehensive and effective system.
- Expedite missile defense research, development, and testing. Traditional methods of defense acquisition require operational testing of new systems before fielding them, but this approach restrains the development and deployment of a comprehensive missile defense system since a system of systems must be built in order to be tested. In missile defense, development and testing of systems must be concurrent.
- Deploy layered missile defenses as soon as possible. We need defenses that intercept missiles during all three stages of flight: boost, mid-course, and terminal. A multi-tiered missile defense system reduces the burden on each capability, thus reducing the technical requirements and costs of each layer and increasing the likelihood that we can destroy hostile missiles before they reach our atmosphere.
- Pursue a space-based defensive component. A long-range ballistic missile flies through space to reach its target, making space-based defenses the most effective, most affordable, and most technically feasible option. According to the Independent Working Group on missile defense, a system of 1,000 space-based interceptors would cost less than $20 billion to build, launch, and operate over a 20-year period.
- Increase coordination efforts with U.S. allies. The United States is conducting joint missile defense efforts with key countries in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. The threat posed by North Korea’s ongoing rocket testing reinforces the need for missile defenses in South Korea and Japan. The likelihood that Iran will soon deploy missiles armed with nuclear weapons demands that friends, allies, and U.S. bases within range of Iranian weapons be protected.
- Adopt a realistic “protect and defend” strategy. Instead of focusing on Cold War–style arms control, the United States should adopt a fundamentally defensive strategic posture based on the “protect and defend” strategy. This posture would employ offensive and defensive forces, both conventional and nuclear, to defeat any strategic attack on the U.S. and its allies. In addition, it would offer opportunities for mutually beneficial cooperation with Russia based on a realistic assessment of its intentions and capabilities rather than futile hope and nonexistent change.
Facts & Figures
- The U.S. is spending about $10 billion on missile defenses per year, far less than the nearly $1 trillion the Administration spends per year on all means-tested welfare programs.
- The Administration is proposing to spend less than 2 percent of the core defense budget on missile defense in FY 2012.
- The Administration supports fielding only 30 ground-based missile defense interceptors for countering long-range missiles, compared with the Bush Administration’s proposed fielding of 54.
- The Administration is committed to deploying zero missile defense interceptors in space, while the Independent Working Group recommends deploying 1,000 such interceptors.
- The misnamed New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia, which entered into force in February 2011, will permit Russia to add 179 strategic nuclear delivery vehicles, including long-range ballistic missiles, to its arsenal.
- China is estimated to have between 170 and 180 nuclear-armed ballistic missiles and roughly 1,100 conventionally armed ballistic missiles opposite Taiwan.
- North Korea is estimated to have around 1,000 ballistic missiles of varying ranges.
- Iran has ballistic missiles with ranges of 1,200 miles, which permits them to reach targets throughout the greater Middle East.
Selected Additional Resources
Independent Working Group, Missile Defense, the Space Relationship, & the Twenty-First Century, Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, 2009.
Nuclear Stability Working Group, Nuclear Games II: An Exercise in Examining the Dynamic of Missile Defenses and Arms Control in a Proliferated World (Washington, D.C.: The Heritage Foundation, 2010).
Baker Spring, “Sixteen Steps to Comprehensive Missile Defense: What the FY 2012 Budget Should Fund,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2552, May 3, 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.
Heritage Experts on Missile Defense