There is no credible evidence to support the administration’s contention that America’s steps to eschew nuclear weapons will inspire others to do likewise, or that conventional forces can provide an adequate basis for extending deterrence and assuring our allies. In fact, backtracking on extended nuclear deterrence now is likely to inspire proliferation among some allies who have previously been assured by a credible nuclear umbrella. Nonetheless, the administration appears ideologically determined to “devalue” nuclear weapons and dramatically shift American deterrence policy.
Given this priority, long-term, well-funded defense budgets for advanced conventional forces and robust missile defenses are necessary. But the administration has cut missile-defense programs over the past three years, in some cases severely, and strong conventional-force budgets appear to be unlikely, thanks to existing and prospective cuts in defense spending. For example, given these budget cuts, rather than an all-stealth force, the U.S. Air Force will be flying legacy F-15s and F-16s for decades. In 2009, the Obama administration killed two promising missile-defense programs, the multiple-kill vehicle and the boost-phase interceptor. In 2011, it unilaterally terminated deployment of the successor to the Patriot defense system, the MEADS, despite appeals from Germany and Italy. It also slowed the deployment rate for the THAAD missile-defense system.
These rollbacks of missile-defense programs have been enacted in the face of large and growing numbers of offensive missiles in opponents’ hands. According to the Obama administration, potential adversaries who threaten us, our friends, and our allies have over 6,000 short- and medium-range missiles. This compares unhappily with our defensive-interceptor inventory of 1,154, only a small portion of which (18 THAAD and 87 SM-3 defensive interceptors) reportedly can intercept medium- and intermediate-range missiles or provide defense for wide areas.
American interceptor procurement is supposed to increase in FY2012, but the big question is how much will survive the new budget cuts. These threaten to be much greater than previous cuts, and likely will affect adversely the number of defensive interceptors and radars procured. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced recently that new U.S. cuts could “terminate” the entire U.S program for missile defense in Europe. Moreover, the U.S. is no longer able to prudently and rapidly surge its missile-defense assets to the Middle East, as it did in 1991 and 2003. The Chinese missile capability in Asia has become too great a threat to U.S. bases and naval vessels in the Pacific to allow this.
This confluence of developments creates a security crisis for some U.S. allies. In many cases, offensive missiles might have a free ride to their territories. They would do well to look toward acquiring missile defenses cooperatively with the United States.
Missile defense is not a silver bullet, but it can reduce vulnerability to missile strikes and thereby devalue opponents’ offensive missiles and WMD. Perfect defenses are not necessary to introduce uncertainties into an enemy’s attack plans. Iran in particular has few reliable delivery options beyond offensive missiles, and reducing those missiles’ reliability would be no small advantage. Missile defense also can provide allies with time and a more benign option than executing a pre-emptive strike when an opponent appears to be preparing for a missile strike. This too is no small advantage.
Cooperation with the U.S. on missile defense, including arrangements for the sharing of early-warning information, can reduce the costs and increase effectiveness for all. We are past the point where allies and friends should expect American taxpayers to foot the bill for their missile defense in return for their political support for our international missile-defense efforts. This essentially may be the administration’s current modus operandi for missile defense in Europe, but it is not a 21st-century reality.