US Missile Defense Strategy: Engaging the Debate 9781626372443

Why has the United States continued to develop ballistic missile defenses in an era of irregular warfare and asymmetric

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Michael Mayer

Published in the United States of America in 2015 by FirstForumPress A division of Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc. 1800 30th Street, Boulder, Colorado 80301

and in the United Kingdom by FirstForumPress A division of Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc. 3 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, London WC2E 8LU

© 2015 by Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Mayer, Michael, 1973– US missile defense strategy : engaging the debate / by Michael Mayer. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-1-62637-150-7 (alk. paper) 1. Ballistic missile defenses—United States. 2. Ballistic missile defenses—Government policy—United States. I. Title. II. Title: United States missile defense strategy. UG743.M387 2014 358.1'740973—dc23 2014022133

British Cataloguing in Publication Data A Cataloguing in Publication record for this book is available from the British Library.

Printed and bound in the United States of America

The paper used in this publication meets the requirements of the American National Standard for Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials Z39.48-1992. 5 4 3 2 1

To my mother—for instilling in me the confidence and optimism to dream big dreams, and the courage to follow them. To my father—for providing constant support and encouragement, even when I’ve dreamed a little too big. To my wife—for having unshakeable faith in me, and for being my partner and my very best friend. And to my daughters—for being a source of inspiration and joy, and making it all worthwhile.





Why Missile Defense?



Strategic Roles for Missile Defense



The Nuts and Bolts of Missile Defense



BMD and the Clinton Administration



BMD and the Bush Administration



BMD and the Obama Administration



The Strategic Utility of Missile Defense


List of Acronyms Bibliography Index

207 211 229



This book would quite simply not have been possible without the efforts of Svein Melby, senior fellow and founder of the Center for Transatlantic Studies at the Norwegian Institute for Defense Studies. By his hand, a dynamic, nurturing and uncompromising academic environment flourished in our corner of the institute and became fertile ground for my curiosity. His enthusiasm for the study of the United States has been a constant inspiration, and his seemingly limitless knowledge of the subject is awe inspiring. No one person is more responsible for my having had the privilege of experiencing the previously unimaginable life of a professional researcher. I am also indebted to Johannes Gullestad Rø, assistant professor at the Norwegian Institute for Defense Studies. Our intellectual sparring matches have undoubtedly—though often indirectly—raised the quality of this work, and are among those aspects of life at the institute that I most cherish. Additional thanks are owed to Arild Underdal and Dean Wilkening, both of whom provided valuable advice and comments. This book stems from research supported by a generous stipend from the Norwegian Ministry of Defense and conducted while I was a fellow at the Norwegian Institute of Defense Studies in Oslo.


1 Why Missile Defense?

Under Secretary of Defense Douglas Feith emerged from the Russian Ministry of Defense, having just concluded a round of discussions over the Bush administration’s plans to move forward with a ballistic missile defense program. It was a rainy autumn day in Moscow, slightly warmer than usual. Together with his colleague, Assistant Secretary of Defense J.D. Crouch, Feith was on his way to a press conference at a nearby hotel when a US embassy official notified them of unconfirmed reports that a plane had struck one of the World Trade Center buildings in New York. Upon arriving at the hotel, the two Pentagon officials then received word of a second plane crashing into the towers and the declaration of President George W. Bush that “terrorism against our nation will not stand.” Feith’s clearest memory of the press conference was, as he recounted in his 2008 memoir, “the badgering of the New York Times reporter, who wanted Crouch and me to agree with him that if airplanes could attack the World Trade Center, it made no sense for the United States to invest in protection against ballistic missiles” (Feith 2008, p. 3). Across the Atlantic, national security advisor Condoleezza Rice most likely awoke that morning with missile defense on her mind as well. Rice was scheduled to deliver a speech at Johns Hopkins University later that day which, as the Washington Post reported and the administration later confirmed, “was designed to promote missile defense as the cornerstone of a new national security strategy” (Wright 2004). Terrorism was a concern for the newly installed Bush administration, but more in the context of increasing missile proliferation and the worry that rogue states might wield weapons of terror, rather than non-state actors such as al Qaeda. According to excerpts of the speech later obtained by the Post, her address would have provided an answer to the badgering New York Times reporter in Moscow: “We need to worry about the suitcase bomb, the car bomb and 1  


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the vial of sarin released in the subway,” Rice was to argue, “[but] why put deadbolt locks on your doors and stock up on cans of mace and then decide to leave your windows open?” The speech was ultimately postponed due the terrorist attacks, and the remarks Rice gave at the rescheduled speaking engagement in April 2002 dealt primarily with international terrorism. Missile defense was, according the Post, “mentioned only once, almost in passing” (Wright 2004). But the question posed by the Times reporter remains highly relevant. Why does the United States continue to develop and deploy missile defenses? After all, the country faces no real existential threats, given its advantageous geographic position, its conventional military dominance, and a highly credible deterrent capability provided by an unmatched and unquestioned capacity to rapidly project power globally. There appears to be little reason to assume that emerging nuclear states would be immune to the same deterrence structures that many have credited with the absence of nuclear conflict during the Cold War. In the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks, ballistic missiles appear to be among the most expensive, most complicated and least reliable means of attacking the United States, one that instantly reveals, moreover, where a reciprocal attack may be directed. The analogy in Rice’s prepared remarks should therefore have included the fact that, while the windows remain open, you are also able to clearly advertise your ability not only to almost instantly destroy the home of any potential invaders, but also to find and hold accountable their accomplices. Since “closing windows” that have always been “open” is an expensive project, often with unintended strategic consequences, it is reasonable to wonder why the United States has invested so heavily in missile defenses. Furthermore, insofar as some critics—including a number of respected physicists—believe that the system will almost certainly never function as intended, pouring significant research and development dollars into a fatally flawed defense capability would seem at best a case of bad policy. To this could be added the additional concern that missile defense – ineffective or not – may even aggravate proliferation trends and prompt new arms races characterized by quantitative and qualitative improvements to national missile arsenals. Finally, there have been those who disagree that states such as Iran and North Korea – two of the states which missile defenses are intended to protect against – will even develop long-range ballistic missiles capable of threatening the United States. It’s hardly surprising when missile defense skeptics like Joseph Cirincione argue, as he did in 2008, that the United States was rushing

Why Missile Defense?


“to deploy a technology that does not work against a threat that does not exist” (Circincione 2008). Missile defense proponents and officials from multiple US administrations, on the other hand, have viewed developments in the post-Cold War world with trepidation. For Director for National Intelligence (1993–1995) James Woolsey, the transition from an international security system structured largely around the great power competition between the United States and the Soviet Union to a more dynamic and open security environment was akin to slaying a large dragon, only to discover a “jungle filled with a bewildering variety of poisonous snakes” (Jehl 1993). Exacerbating the new threats – ethnic conflicts, transnational criminal networks, terrorism, ‘rogue states’ and failing states – in this open security architecture was a set of “globalization” trends: the increasingly interconnected nature of international economic and commercial activities, profound advances in communications technology and improved access to advanced technological expertise. The implications for the spread of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technology were particularly worrisome. Administration officials also began to consider how these developments might limit the nation’s policy options and its ability to honor global security commitments. With less at stake in regional conflicts, the US might be seen as more easily deterred from intervening when important – but not vital – national interests were threatened. Similarly, proliferation of WMD and ballistic missile technology could give regional powers the ability to coerce the United States into accepting undesirable political outcomes (what some have referred to as nuclear blackmail), and US attempts to employ deterrent threats would be less credible. These assumed limitations on US freedom of action could also weaken extended deterrence and other security commitments, inspiring allies to take independent measures to ensure their own security. Allies such as Turkey or Japan may decide to initiate a nuclear weapon development program, adding to proliferation pressures and ultimately reducing US influence and security. The far-reaching implications of “leaving the windows open” were seen as increasingly problematic in this new security setting, and missile defenses – especially national missile defenses – could contribute to far more than simply defending the territorial integrity of the US homeland.


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Strategy or Politics?

The quest to develop ballistic missile defenses (BMD) is an epic tale that stretches back to the advent of ballistic missiles in the 1950s, a history as rife with technological breakthroughs and failures as with high stakes political drama. From the ill-fated Sentinel/Safeguard program of the 1960s to Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) effort in the 1980s – quickly dubbed “Star Wars” by its critics – the operational components of the US ballistic missile defense system are a result of numerous research and development programs conducted over the past five decades. The effort is remarkable for its longevity and constant renewal through multiple administrations, and also for the polarizing debate it engendered. Former US Senator Sam Nunn once referred to discussions in Congress over SDI as resembling a theological rather than technological debate. The public debate over missile defense often exhibits a binary for/against dynamic, with deeply entrenched positions from which both sides talk dogmatically past one another. Even as missile defenses are being deployed by the United States, understanding the motivations for building them remains highly relevant. If the skeptics are correct in their belief that the technology will never work and the threat environment does not warrant the development of defenses, then decisionmakers must be guided not by strategic rationales but by some combination of domestic factors. To say that domestic political maneuvering has played a central role in the formation of missile defense policy is to understate the case dramatically. Political gamesmanship often appears to function independently from the discussion over threats and strategy, to a point where winning the political battle was of far greater importance than crafting a reasonable policy. Recent academic works, however, have focused almost entirely on the domestic factors behind the system’s deployment.1 Many scholars appear to begin with the fundamental assumption that missile defense cannot possibly be strategically advantageous and therefore constitutes a policy aberration in need of explanation, for which they explore a range of domestic factors. This is a mistake. Before seeking out alternative explanations, the Occam’s razor approach of exploring the simplest explanation should at the very least be fully discounted by thoroughly investigating the strategic utility of missile defense. Whether based on domestic politics, an unswerving faith in technological solutions, American exceptionalism or wishful thinking, such explanations ultimately become secondary in importance if missile defense is found

Why Missile Defense?


to be a crucial element in the overarching grand strategic thinking of all three administrations. Defining Grand Strategy

Grand strategy is both a process and an outcome. Colin Dueck defines grand strategy as the “self-conscious identification and prioritization of foreign policy goals; an identification of existing and potential resources; and a selection of a plan which uses those resources to meet those goals” (Dueck 2004, p. 514). Similarly, Paul Kennedy writes that “the crux of grand strategy lies therefore in policy, that is, in the capacity of the nation’s leaders to bring together all of the elements, both military and nonmilitary, for the preservation and enhancement of the nation’s long-term (that is, in wartime and peacetime) best interests” (Kennedy 1991, p. 5). Policymakers develop grand strategy, according to Christopher Layne, through a three-step process of “determining a state’s vital security interests; identifying the threats to those interests; and deciding how best to employ the state’s political, military, and economic resources to protect those interests.” (Layne 1997, p. 246). Grand strategy must therefore be viewed as a set of decisions about the use of limited military, economic and diplomatic resources, informed by state’s core national interests, threats and strategic goals. But these three sets of elements of national power are not equal in their efficacy or in the risks inherent in their use. In an international environment characterized by anarchy –that is, the absence of a world government – military power represents the ultimate guarantor of state security. Military matters are therefore given additional emphasis. The use of the term “grand strategy” is not without pitfalls. Some argue that no such comprehensive and overarching strategy exists or is even possible. Others regard stated United States grand strategy to be an amalgamation of official strategic documents such as the National Security Strategy or the Quadrennial Defense Review. Regardless of whether this is so, decisionmakers are constantly making countless strategic decisions and prioritizations while implementing the nation’s security policy. A state may pursue a grand strategy that need not appear to be effective or even wise. There may be structural limitations on how well the elements of any given strategy can forward a state’s strategic interests, in addition to unanticipated events and the vagaries of chance in the international system. In any regard, a strategy exists against which the value of individual military systems can be evaluated.


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Consistency Argument

It seems implausible that a combination of domestic variables would result in a missile defense policy that exhibits such internal coherence and consistency with an overarching grand strategy. Therefore, if the development of missile defenses represents a rational strategic response to perceived external factors, BMD policies should be fully and logically consistent with and contribute to the nation’s overarching set of strategic goals, which are in turn based upon policymakers’ interpretation of the international system. If, on the other hand, the pursuit of missile defense can be explained primarily by other domestic political-bureaucratic factors such as bureaucratic coalitions, political dealmaking and the distributive nature of congressional district politics, less logical consistency between strategy and implemented policy regarding missile defense should be expected. The comparison between strategy and implemented policies represents a necessary first step to gaining a deeper understanding of the causal explanations behind US missile defense policy. This book seeks to examine the first piece of the puzzle by comparing strategy and implemented policy and requires a systematic means of assessing whether missile defense policy is consistent with US grand strategy. A three level hierarchy of consistency is employed, extrapolated from the assumption that a rational policy response necessarily exhibits logical consistency between perceived strategic requirements and implemented policies. The first test will be that of notional consistency, a purely academic exercise judging whether a logical coherence exists between the threat perception and strategic goals of each administration, and the ability of missile defense to address them. If there is a causal connection between strategy and policy, however, missile defenses should not only be notionally consistent with strategy, they should also react to shifts in the nation’s grand strategy. This reactive consistency judges whether changes on the grand strategic level are reflected in implemented missile defense policies. Finally, the book assesses whether missile defenses represent an optimal response (that which would constitute a “fully consistent” policy), taking into account the nation’s grand strategy, the implemented system’s efficacy and its military, economic and diplomatic costs. Evaluating this most stringent level of optimality consistency may, in other words, provide insight into whether missile defenses have been a beneficial component of US national security policy. This final test is the most challenging, due to varying evaluations of the system’s efficacy and diverse judgments concerning current and future opportunity costs.

Why Missile Defense?


Consistency alone is insufficient for establishing causality: synergy between missile defenses and overall US grand strategy does not preclude the involvement of domestic causal factors. The level of congruence between US grand strategy and the strategic utility of missile defense found in this study may simply provide one plausible yet often overlooked and understudied explanation. An even-handed approach to these questions requires objectivity not only in describing the strategic predilections of each of the three administrations, but also (and more challenging) peeling away the often argumentative rhetoric on both sides of the missile defense debate. Missile defenses must be treated as nothing more than an instrument to be used to further the strategic goals of the United States and ultimately increase the nation’s security. Simply put, do the strategic roles for missile defense – as defined by US policymakers themselves – make sense from a grand strategic perspective? Outline of the Book

The book proceeds in the following manner. In Chapter 2, I outline the four principle strategic rationales for ballistic missile defense as expressed by the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations. The system’s perceived value to US grand strategy has remained surprisingly consistent over the past two decades, with only minor modifications in later years. I provide an overview of the technology of missile defense in Chapter 3, including a primer of basic principle and a brief description of current systems. Much of the information presented in this chapter will be well-known for readers already familiar with missile defense, but certain technological details have significant strategic implications that are important background for readers with less knowledge of the subject. Experienced readers might choose to skip this review while novice readers are encouraged to treat it as a reference. Afterwards, the grand strategy and missile defense policy of each administration is analyzed in Chapters 4, 5, and 6. The military, economic and diplomatic components of grand strategy are compared to BMD system architecture, testing and budget, and diplomatic outreach. Finally, in Chapter 7, I offer some conclusions based on the preceding analysis and argue that although missile defense appears consistent with US grand strategy, it may not be an optimal policy choice. Given the polarized climate dominating the missile defense discussion, I have been exceptionally focused on maintaining a balanced perspective. If supporters and detractors find portions of the analysis objectionable, I will most likely have succeeded in this.


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Notes 1 Examples include Earnest Yanarella, The Missile Defense Controversy (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2002); Columa Peoples, Justifying Missile Defense (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010); Natalie Bormann, National Missile Defense and the Politics of US Identity (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2008) and Richard Dean Burns, The Missile Defense Systems of George W. Bush: A Critical Assessment (Westport: Praeger, 2010). At first glance, Andrew Futter’s recent contribution, Ballistic Missile Defense and National Security Policy (London: Routledge, 2013) appears to conduct such an analysis, but fails to fully explore the connections between strategy and missile defense and reverts quickly back to domestic explanations.

2 Strategic Roles for Missile Defense

The rationales for ballistic missile defense have remained surprisingly consistent, judging by the various policy statements by officials throughout the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations. Although the policy differences between the three administrations varied regarding defensive architecture, testing policies and deployed assets, the conceptual foundations underpinning the strategic value of missile defense to US security have remained quite stable. One of the most comprehensive formulations of the strategic utility of missile defense can be found in the 2001 Nuclear Posture Review, which touted the usefulness of BMD in accomplishing each of the four defense policy goals laid out in the 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review: assure, dissuade, deter, and defeat. With the possible exception of dissuasion, each of these policy goals represents a decades-old strategic mission for missile defenses. During the height of the Cold War, strategist Leon Sloss described in a 1984 book the role of missile defenses “to deter adversaries from taking actions that are inimical to US interests…to assure friends and allies of protection…to defend the United States or friendly nations if deterrence fails to prevent war” (Sloss 1984, p. 25). During the Clinton administration, US Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Walter Slocombe argued before Congress in 1999 that defenses might deter adversaries, reassure allies and defend against attack were deterrence to fail (Slocombe 1999). The missions identified by Sloss, Slocombe and the 2001 NPR continued to demonstrate their relevance and were clearly visible in the Obama administration’s 2010 Ballistic Missile Defense Review: “…the United States seeks to dissuade such states from developing and intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), deter them from using an ICBM if 9  


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they develop or acquire such a capability, and defeat an ICBM attack by such states should deterrence fail”, adding on the following page that “ballistic missile defenses help support US security commitments to allies and partners. They provide reassurance that the United States will stand by those commitments” (Gates 2010a, pp. 11-12). Through the system’s inherent qualities in altering the strategic nuclear balance as well as through a conscious effort by strategists, missile defense has become closely linked to US nuclear strategy (Bunn 2001). Each of the four missions presented in the 2001 NPR and reaffirmed in the 2010 BMDR is also closely related to – and in some cases dependent upon – the other three missions. The following sections examine each mission in greater detail to gain a greater appreciation of their conceptual foundations and to better understand exactly what policymakers are expecting missile defenses to accomplish. Mission One: Defending Against and Defeating Threats

The most fundamental mission of missile defense is to defend the US homeland, its deployed forces and its allies by engaging and defeating incoming ballistic missiles. From the advent of ballistic missile technology, the United States has explored various means of defending against such an attack, ranging from detonating nuclear devices in the atmosphere to kicking up clouds of dust that might destroy the incoming missiles to futuristic spaced-based lasers. Developing a capacity to defend the US homeland against a missile attack makes intuitive sense to most Americans. Bradley Graham, in his well-documented book Hit to Kill, told of a visit to the North American Aerospace Defense (NORAD) facility at Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado. As a mock attack flashed across the displays, he observed: Watching even a simulated missile arc its way rapidly to an American city is an unnerving experience for many visitors, whose reactions have not varied much over the years, whether the pretend perpetrator was Russia or North Korea. Inevitably, someone asks when in the tracking sequence would US forces knock down the deadly intruder. Sometimes the briefer waits an expectant moment before responding, sometimes not. But always the answer is the same: ‘They wouldn’t, because they can’t’. And the visitor would go away in disbelief. (Graham 2003, p. xxii)

While population defenses may have been politically popular after a NORAD tour, protection for land-based US strategic forces was often the focus of BMD during the Cold War. Defending limited geographical

Strategic Roles for Missile Defense


areas – so-called point defenses – was viewed as more technologically achievable as well as more palatable from a strategic standpoint. Defenses which reduced the possibility of a Soviet first strike capability were understood as promoting strategic stability, while area defenses for protecting US cities were seen as depriving the opponent of its retaliatory capability and were considered destabilizing (Carter 1984, p. 122). Defenses and Nuclear Warfighting

During the Cold War, when a massive nuclear attack from the Soviet Union presented an existential threat to the United States, missile defenses were included in warfighting calculations. Analyzing nuclear exchange scenarios and anticipating the adversary’s target lists were instrumental in evaluating the effectiveness of any proposed missile defense system. Target sets might include command and control facilities, conventional military capabilities, industry, transportation and communication infrastructure: even the population itself could be targeted to maximize civilian casualties (Carter 1984, pp. 101-102). Missile defenses had several useful functions in a warfighting context. First, defenses could enforce a certain probability that some of the defended targets survived an attack, which could reduce the strategic efficacy or attractiveness of larger offensive arsenals.1 Second, defenses raised the adversary’s attack price (including costs, deployment time, technical risk and numbers of offensive weapons needed) and made some targets more unattractive if the adversary were to undertake a costbenefit calculation. Third, defenses made an attack more complicated and increased an adversary’s level of uncertainty that an attack would accomplish its expected goals. Finally, defenses could deny damage, especially regarding populations (Carter 1984, p. 103). Strategists at that time felt it necessary to ensure that, if required, the United States could prevail in a nuclear conflict. Warfighting strategies shifted over the years, ultimately resulting in a strategy of targeting an adversary’s military forces and industry (counterforce) thereby leaving in place an implicit threat of escalating the conflict by targeting population centers if the adversary chose to continue fighting. As Leon Sloss noted, it was hoped that defenses might “permit the United States to emerge from a nuclear conflict in a relatively favorable power position” relative to the USSR and other powers (Sloss 1984, p. 43).


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Near-Peer Competitors and Nuclear Primacy

Warfighting remains a relevant task for missile defenses. Even though strategists no longer consider Russia to be a threat to the US homeland, its expansive nuclear arsenal retains substantial destructive power and still poses an existential threat to the United States. China has for decades fielded ballistic missiles capable of striking the United States, and reports indicate that it continues to pursue an ambitious development program. The risk of nuclear exchange between the United States and either of these nations remains exceptionally low, but exists nonetheless. In terms of missile defenses, perhaps the most salient point from this discussion is that BMD acts only to mitigate damage from a catastrophic attack. In such a conflict, the sheer number of offensive missiles would likely overwhelm any defenses capable of being deployed with the technology available in the foreseeable future. Unless, that is, an adversary’s offensive capability had already been degraded by a preemptive first strike, a goal some suggest the United States currently pursues. In a controversial Foreign Affairs article, Keir Lieber and Daryl Press argued that the decaying Russian strategic infrastructure and the slowly developing Chinese missile program were increasingly susceptible to the vastly superior US nuclear capabilities – so much so that the United States may have the ability to destroy the arsenals of either country with a first strike. Achieving nuclear primacy, explained Lieber and Press, appeared entirely consistent with US stated strategic objectives and would have far-reaching consequences. Striving to obtain nuclear primacy might explain a missile defense system: The sort of missile defenses that the US might plausibly deploy would be valuable primarily in an offensive context, not a defensive one – as an adjunct to a US first strike capability, not as a standalone shield. If the United States launched a nuclear attack against Russia (or China), the targeted country would be left with a tiny survivable arsenal – if any at all. At that point, even a relatively modest or inefficient missile defense system might well be enough to protect against any retaliatory strikes because the devastated enemy would have so few warheads and decoys left. (Lieber and Press 2006, p. 52)

While the article and its arguments were roundly criticized by many scholars, experts and administration officials, its main argument is plausible, however improbable. Despite assurances to the contrary, nearpeer rivals China and Russia remain concerned about the strategic

Strategic Roles for Missile Defense


impact of missile defenses on the warfighting ability of their own nuclear forces. Defense from Regional Powers, Rogues and Non-State Actors

With the demise of the Cold War as an organizing strategic framework, administration officials and strategic thinkers quickly became aware that the new strategic environment presented its own challenges, which were in some ways more complex than those of the previous era. James Woolsey, Director for National Intelligence from 1993 to 1995, noted in his Senate confirmation hearing that the number of threats to American interests had increased and become more complex. In what came to be a widely quoted metaphor, Woolsey observed that “Yes, we have slain a large dragon. But we live now in a jungle filled with a bewildering variety of poisonous snakes. And in many ways, the dragon was easier to keep track of” (Jehl 1993). Strategists such as Colin Gray and Keith Payne believed this new strategic ‘jungle’ to be substantively different than the roughly bipolar structure of the Cold War and considered it to be a “second nuclear age” (Payne 1996; Gray 1999). While the international security system will continue to be characterized by US hegemony during the second nuclear age, regional actors – who do not see their interests served by American unipolarity – have increasingly challenged its authority. Developments in information and communication technology driving the processes of globalization have contributed to an unprecedented level of interconnectedness which encourages the spread of information and technologies – including nuclear technologies. Continued proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, Gray argued, may reduce American power and influence (Gray 1999, p. 32). US officials clearly consider the threat to US security from regional actors such as Iran and North Korea as the most compelling. At least three crucial distinctions separate these from “near peer” threats like Russia and China. First, emerging nuclear powers will likely initially field limited numbers of longer-range ballistic missiles capable of reaching the US homeland, and will lack complex countermeasures or multiple independently targeted reentry vehicle (MIRV) technology. Defeating this type of threat is within the technological capacity of current BMD systems. Reflecting a combined focus of warfighting and deterrence against smaller adversaries with limited arsenals, the 2001 NPR stated, “[m]issile defenses could defeat small-scale missile attacks designed to coerce the United States into abandoning an embattled ally. Defenses that provided protection for strike capabilities of the new Triad


US Missile Defense Strategy

and for other power projection forces would improve the ability of the United States and its allies and friends to counterattack an enemy” (NPR 2001). Second, due to the challenges of developing long-range, multi-stage ICBMs, regional challengers will likely develop and field more substantial numbers of short to medium-range ballistic missiles capable of threatening their neighbors and US allies. A coordinated salvo attack involving larger numbers of missiles designed to overwhelm BMD systems may be an effective means of countering any defenses. Although “near peer” states are also capable of short-range salvo attacks, they have a fairly mature ICBM capability for directly threatening the US homeland, whereas emerging nuclear powers are effectively limited to shorter-range attacks until their long-range capabilities develop. The threat is therefore more regionally localized against allies and deployed forces, rather than an existential threat to the US homeland. Third, some nascent nuclear states are assumed to be less predictable and therefore more dangerous than other states. On the eve of President Clinton’s 2000 decision not to proceed with the deployment of the missile defense architecture then under development, Secretary of Defense William Cohen argued that defenses should be considered not because some leaders are judged to be indifferent to retaliation by the United States, but because they may “use WMD attacks – and risk retaliation – in circumstances where more traditional, or at least more cautious, leaders would not” (Cohen 2000a). The 2010 Ballistic Missile Defense Review issued by the Obama administration stated that missile defense efforts are intended “to defend the homeland from limited ballistic missile attack…by regional actors such as North Korea or Iran” (Gates 2010a, p. 11). The ballistic missile threat from terrorist networks would arguably involve less complex technology and far fewer missiles than could be expected from regional powers. Command and control issues, technical competence and specialized launch infrastructure – while not insurmountable – are obstacles for any non-state actor desiring to seriously threaten the US homeland with ballistic missiles. Nevertheless, the United States may be vulnerable to certain scenarios such as an attack designed to release an electromagnetic pulse (Carafano, Spring et al. 2011). In comparison, the risk to allies and deployed forces overseas is viewed as substantially greater simply due to the geographic proximity to potential threats. In his September 2000 address on missile defenses, President Clinton warned that state collapse might lead to “command over missiles falling into unstable hands” and that “we

Strategic Roles for Missile Defense


cannot rule out that terrorist groups could gain the capability to strike us with nuclear weapons if they seized even temporary control of a state with an existing nuclear weapons establishment” (Clinton 2000). Arguing that national missile defenses would never substitute for diplomacy or deterrence, Clinton reasoned that effective defenses could provide “an extra dimension of insurance in a world where proliferation has complicated the task of preserving peace” (Clinton 2000). Mission Two: Deterrence

Despite its role as the primary strategic doctrine underpinning US nuclear weapons policy during the Cold War, some have questioned whether deterrence retains its relevance in the second nuclear age. The Bush administration’s 2002 National Security Presidential Directive on missile defense (NSPD 23) stated that “the strategic logic of the past may not apply to these new threats, and we cannot be wholly dependent on our capability to deter them” (Bush 2002b). Despite the Bush administration’s rhetoric during its first years in office, US strategy continued to rely on deterrence while acknowledging doubts about its efficacy in particular cases. Over the past decade, the United States has attempted to reinforce its deterrent posture while simultaneously exploring other alternatives. At its most fundamental level, deterrence has been defined as a policy of “persuading an adversary not to take an action that it might otherwise have done” (Gray 2003, p. 13); “to prevent from action by fear of consequences” (Schelling 1966, p. 7); and “the persuasion of one’s opponent that the costs and/or risks of a given course of action he might take outweigh its benefits” (George and Smoke 1974, p. 11). The 2006 Deterrence Operations document prepared for the United States Strategic Command defined deterrence as “to decisively influence the adversary’s decision-making calculus in order to prevent hostile action against US vital interests” (USStratcom 2006, p. 19). In order to accomplish this, deterrence relies on number of theoretical assumptions. As Leon Sloss noted, “deterrence does not function uniformly well in all situations. Rather the quality of deterrence depends on three distinct factors: (1) capability; (2) the will to use it; and (3) mutual perceptions of the issues at stake” (Sloss 1984, p. 26). The first requirement speaks to the effectiveness of US military and non-military capabilities, the second to communicating a credible threat, and the third to perceived levels of risk assumed by each actor.


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Credible Threats

One fundamental aspect of making a threat convincing is to actually wield the capabilities upon which the threat is based. Demonstrating the necessary preparations, planning and capacity to engage an adversary is seen as integral to deterrence. Actions are a less ambiguous form of communication, fielding highly lethal and dependable military forces therefore enhances the credibility of a threat. Capabilities therefore affect both the credibility of the threat and its consequences if the threat is carried out (Wilkening and Watman 1995, p. 13). A second aspect of an effective deterrent threat is having and communicating a willingness to use those capabilities. Schelling wrote that persuading “enemies or allies that one would fight abroad, under circumstances of great cost and risk, requires more than a military capability. It requires projecting intentions” (Schelling 1966, p. 36). A deterrent threat is inherently passive – Schelling likened it to a trip-wire – and consists of making the consequences of an adversary’s (undesirable) action clear and then simply waiting (Schelling 1966, p. 71). Deterrence has an indefinite timeline with no deadline for compliance: the strategy seeks to persuade the adversary from an action rather than compelling them to act. In this manner, deterrence surrenders to the adversary some control over the situation, which then becomes dependent on how the opponent interprets, evaluates and responds to the deterrent threat. A crucial yet controversial element of deterrence theory is the assumption that the target of a deterrent threat undertakes a rational cost-benefit calculation prior to initiating a particular action. Provided the threat is clearly communicated, perceived as credible and sufficiently painful or costly, an adversary should acquiesce to the deterring actor and refrain from the undesirable action. This assumption of rationality challenges not only the internal logic of deterrence in the nuclear age, but also ignores the practical realities of state decisionmaking processes. Levels of Deterrence

At this point, it may be useful to consider a typology of three levels of deterrence formulated by Alexander George and Richard Smoke in their well-regarded study of deterrence in US foreign policy (George and Smoke 1974, pp. 45-50). During the Cold War, the strategic relationship between the Soviet Union and the United States was of primary concern. Creating policies designed to deter strategic war between the two superpowers became almost a matter of mathematical calculations to

Strategic Roles for Missile Defense


eventually reach a consensus during the 1960s on the concept of Assured Destruction.2 Meanwhile, formulating deterrent policies to prevent limited conventional wars was found to be more difficult, exemplified by shifting doctrines such as Massive Retaliation and Flexible Response. Even more challenging was the final level of deterrence policy examined by George and Smoke, crisis and crisis preventative diplomacy, comprising US foreign policy challenges just short of conventional limited war. Examples of this type of low-level violence might include guerrilla warfare, counterinsurgency and tense diplomatic crises – in effect, the bulk of conflict-related US foreign policy challenges. Deterrence theory was developed during the early years of the Cold War with rationality assumptions inherent in its logic, reflecting the new strategic environment created by nuclear weapons. Michael Desch noted that “the development and deployment of absolute weapons by the United States and the Soviet Union led many to anticipate that this technology would encourage both superpowers to behave roughly similar. Nuclear weapons were so destructive that they made cultural differences largely irrelevant” (Gray 2003, p. 20). Crucially, while deterring a catastrophic strategic war between the United States and the Soviet Union seemingly relied on numerical equilibriums due to the relatively simple bipolar structure of the conflict, whereas deterring conflict at the two lower levels was “primarily a question of influencing the opponent’s political calculus” (George and Smoke 1974, p. 51). In the second nuclear age, these lower levels of deterrence involving complex webs of limited conflicts have replaced strategic war as the primary concern, thereby revealing pre-existing weaknesses inherent in deterrence theory. The possibility for human error, or the danger that some leaders may simply act stupidly or irrationally, could not be entirely discounted even during the relative stability of the Cold War. At the lower levels of deterrence, with multiple actors involved and variable levels of damage possible, determining what constituted a credible threat became more difficult and the assumption of rationality less reliable. As former Defense Department official Fred Iklé argued in the pages of Foreign Affairs, theories of strategic stability were flawed because [I]n the real world, nuclear forces are built and managed not by two indistinguishable sides, but by very distinct governments and military organizations. These, in turn, are run by people, people who are ignorant of many facts, people who can be gripped by anger or fear,


US Missile Defense Strategy

people who make mistakes – sometimes dreadful mistakes. (Ikle 1985, p. 810)

In the post-Cold War environment, concerns about the human element in deterrence posture and calcuations returned with a vengence as limited conflicts and lower levels of deterrence became the primary concerns. Rationality and Manipulating Risk

In limited wars and diplomatic crises, deterrent threats are delivered within a climate of risk for both sides, though the exposure to risk will rarely be the same for all actors involved. Threatening some type of response to an undesired action places the threatener’s forces at some level of risk in order to present a credible threat to the target state. The possibility of a conflict escalating from a diplomatic crisis up to a limited or strategic war also creates an added element of uncertainty and the possibility of greater levels of risk. This is why deterrent threats based on manipulating the shared risk of war – brinkmanship – may be credible and effective: crises are inherently dangerous and increases the threat of actual war. Paradoxically, while deterrence generally assumes the rational behavior of the players involved, a “threat that leaves something to chance” requires “some uncertainty or anticipated irrationality or it won’t work” (Schelling 1966, p. 99). This risk maximizing approach, likened to Russian roulette, relies on the assumption that an adversary, having received a threat that may potentially cause the situation to spiral out of control and illicit an irrationally violent response by the threatening state, will back down rather than risk disaster. The approach depends on the knowledge that the target dare not risk an escalation, even though it may also prove suicidal to the actor making the threat were he to follow through. This tactic may also be employed by leaders who “consciously bluff in resorting to nuclear threats, or…use the tactic without really pondering whether they would follow through (Betts 1987, p. 12).3 Conversely, the risk-minimizing approach is more similar to chess. It assumes a riskacceptant adversary with a “strong incentive to use force to achieve his objectives, and thus a substantial willingness to gamble on his opposition’s prudence and nuclear restraint” (Betts 1987, p. 12). The risk-minimizing approach links a policy’s credibility to its rationality and carefully evaluates the costs and benefits of action. For US policymakers, determining an adversary’s risk thresholds while communicating their own high tolerances for risk – determining,

Strategic Roles for Missile Defense


in other words, whether an adversary is a risk minimizer or maximizer, while projecting the latter strategy as one’s own – is a challenging and inexact exercise. Perceptions of risk, both individual and shared, are essential for making credible threats as well as securing outcomes whereby an adversary is successfully deterred. It is when attempting to gauge the necessary level of risk to deter an adversary that the issue of rationality becomes most relevant. Deterrence theory relies on the premise that the target of deterrent threats will weigh the imposed costs of carrying out the undesirable action (including uncontrolled escalation) against the action’s benefits. Are some state leaders really irrational or are they simply risk maximizers? Colin Gray argued that deterrence theory “suffers from a potentially fatal confusion of rationality with reasonableness…to be functionally irrational is to be incapable of purposefully connecting means with ends,” a rare quality in heads of state (Gray 2003, p. 21). Rather, leaders may be rational without being reasonable by our standards: the problem is “one of enemies whose entirely rational behavior purposefully connects policy instruments (e.g. suicide bombers) with policy objectives that are an affront to our values…the notion of rational behavior is content-neutral” (Gray 2003, p. 21). In a regional context of diplomatic crises and limited wars, especially where regional adversaries may perceive themselves as having a much higher stake in the outcome than the United States, they may rationally choose to be much more risk acceptant in their policies than the United States, however unreasonable it may seem. The perceived level of stakes is fundamental to the credibility of a deterrent threat. Theorists often differentiate between deterring direct threats against the US homeland and deterring other threats such as those against US allies, the former known as central or general deterrence and the latter as extended deterrence (Wilkening and Watman 1995). According to Schelling, “the difference between the national homeland and everything ‘abroad’ is the difference between threats that are inherently credible, even if unspoken, and the threats that have to be made credible” (Schelling 1966, p. 36). Effective deterrence and signaling “require in the first instance that the interests of the United States be sufficiently engaged by what is at stake in the area or country in question. Commitments which rest on relatively weak national motivation are more likely to be challenged” (George and Smoke 1974, p. 560). Making deterrent threats credible is viewed as a significant challenge in the second nuclear age. Without a peer competitor posing an existential threat to the United States, truly vital US interests in other


US Missile Defense Strategy

regions are limited and US policymakers are thus less willing to accept “exceedingly high risks on behalf of others” (Gray 1999, p. 135). As the remaining superpower, however, “the intensity of risk to US forces, and eventually even to the US homeland, is in the process of increasing exponentially” (Gray 1999, p. 135). In this new security environment, the United States will be seen as more risk adverse (a risk minimizer) while deterrence of risk-maximizing regional adversaries will require more than a one-size-fits-all general deterrent threat. Ultimately, however, the success of a deterrence strategy rests with the perceptions and beliefs of the actor to be deterred. Tailored Deterrence

In recent years, it has become more common to speak of ‘tailored deterrence’, although the concept is not new. As Patrick Morgan noted in 1985, “deterrence succeeds or fails in the mind of the potential attacker,” a significant conceptual problem to be solved in one of two ways: either states must assume that all attackers share similar cognitive processes (i.e. rationality, which they did assume) or they would be required to “construct a typology of potential attackers in terms of cognitive processes typical of their decisionmakers and a set of guidelines setting forth the conditions under which – depending on the type of attacker one faced – various sorts of deterrence threats would be likely to succeed or fail. We have nothing of the sort” (Morgan 1985, p. 126).4 Deterrence is also contextual. As Klaus Knorr observed in 1966, “the power to deter is the power to deter a particular adversary in a particular situation” (Sloss 1984, p. 27). Recent scholarly work has focused on understanding connections between the political and military cultures of adversaries and their strategic choices in order to better influence their decision-making processes. Jeffrey Lantis has identified three sets of “scope conditions” – “situations in which understanding culture represents distinct added value to strategic calculations” and therefore helpful to tailoring deterrence strategies: countries with strong national cultural identities; national leaders with distinct historical narratives and traditions; and military organizational cultures (Lantis 2009). The scholarly and doctrinal convergence around the need to specifically tailor deterrent strategies coincides with a greater appreciation of the task’s difficulty. The official Joint Operating Concept for Deterrence Operations document stated that reaching the levels of cultural understanding described above poses a substantial

Strategic Roles for Missile Defense


challenge due to the complex nature of a strategic environment marked by a complex array of adversaries, “whose political, cultural, ideological, religious, and idiosyncratic differences will complicate our efforts both to understand and to influence their perceptions” (USStratcom 2006, p. 15). In this environment, deterrence strategies are complicated by uncertainties about the adversaries’ decision-making, the need to tailor deterrence to adversaries with varying decision-making calculi and risk-taking propensities (USStratcom 2006, p. 16). Thus, global awareness through intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) becomes essential in order to provide this information on adversaries as well as knowledge of assets, capabilities and vulnerabilities that can be leveraged (USStratcom 2006, p. 29). Early in his presidency, President George W. Bush expressed concern over the ability to deter certain actors, arguing that “deterrence – the promise of massive retaliation against nations – means nothing against shadowy terrorist networks with no nation or citizens to defend” (Bush 2002a). Bush’s NSPD 23 noted that a lack of “mutual understandings or reliable lines of communication” make deterrence difficult (Bush 2002b). Terrorist networks, especially those utilizing suicide bombers, might appear undeterrable, but such groups may in fact exhibit rational strategic behavior, and certain assets that they value may potentially be held at risk in order to deter. In addition to focusing on who the United States wishes to deter, Elaine Bunn observed that policymakers should also focus on “what action it is trying to deter them [the adversaries] from taking” (Bunn 2007). In these cases, context matters. Even if policymakers recognize the need to tailor deterrent messages, however, it can be difficult to ensure that only the target audience is reached. As Chilton and Weaver wrote, “[t]argeting a deterrent activity on a single competitor does not mean that other competitors – and our friends and allies – are not watching and being influenced as well” (Chilton and Weaver 2009, p. 35). Deterrence Strategies

According to official US doctrine, deterrence may be accomplished by imposing costs, denying benefits, or encouraging adversarial restraint. Deterrence by imposing costs, or ‘deterrence by punishment,’ is perhaps the most commonly understood form of deterrence. By “convincing adversary decision-makers that the costs incurred in response to or as a result of their attack will be both severe and highly likely to occur” (USStratcom 2006, p. 26), it attempts to discourage an attack through the promise of punitive retaliation – by “holding at risk things of value”


US Missile Defense Strategy

(Sloss 1984, p. 27). Also known as a ‘countervalue’ deterrent strategy, targets to be threatened may include economic, civilian or military targets depending on the adversary being deterred. Deterrence accomplished by denying benefits, or ‘deterrence by denial’, attempts to convince the adversary that “the benefits they perceive are of little value and/or are unlikely to be achieved by taking the course of action the US seeks to deter” (USStratcom 2006, p. 26). Sometimes known as a ‘countermilitary’ strategy due to its targeting of the adversary’s military forces, deterrence by denial is closely related to ‘direct defense’ where an attack is physically blocked (Wilkening and Watman 1995, p. 9). Finally, deterrence by encouraging adversary restraint attempts to influence the target’s “perceptions of the benefits and costs of not taking an action we seek to deter…convincing adversary decision-makers that not undertaking the action we seek to deter will result in an outcome acceptable to them (though not necessarily desired by them)” (USStratcom 2006, p. 27). This can be accomplished either by taking actions to increase the perceived benefits of restraint or by reducing the costs of restraint perceived by the adversary. The means by which these three deterrence strategies – imposing costs, denying benefits and encouraging adversary restraint – are accomplished will likely combine military (kinetic and non-kinetic) and non-military capabilities. The 2006 Joint Operating Concept for Deterrence Operations stated that “in some cases, military capabilities may not be an effective tool to deter a particular adversary’s action, making other instruments of power the primary deterrent” (USStratcom 2006, p. 28). Regional Deterrence

With the potential for large scale strategic conflict significantly reduced in the post Cold War era, managing the increased threat from more limited wars and crises has been the main focus of US policymakers. Deterrence in these situations becomes challenging since regional adversaries are often embroiled in conflicts involving core national interests, while the corresponding interest for the United States may be much lower. Due to this asymmetry of stakes in the crisis, regional leaders are often more willing to tolerate greater levels of risk than the United States and can more credibly threaten to escalate the conflict. Thus, they are potentially more difficult for the United States to deter (Wilkening and Watman 1995, p. 11; USStratcom 2006, p. 17). This asymmetry of interests could then be exploited by a regional adversary to its advantage, especially as the American public has shown itself to be sensitive to casualties.

Strategic Roles for Missile Defense


In a regional context, the credibility of US deterrent threats comprises the capability as well as the perceived intent of the United States to successfully carry out the threat. Conveying intent may depend on “the challenger’s perception of the deterrer’s interests in the conflict and his perception of the deterrer’s reputation for defending these interests. A defender’s reputation may also refer to the capability to carry out specific threats” (Wilkening and Watman 1995, p. 14). Reputation may be established by demonstrating a willingness to make good on threats, just as it may be weakened by a failure to react when such “red lines” are crossed. Many observers felt that President Obama’s handling of the Syrian conflict during his second term in office and his use of “red line” terminology in warning the Assad regime against using chemical weapons ultimately undermined US deterrence capacity when, after the regime in fact launched such attacks, the administration then vacillated in its response. In situations where the risks are acceptably low, the United States may be more apt to follow through on deterrent threats in order to improve its credibility and perceptions of US resolve (such as the Grenada invasion during the Reagan administration). In other instances, the consequences for US credibility are deemed to be so detrimental that higher risks are accepted (involvement/conflicts in Korea and Vietnam). The 1991 Persian Gulf War was seen as demonstrating not only US willingness to commit forces in the region and its clear conventional superiority, but also the vulnerability of those forces to the threat of nuclear and biological attacks. The Indian former chief of staff for the military General K. Sundarji reported remarked in 1993 that “the Persian Gulf War showed that if you’re going to take on the United States you had better have a nuclear weapon” (Roberts 2000, p. 247). This may be the lesson extracted by Saddam Hussein, which led to his apparent miscalculation regarding the effectiveness of bluffing about WMD possession to improve Iraq’s strategic position in the region. In any case, regional emerging nuclear weapons states are unlikely to develop nuclear arsenals that compare qualitatively or quantitatively to those of the United States or Russia. As a consequence, the threat is substantial but not existential for the United States. Due to the limited numbers of weapons available to a regional nuclear power, their use will most likely be strategic – attempting to shape the strategic environment – rather than as a tactical battlefield weapon (Wilkening and Watman 1995, pp. 2527). Wilkening and Watman therefore conclude that among the various reasons for regional actors to acquire nuclear weapons, “concern for a state’s security is likely to be the dominant motive” in order to “deter


US Missile Defense Strategy

attacks against their homelands or to intimidate their neighbors” (Wilkening and Watman 1995, p. 31). The RAND authors then propose three objectives of regional nuclear states, objectives that then become threats the United States will likely need to deter. First, an adversary might use nuclear weapons to deter US intervention within the region by increasing the expected costs of US power projection. This might be accomplished through the issuance of a credible threat to inflict mass casualties to US domestic populations or overseas deployed forces. The latter could require military forces to operate at standoff distances out of range of the threat, thus hindering their effectiveness. Second, regional actors might acquire nuclear weapons to intimidate US allies within the region as a means of disrupting practical power projection arrangements such as US basing rights, the broader objective being to weaken alliance cohesion or extract concessions on other issues (Wilkening and Watman 1995, p. 34). Finally, nuclear weapon acquisition may protect a regional power’s own regime in the case of a regional conflict. As Wilkening and Watman warn, “nuclear threats to ensure the survival of the regime are very difficult to deter because, on the brink of collapse, the opponent has ‘nothing left to lose’ by threatening nuclear escalation” and “essentially become[s] ‘nondeterrable’” (Wilkening and Watman 1995, p. 36). Kerry Kartchner, a senior advisor for missile defense policy in the State Department’s Bureau of Arms Control, argued that when a regional power believes the survival of their regime to be at stake, the deterrent value of US conventional and nuclear superiority is a much less relevant factor in their “desperate but rational calculation” (Kartchner 2002). Deterrence and Missile Defense

In cases involving desperate, nondeterrable adversaries, missile defenses can provide a ‘safety net’ to minimize the consequences of a limited ballistic missile attack, but the deterrence mission of BMD has been a primary – if not the principle – argument for its development, especially as part of a strategy designed to secure US global freedom of action. Defenses can benefit deterrence in two interrelated ways: Denial deterrence: Enhancing the credibility of traditional reprisal deterrent threats, discouraging adversaries from launching a ballistic missile attack on the United States or its forces by raising doubts about chances for a success attack Counter-deterrence: Deterring an adversary’s actions designed to coerce the United States by threatening ballistic missile launch,

Strategic Roles for Missile Defense


thereby avoiding a situation in which the United States may be coerced from intervening to hinder regional adventurism by an adversary5 These two forms of deterrence differ with regard to the adversary action that is to be deterred, the time frame for the action and the objective of the deterrent strategy. First, denial deterrence seeks to halt an impending attack during a crisis or conflict, while counter-deterrence seeks to negate the deterrent effects that an adversary’s ballistic missiles may have on the United States or its allies – not to deter a missile attack itself. Second, denial deterrence may be required for a limited period of time during a particular crisis or conflict, while counter deterrence attempts to affect an adversary’s longer term strategic planning just as much as its short-term crisis management decision making. Finally, the objective of denial deterrence is to raise attack costs or increase doubts in the minds of the adversary about the efficacy of an attack, while the objective of counter-deterrence is to convince an adversary that the United States and its allies cannot be deterred or coerced. Ballistic missile defenses can be relevant in both types of deterrent strategies. At the strategic level of deterrence, near-peer competitors are likely to be risk adverse and therefore among the easiest to deter. Because deterrence is a psychological “mind game,” missile defenses inevitably alter the deterrent balance between the United States, China and Russia regardless of the actual technical capabilities of BMD systems. For near-peer competitors, missile defenses complicate any potential attack plans and reduce the effects, and therefore the benefits, of an attack. While these factors complement US nuclear deterrence, some argue that BMD systems may weaken strategic stability and encourage arms racing, just as missile defenses may prove destabilizing in a crisis and encourage preemptive strikes. The ballistic missile capabilities of regional powers, with their smaller and less capable arsenals, are more susceptible to the deterrent effects of missile defense. Denying a successful attack of a few missiles is within the technological capabilities of today’s systems, and allows the United States to credibly threaten retaliatory cost-imposition measures if an attack were launched. While US nuclear and conventional forces alone might successfully deter such an attack, missile defenses complement this type of “tripwire” deterrent threat. Regional contingencies not involving direct threats to the US homeland but use ballistic missiles to deter outside intervention, on the other hand, are more complex and challenging given the imbalance of interests in a regional context.


US Missile Defense Strategy

Nuclear Blackmail

Issuing a nuclear deterrent threat to discourage the projection of US conventional power has been less scientifically labeled “nuclear blackmail,” a phrase seen regularly in this context. Richard Betts observed that “the perception of whether a coercive threat represents legitimate deterrence or nasty blackmail is likely to depend on whether one is making the threat or facing it (Betts 1987, p. 4). A 1999 RAND study put the issue plainly: missile defense is valuable not because “some rogue would otherwise launch an unprovoked, and patently suicidal, nuclear or biological attack on US territory” but that “an enemy regime could threaten such an attack in order to deter the United States – and conceivable carry out the threat if the United States were not deterred. An unprovoked attack is far-fetched; a coercion scenario is not” (Gompert and Isaacson 1999, p. 7). Concerns over the United States being “self-deterred” from regional interventions due to a ballistic missile threat were prevalent throughout the Clinton and Bush administrations. Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee in October 1999 on missile defenses and US deterrence strategy, Walter B. Slocombe, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy during the Clinton Administration, reasoned: Missile defenses, for their part, can convince an adversary that there is little or no chance of accomplishing the intended political or military objectives of an attack, or threat of an attack. Missile defenses further complement deterrence by enhancing the US ability to fulfill its global security commitments to allies and friends. Defenses render less credible any possible attempts by an adversary to threaten or coerce the United States with ballistic missiles armed with weapons of mass destruction. (Slocombe 1999)

Negating the coercive or deterrent threats of adversaries wielding WMD also concerned Secretary of Defense William Cohen as he expressed his views on the strategic rationale for BMD in Congressional testimony the following year. Cohen argued that the United States possessed sufficient retaliatory capability should anyone be “foolhardy enough to launch a missile attack of a limited or expanded nature against the United States” (Cohen 2000b). Cohen was most concerned about the United States being deterred in a regional context: “The most troubling scenario would be a miscalculation by states that acquire a missile capable of reaching the United States taking action to start a regional conflict, in the mistaken belief that by threatening strikes at the United

Strategic Roles for Missile Defense


States, their missiles would prevent us from meeting our commitments” (Cohen 2000a). This concern was shared by the new administration as well. In a major address on the issue on May 1, 2001, George W. Bush expressed his concern over the proliferation of nuclear weapon technology to “some of the world’s least-responsible states…for whom terror and blackmail are a way of life” (Bush 2001a). Bush warned that these states sought weapons of mass destruction in order to “intimidate their neighbors, and to keep the United States and other responsible nations from helping allies and friends in strategic parts of the world” (Bush 2001a). Peppi DeBiaso expressed a similar apprehension in 2006: States possessing even a small missile force could project devastating power regionally, and may prevent the United States and its security partners from intervening to defend an ally or friend against such aggression. Ballistic missiles armed with WMD could hold at risk regional US and allied targets…making it possible for relatively small aggressors to deny access to the United States in a contested region or theater of conflict. (DeBiaso 2006, p. 160)

This emphasis on both denial deterrence and counter deterrence continued into the Obama administration. The 2010 Ballistic Missile Defense Review stated that missile defenses could deter regional actors from “using an ICBM if they develop or acquire such a capacity” and “aid the United States in maintaining military freedom of maneuver, by helping to negate the coercive potential of regional actors intent on inhibiting and disrupting US military access in their regions” (Gates 2010a, pp. 11-12). Mitigating the Risks of Regional Intervention

Recognizing the asymmetries in stakes and risk acceptance involved in regional deterrence, missile defense has been seen as a means of counteracting these imbalances in regional conflicts, as well as reducing risk to the United States and thereby enhancing the credibility of its deterrent threats. US force projection capabilities deployed in the event of a regional crisis or conflict can both communicate a credible threat to use force as well as enable the implementation of that threat if the crisis escalates. By offering US forces protection from ballistic missile attack, missile defense may render an adversary’s deterrent capabilities ineffective and allow US military assets to be more effectively deployed. This in turn can mitigate the risks assumed by the United States for such


US Missile Defense Strategy

regional deterrence operations and enhance the credibility of US conventional threats by convincing potential adversaries that the United States cannot be deterred from regional force projection. In a crisis, missile defense may increase an adversary’s perception of US resolve. In this context, it is worthwhile to recall Thomas Schelling’s observation that action, in addition to words, reduces ambiguity and increases the credibility of the message the United States is conveying (Schelling 1966, pp. 146-150). Unlike the inherent credibility of threatening retaliation for an attack on the homeland, assuring both allies and adversaries that the United States will not be deterred from intervening abroad must actively be made credible (Schelling 1966, pp. 36). By fielding a missile defense, the United States demonstrates through its actions a determination not be deterred. In addition, defenses are seen as providing decisionmakers with valuable additional time to contemplate a response as it lowers the risks associated with waiting for an aggressive move by an adversary. For example, the rudimentary national missile defense capability deployed by the United States during the Bush administration may have allowed the US to resist calls to conduct preemptive strikes against North Korea in 2006 and 2010 after missile launches by Pyongyang. Defenses could reduce the strategic incentive to strike first, allowing other less escalatory policy options to be explored. In addition to their military value, missile defenses may provide an excellent means of signaling intentions and resolve. On the other hand, the increased resolve provided by missile defenses could come at a price. The United States might, as scholar Robert Powell argued, be “willing to push the crisis harder: it is more likely to intervene, and it is willing to run a higher risk of events spiraling out of control,” and ultimately, missile defenses are “likely to raise the risk of a nuclear attack on the United States in a confrontation with a rogue” (Powell 2003, p. 110). Protected by an effective missile shield, US decisionmakers may have greater freedom of action to protect its interests around the globe, and in doing so may be tempted to pursue an even more aggressive interventionist strategy. A RAND study from 1999 explained that “ballistic missile defense is not simply a shield but an enabler of US action” (Gompert and Isaacson 1999, p. 7). Richard Russell concluded similarly that the United States “armed with both a sword and shield is likely to be a more formidable foe on the battlefield than one armed only with a sword” (Russell 2004, p. 498). An Israeli defense executive was even blunter in his assessment of the value of missile defense for Israel’s security: “Let us not deceive ourselves. Only

Strategic Roles for Missile Defense


by virtue of its contribution to attack operations does active defense have a reason to exist” (Opall-Rome 2010). Rather than creating an overconfident superpower, however, uncertainty over the level of BMD protection could instead lead decisionmakers to act as if no shield were deployed. Many of the regional interests that the United States might potentially be deterred from protecting by the threat of ballistic missiles are not vital ones. Unless US leaders believed BMD to be “almost perfectly effective, it would not significantly reduce their reluctance to pursue policies that risked escalation to nuclear attacks”, argued Charles Glaser and Steve Fetter (Glaser and Fetter 2001, p. 69). Uncertainties about BMD effectiveness and limited national interests would therefore make such defenses “unlikely to increase significantly the United States’ freedom of action in a regional conflict” (Glaser and Fetter 2001, p. 69). The ability of missile defenses to “deter the deterrent” (i.e. counterdeterrence) posed by a regional power hinges once again on the psychological aspects of deterrence and perceptions of BMD effectiveness. The ambition of missile defenses here would be not only to deter an attack, but to deter the threat of coercion. Counter-deterrence works indirectly and may prove to be far more complex than denial deterrence. Missile Defense and Compellence

The strategic function of missile defense may sometimes extend beyond the passive deterrent mission, taking on a more active posture that may be more accurately characterized as “compellence.” While deterrence relies on the threat of force to convince an adversary not to take a particular action, compellence involves initiating some type of punishment upon the adversary that ceases only when the target takes the desired action. While deterrence carries on indefinitely, compellence has a clear endpoint: when the target acts in the desired manner. Missile defenses may prove useful in protecting the military forces or other instruments of policy needed to administer the punishment necessary for compellence, as well as strengthen the impression of US resolve in the conflict. As Dean Wilkening and Kenneth Watman noted, compellent threats may often become necessary in a regional context: First, unless the United States acts quickly to deter an act, regional crises will frequently involve actions in progress that the United States wishes to halt or faits accomplis that the United States wishes to reverse. Moreover, the slow political decisionmaking process in


US Missile Defense Strategy

democracies implies that many conventional acts of aggression may already be under way before US decisionmakers decide how to respond. The fact that future US regional involvements will increasingly involve coalitions only exacerbates this problem. (Wilkening and Watman 1995, p. 68)

The current international security environment suggests that recent US compellent threats involving Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea and Iran have not shown desired results. Successful compellent strategies inducing Iraq to give up its WMDs during the 1990s and Afghanistan to hand over the Al Qaeda leadership in 2001 might have resulted in positive policy outcomes for the United States at much lower cost compared to the conflicts that ensued. Ongoing diplomatic conflicts with Iran and North Korea over their nuclear programs demonstrate that the United States often wishes to reverse particular actions rather than simply deter them. Compelling Iran to halt its nuclear program would be preferable to a future scenario where the United States must deter the use of Iran’s nuclear armed ballistic missiles. Even so, the United States would also prefer to dissuade Iran from developing an intercontinental ballistic missile and dissuade other states from developing or acquiring ballistic missiles of any range. Mission Three: Dissuasion

The strategic concept of dissuasion has in recent years been more fully developed, clearly articulated, and increasingly integrated into US strategic policy. In essence, policymakers believe that overwhelming military capabilities may dissuade other states from competing militarily or even pursuing technologies that can threaten the United States. On the spectrum of strategic options ranging from assuring allies to defeating adversaries, dissuasion strategies are designed to precede deterrence. According to Defense Department official Ryan Henry, dissuasion “seeks to shape the nature of military competitions in ways favorable to the United States by inducing restraint in the behavior of adversaries; channeling an opponent’s strategies and resources in less threatening directions; and complicating an opponent’s military planning” (Henry 2005). Dissuasion may be understood as a sort of “pre-deterrence” that might prevent an adversary from “developing capabilities before they can be used and courses of action before they can be adopted” (Henry 2005). Andrew Krepinevich and Robert Martinage defined the concept as “actions taken to increase the target’s perception of the anticipated cost

Strategic Roles for Missile Defense


and/or decrease its perception of the likely benefits from developing, expanding, or transferring a military capability that would be threatening or otherwise undesirable from the US perspective” (Krepinevich and Martinage 2008, p. 4). Broadly conceived, targets of dissuasion need not be adversaries, as dissuasive strategies do not require aggressive intentions in order to be employed. Temporally, dissuasion strategies are initiated prior to the development of a military capability against which deterrence strategies must then be applied. Targets of dissuasion are encouraged to continue refraining from behaviors perceived as undesirable by the United States, calculating that the benefits of initiating the particular action or behavior are outweighed by their costs. Unlike a strategy of deterrence, which seeks to discourage the target from threatening the use of existing capabilities, dissuasion aims to discourage even their acquisition. Encouraging the continuation of a passive non-action may be simpler than deterring an active and imminent threat, ostensibly making dissuasion a less demanding strategy. Similar to deterrence, however, dissuasion ultimately hinges on the promise of eventual US deterrence of the capability or of the course of action being dissuaded. By credibly promising to impose unacceptably high costs to the target were it to choose not to be dissuaded, the implicit threat is one either of punishment (the United States will dismantle or destroy the acquired capability) or denial (the United States will disrupt or defeat the capability). The dissuasive “threat” is indirect and implicit, in contrast to the more overt deterrent threat, but both rely on persuasion mechanisms such as credibility and effective signaling. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wrote in the pages of Foreign Affairs that the goal is “not simply to fight and win wars; it is to prevent them…by finding ways to influence the decision-making of potential adversaries, to deter them from not only using existing weapons but also from building dangerous new ones in the first place….we must develop new assets, the mere possession of which discourages adversaries from competing” (Rumsfeld 2002b, p. 27). The 2001 QDR offered some insight as to how US policymakers envisioned implementing a strategy of dissuasion: The United States can exert influence through the conduct of its research, development, test, and demonstration programs. It can do so by maintaining or enhancing advantages in key areas of military capability. Given the availability of advanced technology and systems to potential adversaries, dissuasion will also require the United States to experiment with revolutionary operational concepts, capabilities and


US Missile Defense Strategy

organizational arrangements and to encourage the development of a culture within the military that embraces innovation and risk-taking. To have a dissuasive effect, this combination of technical, experimental and operational activity has to have a clear strategic focus. (Rumsfeld 2001, p. 12)

Notably, the practical application of dissuasive strategies may often complement those of deterrence. The dissuasion policies suggested in the 2001 QDR are ones that would contribute to strengthening overall US military capabilities and therefore the credibility of US deterrent threats. In this case, the QDR authors emphasize the development of future technological innovations as a means of discouraging potential adversaries from attempting to compete militarily, but the result for the United States will nevertheless be advancements in – and improvements to – its own capabilities. This can also have counterproductive effects, as adversaries develop asymmetrical means of countering US military superiority or redirecting dissuaded ambitions to other efforts that prove even more harmful to US interests. Krepinevich and Martinage label these “second-order effects” and warn that careful planning must precede dissuasion efforts in order to reduce the chances of undesirable outcomes (Krepinevich and Martinage 2008, p. 45). Dissuasion and Missile Defense

Based on the preceding discussion of dissuasion, a role for missile defenses within this framework naturally suggests itself. As the 2001 NPR argued, [d]efenses can make it more arduous and costly for an adversary to compete militarily with or wage war against the United States. The demonstration of a range of technologies and systems for missile defense can have a dissuasive effect on potential adversaries. The problem of countering missile defenses, especially defensive systems with multiple layers, presents a potential adversary with the prospect of a difficult, time-consuming and expensive undertaking. (NPR 2001)

The strategic utility of missile defenses vis-à-vis dissuasion stems primarily from convincing adversaries that acquiring ballistic missile technology is a futile effort, a capability rendered strategically useless by BMD. As Rumsfeld noted, “deployment of effective missile defenses may dissuade others from spending to obtain ballistic missiles, because missiles will not provide them what they want: the power to hold US and allied cities hostage to nuclear blackmail” (Rumsfeld 2002b, p. 27).

Strategic Roles for Missile Defense


A more recent expression of this dissuasion argument can be found in the 2010 Ballistic Missile Defense Review, which stated that “through our continued commitment to maintain and develop the ground-based midcourse defense (GMD) system, the United States seeks to dissuade such states from developing an inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM)” (Gates 2010a, p. 11). The Obama administration later began to distance itself somewhat from the term “dissuasion”, but US officials still espoused arguments for missile defense that reflected a continued belief in the dissuasive effects of the system. In a September 2011 speech in Copenhagen, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Frank Rose maintained that allied cooperation on missile defenses would “eliminate an adversary’s confidence in the effectiveness of missile attacks and thereby devalue the development, acquisition, deployment an use of ballistic missiles by proliferators” (Rose 2011). Rose again utilized the concept of dissuasion during a July 2012 speech at a missile defense conference in Paris, stating that allied missile defense cooperation could “diminish an adversary’s confidence in the effectiveness of ballistic missile attacks. This will devalue ballistic missiles and provide a disincentive for their development, acquisition, deployment, and use” (Rose 2012). The dissuasive element in these two statements lies in the belief that adversaries may factor missile defenses into their decision (“provide a disincentive”) to develop or acquire ballistic missiles, and might consider such missiles less valuable because of BMD. As noted above, however, unintended second-order effects – what Elaine Bunn has similarly labeled “unintended collateral dissuasive effects” – can create problems in other areas. While missile defenses might dissuade certain states from seeking ballistic missiles, they could have less predictable effects on countries already in possession of this capability, including regional powers such as North Korea and Iran, or near-peer competitors China and Russia. These states may decide to pursue MIRV technology or amass large numbers of ballistic missiles in order to threaten salvo launches that would overwhelm defenses (Bunn 2004b). Others, including Keith Payne, argue that the dissuasive effects of missile defenses can play an important role in non-proliferation efforts by “undermining the military and political value that many regional rogues now attribute to missiles, reducing incentives to acquire, market, or maintain missiles” (Payne 2009, p. 146). On the other hand, scholars such as Scott Sagan believe the dissuasion mission of BMD will be harmful to non-proliferation efforts. They question the value of missile defenses and view dissuasion as antithetical to the spirit of the


US Missile Defense Strategy

Nonproliferation Treaty’s tacit bargain between the established nuclear powers and non-nuclear states, whereby “in exchange for nuclear restraint by the have-nots, the nuclear weapons states will ‘work in good faith’ toward the eventual elimination of their own nuclear arsenals” (Sagan 2004). Missile defenses, especially those systems intended for theater and limited territorial defense, could also dissuade key allies from developing their own nuclear capabilities. The non-proliferation aspect of extended deterrence would be enhanced by missile defenses: dissuading countries such as Japan or Turkey from pursuing indigenous nuclear weapons capabilities that the United States views as destabilizing, in exchange for the protection provided by both extended deterrence and BMD. This illustrates the interconnected nature of extended deterrence, dissuasion and the final strategic mission proposed for BMD: assurance. Mission Four: Assurance

Assuring allies and friends of the continued validity of US security guarantees is rooted in the ability of the United States to credibly extend deterrent threats (nuclear and conventional) to protect perceived vital national interests apart from the US homeland and deployed forces. As mentioned above, these types of threats are ones that are not necessarily inherently credible, but must be made so. Former Defense Department official Frank Miller concisely outlined the extended deterrent commitment in a 2009 report from the Center for Strategic and International Affairs (CSIS): In its broadest form, extended deterrence involves the commitment of American military power in all of its forms to the defense of allied interests… [including] the pledge that – if deterrence provided by the US conventional military power fails to deter aggression or coercion – the US will threaten to employ its nuclear forces and will, if necessary, use them in defense of allied vital interests. (Murdock and Yeats 2009, p. 10)

The effectiveness of extended deterrence depends primarily upon how credible the commitment appears to its intended target audiences. Reassuring allies about the credibility of US extended deterrence – or as David Yost has written, “communicating a credible message of confidence in the dependability of its security commitments”– means that assurance may function independent of, and demand different requirements than, extended deterrence (Yost 2009, p. 755). The CSIS

Strategic Roles for Missile Defense


report identified three sets of factors affecting extended deterrence and thereby assurance: intent; capabilities; and actions. First, intent may be conveyed through means such as declaratory policy, alliance obligations and reputation for action. Recalling Wilkening and Watman’s discussion of regional deterrence, Linton Brooks stressed in the CSIS report the importance of a “reputation for action” to extended deterrence: “Extended deterrence, like all deterrence, exists in the mind. The single most important step the United States can take, therefore, is to cultivate the perception that we will act to meet our obligations. All other details, while important, are secondary” (Murdock and Yeats 2009, p. 17). Second, a force structure that includes the possession and development of substantial and effective nuclear and non-nuclear (including BMD) capabilities enhances the credibility of extended deterrence and assures allies. Third, US actions demonstrate credible extended deterrence, including dialogue with allies, joint exercises and planning, and deployed US forces on allied territory. A forward military presence sends a particularly powerful assurance signal, as an attack on the host nation would entail attacking US assets and serves to “blur the distinction between central deterrence…and ‘extended deterrence’” (Murdock and Yeats 2009 p. 20). While effective assurance strategies depend on credible extended deterrence policies, the United States may find assuring allies to be a more straightforward enterprise than deterring adversaries simply because engagement and communication with allies is much easier. While policymakers often must rely on assumptions regarding influencing adversary’s decision making processes, allies can be consulted and actively reassured. Effectively communicating US commitments in order to assure allies may be accomplished through consultations and dialogue, whereby formal institutional structures are created that solidify security linkages between the United States and its allies. The most prominent example of this, of course, is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Even within NATO, however, extended deterrence and assurance are complicated matters due in part to varying threat perceptions and national interests found among alliance member states. Extended nuclear deterrence has a tacit nonproliferation bargain, whereby the United States offered nuclear protection and, in the case of Europe, deployed nuclear weapons so that allies would refrain from developing their own nuclear capability. When considering force reductions or the removal of nuclear assets in Europe, therefore, the United States must take into account not only the effects of such moves on extended deterrence and assurance, but also on the possibility of


US Missile Defense Strategy

countries such as Turkey or Japan deciding to acquire a nuclear capability (Thranert 2010). Assurance and Missile Defense

Missile defenses may contribute to extended deterrence and can thereby reassure allies in a number of ways. First and foremost, missile defenses reduce the risks posed to the US homeland and deployed forces by adversaries wielding ballistic missiles, thereby reassuring allies that the United States will not be deterred from standing by its security commitments. By reducing the risk to the US homeland from an adversary’s threat of missile launch, policymakers may also have more domestic political support to respond to threats in other regions. Defenses may provide decisionmakers with additional time during a crisis that allows them to consider a wider range of options, whereas an imminent threat of launch might otherwise encourage a pre-emptive strike and the risks of escalation that would follow. Policymakers have voiced concern, as discussed earlier, over scenarios in which regional adversaries undertake actions contrary to US interests, and using the threat of ballistic missile attack to deter the United States from responding. BMD may enhance the ability of US leaders to reassure domestic audiences and therefore convincingly threaten the offending state with a firm response, in turn enhancing the credibility of such threats. This echoes Murdock’s emphasis on the relationship between domestic political resolve and the credibility of extended deterrence: by reassuring the American public, the United States also reassures its allies of its security commitments. The same logic applies to coalition building during crises. While US allies may not be willing to join a military coalition as a response to regional aggression due to the risk of themselves coming under attack, missile defenses may, as DeBiaso argued, “blunt attempts at intimidation and encourage allied participation in coalition operations” such as the 1991 and 2003 Gulf Wars (DeBiaso 2006, p. 164). Similarly, allies may be more willing to participate in efforts to apply stringent economic and diplomatic tools against regional actors engaging in disruptive or destabilizing behaviors. This point continued to be quite relevant in the Obama administration’s policies and featured prominently in the BMDR and Nuclear Posture Review, both of which noted that regional security architectures could be strengthened through an increased reliance on non-nuclear deterrence capabilities such as missile defense (Hymans 2006, p. 46).

Strategic Roles for Missile Defense


The close cooperation between allies needed to coordinate the complex command and control issues relating to effective missile defense might also strengthen ties between countries and contribute to assurance strategies. Missile defense networks may develop into a type of technology-based defensive alliance – including a diverse group of states such as Japan, South Korea, India, Israel and NATO members – that create valuable new political dynamics which could enhance extended deterrence and reassure allies. As Oliver Thranert noted, the assurance value of missile defenses may allow the United States to reconsider its deployment options regarding strategic nuclear forces in Europe. Removing these forces may cause concern among NATO member states, weaken extended deterrence and potentially cause some nations to pursue their own nuclear programs. BMD systems – especially those requiring deployed US assets in Europe such as Ground Based Interceptors and Patriot batteries – may alleviate allied concerns and lessen the effects of redeployment (Thranert 2010, p. 72). The simple act of deploying US missile defense assets to Europe has an assurance effect, irrespective of its ability to intercept ballistic missiles. Just as the stationing of US troops ensured American involvement in any Soviet attack in Europe, some European countries continue to reflect a similar attitude. The planned deployment of landbased missile defense assets to Romania and Poland are significant for this reason alone. Similarly, the decision to base four American Aegis BMD ships in Spain sent a reassuring signal to allies in Europe that the United States will remain engaged in the region, even as US ground forces were being withdrawn. Missile defense deployments can also provide the opportunity to undertake reductions in the number of deployed nuclear weapons. The Bush administration argued that “advances in defensive technologies will allow US non-nuclear and nuclear capabilities to be coupled with active and passive defenses to help provide deterrence and protection against attack, preserve US freedom of action, and strengthen the credibility of US alliance commitments” and that missile defenses “may reduce the need for nuclear weapons to hold at risk an adversary’s missile launchers” (NPR 2001). The Obama administration made a similar point in its 2010 BMDR, observing that “[a]gainst nuclear-armed states, regional deterrence will necessarily include a nuclear component (whether forward deployed or not). But the role of US nuclear weapons in these regional deterrence architectures can be reduced by increasing the role of missile defenses and other capabilities” (Gates 2010a, p. 23). It remains to be seen whether missile defenses can replace nuclear


US Missile Defense Strategy

weapons in an assurance role, but the political effects of BMD deployment remain the system’s most visible strategic effect. Conclusion

In sum, missile defenses have been considered valuable strategic assets by all three administrations in order to adapt to the new post Cold War security environment. First and most fundamentally, missile defenses are expected to protect the US homeland, deployed forces and perhaps even the territory of close allies from ballistic missile attack. Second, it is anticipated that the deployment of missile defenses will strengthen existing deterrent capabilities, adding a buttressing layer of denial deterrence to existing reprisal deterrence structures. By raising doubts in the minds of potential attackers as to the success of an attack, the number and sophistication of missiles required to overcome the defenses, the existence of missile defenses raises the attack costs and may deter an adversary. Additionally, the deployment of either national defenses or those in a regional context can provide an effective signaling device to communicate US resolve. Third, missile defenses may dissuade some actors by reducing the potential strategic value of ballistic missiles and possibly even convincing some states or non-state actors not to acquire this technology in the first place. Finally, missile defenses may assure allies that despite the growing proliferation threat, the United States remains unhindered in its ability to honor its security commitments. Defenses may also act to reassure domestic population that the United States can challenge nuclear armed regional adversaries with an acceptable level of risk, therefore avoiding “self-deterrence.” Each of the three administrations – Clinton, Bush and Obama – held surprisingly similar views on the value of each of these four strategic missions. But holding beliefs about the strategic roles for BMD is not the same as the missile defense system having strategic value. This judgment is based on an additional two factors. First, the strategic utility of BMD depends upon how the system has been developed and deployed. It cannot be assumed that defenses are constructed and fielded exactly to the strategic requirements outlined in this chapter – other variables are present in the decision making processes surrounding the implementation of policy. Secondly, the reactions of other states must be taken into account in order to gauge the strategic value of the system: in deterrence, the enemy gets a vote. Are states deterred, dissuaded or assured?

Strategic Roles for Missile Defense


Investing heavily in a specific military system based on a set of unsubstantiated assumptions about how other states will react to that system is a calculated risk. The conceptual evolution and application of concepts like deterrence, dissuasion and assurance are also particularly susceptible to the risk of mirror-imaging. The strategic missions that missile defenses are anticipated to perform are logical and reasonable, but ultimately untested.                                                                                                                        

Notes 1 As Carter argued, “the attacker suffers a law of diminishing returns as the attack intensity is increased, meaning that the first 50 percent probability of damage comes much more cheaply than the last. For the defense this means that high survivability goals are much harder than low goals to enforce against growth in the offense or against poor performance of the defense” (Carter 1984, pp. 102-103). 2 To quote George and Smoke more fully here: “[t]he comparative simplicity of means calculations for deterrence on the strategic level is demonstrated precisely by the fact that they can be almost entirely mathmaticized. But deterrence of lower-level conflict, unlike Assured Destruction, cannot be implemented by threatening a specific level of damage…deterrence at levels below the strategic differs strikingly from the strategic case in that it is primarily a question of influencing the opponent’s political calculus of the acceptable costs and risks of his potential initiative rather than simply threatening overwhelming military costs (George and Smoke 1974, p. 51). 3 Betts lists Eisenhower and Nixon as risk maximizers and Truman, Kennedy and Carter as risk minimizers. He notes, however, that most “presidents were neither risk maximizers nor minimizers as much as risk moderators, but on balance, their strategy resembled Russian roulette more often than it did chess. Since presidents never claimed that the United States could use nuclear weapons with impunity, it appears that they relied most on the incautious manipulation of risk a la Schelling and on the demonstration of political resolve rather than military capability” (Betts 1987, p. 13). 4 It should be noted that analysts at the Strategic Deterrence Assessment Lab within USStratcom have been working on exactly the sort of typology discussed here by Morgan. 5 The term “counter-deterrence” is borrowed from Stocker (2011).

3 The Nuts and Bolts of Missile Defense

The technical details and system architecture for missile defense directly influence not only the operational efficacy of the system but also its strategic impact. A cursory glance through missile defense literature can quickly become disorienting, however, given the plethora of technical terms, project names and acronyms. A number of BMD programs have shifted names multiple times as well, adding to the confusion. The following pages provide a concise overview of the most relevant concepts for understanding missile defense technology, including very brief discussions of ballistic missiles and their phases of flight, differences between theater and national missile defense systems, factors affecting BMD effectiveness, and the technological choices involved in developing defenses. Afterwards, the three major components of a missile defense system – sensors, interceptors, and battle management infrastructure – are presented. An idea of the current state of the art regarding BMD systems is crucial for a better appreciation of the political, economic and strategic choices involved. Ballistic Missile Principles and BMD

The same basic components can be found on every ballistic missile: some type of guidance system, one or more warheads and a rocket booster for propulsion. The booster can be classified as either liquid- or solid-fuel. Liquid-fuel boosters are the older and less technologically complex of the two types; they utilize a liquid propellant and a liquid oxidizer involving hazardous and complicated fueling and maintenance procedures. Solid-fuel boosters, on the other hand, use a solid motor core molded of propellant and an oxidizer which burns outward from a



US Missile Defense Strategy

hollow center. This type of booster is more difficult to produce but easier to maintain afterwards (Arthur and Roy 2004). Classifying ballistic missiles by range necessarily entails somewhat arbitrary boundaries, but the generally accepted delineations are similar to those contained in the September 1999 National Intelligence Estimate Foreign Missile Developments and the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States Through 2015: short range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) with a range less than 1000 kilometers, medium range (MRBMs) from 1000-3000 kilometers, intermediate range (IRBMs) from 3000-5500 kilometers, and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) with a range over 5500 kilometers (NIC 1999). Irrespective of range, each ballistic missile follows a similar flight path that is customarily divided into three phases: boost, midcourse and terminal. During the boost phase – which may last from one to five minutes depending on the missile’s range and type of fuel used (solidfuel boosters have a shorter boost phase than liquid-fuel) – the missile accelerates to speeds approaching seven kilometers per second for a long-range ballistic missile. At the end of the boost phase, the missile may achieve an altitude of 200–400 km and a horizontal distance of 300–800 km from the launch site. Once its fuel is spent, the missile begins the midcourse phase even as it continues to gain altitude. This post-boost portion of flight lasts from booster burnout until warhead deployment. The portion of flight from the end of the boost phase until the missile reaches its highest altitude above the earth (the trajectory apogee) is also referred to as the ascent phase. Ballistic missiles with a range of less than 500 kilometers usually remain within the earth’s atmosphere, while longer-range missiles have some period of exo-atmospheric flight (Weiner 1984; Lindsay and O'Hanlon 2001). During the ascent portion of the midcourse phase, a long-range ballistic missile carrying multiple independently targeted reentry vehicles (MIRVs) maneuvers the post-boost vehicle or “bus” and deploys the warheads on their separate trajectories. At this point, missiles equipped with decoys or other penetration aids will deploy them, as the vacuum of space causes the warheads and decoys to follow a similar arcing freefall back into the atmosphere. The entire midcourse phase may last up to 30 to 35 minutes for intercontinental-range missiles. As the warhead finally reenters the atmosphere, it slows down and heats up. In anticipation of this, reentry vehicles are carefully designed and strongly constructed to withstand the thermal and mechanical stresses of reentry. This final, terminal phase of flight,

The Nuts and Bolts of Missile Defense


lasting from reentry until impact, takes less than several minutes depending on the type of trajectory (CBO 2004). A ballistic missile may follow one of three basic trajectories. On a minimum energy trajectory, a missile is the most energy efficient and achieves its maximum notional range given the speed and altitude of the rocket booster propelling it. For shorter-range missiles, the initial trajectory angle (relative to the earth’s surface) would be approximately 45 degrees, while an intercontinental ballistic missile may have an initial trajectory angle of only 20-25 degrees (Lindsay and O'Hanlon 2001). The missile may also be sent on a lofted trajectory, whereby it attains a higher altitude than would be the case for a minimum energy trajectory. A lofted trajectory, while sacrificing range, re-enters the atmosphere at higher speeds and therefore has a much shorter terminal phase of flight. A depressed trajectory, on the other hand, keeps the missile at a lower maximum altitude, complicating its detection by radar sensors due to the curvature of the earth and may also keep some missiles endoatmospheric for their entire flight (Lindsay and O'Hanlon 2001). Missile Defenses: Theater versus National

Missile defenses are designed to defend against either shorter-range ballistic missile threats to deployed forces or allies abroad (theater defenses) or ICBM threats to the US homeland (national missile defense). Theater defenses are generally considered to be less threatening to the strategic deterrent capabilities of China and Russia because defenses designed against slower flying missiles cannot intercept high-speed (i.e., long-range) ballistic missiles with equal effectiveness. The 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty signed by the Soviet Union (and reaffirmed by the Russian federation) and the United States permits theater defenses but not national defenses. According to the treaty’s logic, any defenses that threaten the relationship of assured destruction could spark an arms race as states increase their offensive capabilities to overcome the defenses. The weakening of this situation of “strategic stability” might also have negative political consequences as well. Theater defenses are generally viewed as avoiding these complications. In addition, theater missile defenses (TMD) have other advantages over long-range systems. They are generally more technologically feasible due to the slower target speeds involved, and TMD systems have therefore often demonstrated a higher level of developmental maturity than long-range defenses. A smaller interceptor missile is required for theater defenses, which lowers the unit costs and improves


US Missile Defense Strategy

the offense–defense cost ratios. Theater missile defenses may be more easily transportable due to their smaller size and can be positioned in such a way as to tailor defensive capabilities to the threat without impacting the strategic assets of the other major nuclear powers. Some have argued, however, that “the dichotomy between NMD and TMD is not entirely helpful. It ignores the spectrum of ways and ranges in which an inferior enemy could use ballistic missiles armed with WMD toward the same end: to undermine the will and the ability of the United States to project power” (Gompert and Isaacson 1999). Furthermore, systems categorized as theater defenses are able to provide national missile defense for states such as Japan or South Korea, and some increasingly capable TMD systems can be networked together to create a more regional defensive capability well beyond the tactical connotation of “theater” defenses. The dividing line between theater and national defenses is therefore somewhat capricious, but the distinction remains significant from a technical, analytical and strategic standpoint. A 1997 agreement between the United States and Russia – signed by President Clinton but never submitted to the Senate for approval – specified that theater defenses under the ABM Treaty should be limited to those systems tested against targets with velocities under five kilometers/second and a range of less than 3,500 kilometers (Gompert and Isaacson 1999). After the Bush administration withdrew from the ABM Treaty in 2001, the legal necessity of distinguishing between theater and national missile defenses disappeared. Theater missile defense systems are designed to defend smaller areas against short to medium-range ballistic missiles and can be either exo-atmospheric (intercepting targets above altitudes of 80–100 kilometers) or endo-atmospheric defenses. As Dean Wilkening described, This distinction is important because, below 80–100 km, atmospheric drag strips away lightweight decoys. Between altitudes of 40–80 km, atmospheric forces increase, leaving behind all but the most carefully designed decoys, but are still too light for them to be used by incoming warheads or defense interceptors to maneuver…Finally, below 40 km aerodynamic forces are appreciable, potentially causing warheads to maneuver, thus making them hard to intercept. In the US lexicon, upper-tier TMD systems intercept targets above 40 km, while lowertier systems do so below this altitude. The defended area (the ‘footprint’) for lower-tier systems is small, while upper-tier systems have larger defended footprints. (Wilkening 2000, p. 46)

The Nuts and Bolts of Missile Defense


These technical characteristics of missile defense systems – maximum velocity of interceptors, intended intercept point and sensor target discrimination ability – affect the types of threats handled by the system and the geographic area that can be defended. Phases of Ballistic Missile Flight and Intercept Options

Engineers have explored concepts for theater-wide and national defensive systems that intercept incoming threats during each of the three phases of flight. There are advantages and disadvantages to engaging ballistic missiles in their boost, midcourse or terminal phases. During the boost phase, the exhaust plume from the booster rocket provides a large and uncomplicated target for sensors to track, and a target that has yet to deploy decoys or multiple reentry vehicles. Because the missile boosts for such a short time, however, a BMD boost phase interceptor would need to be capable of rapid acceleration and high velocities, deployed close to the launch site and ready to launch almost immediately after a threatening launch is detected, not to mention that it must be designed to hit a rapidly accelerating target. The midcourse segment provides a longer window of opportunity for intercept and the missile will most likely be flying on a predictable trajectory, but a reentry vehicle offers a much smaller target than a booster rocket and penetration aids may also have been deployed. During the post-boost portion of the midcourse phase, the missile remains warm from the boost phase but has yet to deploy fully its MIRVs or decoys. This may be more advantageous in terms of offering more time and a better target for intercept, but the missile will still be able to maneuver and warhead separation could occur just prior to intercept. For terminal BMD, target discrimination is simplified. Decoys are no longer an issue due to the atmospheric drag of reentry, but there is also little time for intercept during this phase and the target may maneuver due to aerodynamic forces, as seen with Iraqi Scud missiles in the 1990-1991 Gulf War. This is especially true if the missile follows a lofted trajectory. Due to these variations for intercepting ballistic missiles, a layered defense may be employed that is capable of engaging an incoming missile at several different phases of its flight. As Lindsay and O’Hanlon explain: A layered approach to national missile defense has two potential advantages. First, a layered defense might be less likely to fail because the strengths of one layer could offset the weaknesses of others. As a


US Missile Defense Strategy

result, warheads that penetrated one layer might be picked off by another….Second, if each layer were sufficiently large and effective, it is possible that a layered defense would be capable of protecting against far larger attacks than any single NMD architecture could do on its own. In theory, the “thicker” the defense – that is, the greater the number of layers and capabilities per layer – the greater the protection. (Lindsay and O'Hanlon 2001, p. 113)

The United States has pursued some type of layered defensive architecture since the Clinton administration, emphasizing midcourse and terminal phase intercept in deployed systems after efforts to develop a boost phase intercept capability have so far been unsuccessful. Mobility and Basing Options

Missile defense assets may be designed so that they can be either based or transported over land, by sea or air, or in space. Transportability offers a high degree of flexibility in light of changing strategic situations and defensive requirements, as well as offering the possibility of “surging” assets to a particular region in the event of a crisis. Transportable BMD assets might be able to be positioned or ‘tailored’ to a particular threat without impacting the strategic assets of other states. Mobile missile defense assets may be more survivable and present a more difficult target: for an adversary intent on threatening the United States with ballistic missiles, a logical first step would be to target BMD assets. The decision to base missile defenses on land, at sea, in the air or in space affects the transportability and reach of BMD assets. Land-based interceptors and sensors might offer some mobility, while larger long-range interceptors will likely be stationary land-based systems. The immovability of land-based sites sends a strong political signal of lasting commitment and a sense of permanence. Smaller, seabased interceptors and sensors offer increased transportability. Future technological advances may allow space-based interceptors to give BMD a global reach, while more immediately accessible technologies allow the positioning of space-based sensors for global early warning and tracking. Due to ballistic missile trajectories and flight paths – the physics of missile defense – the location of land or sea-based BMD elements will determine which potential adversaries may be defended against. This has, and will continue to have, significant political and strategic implications for the United States, its allies and friends, and its potential adversaries.

The Nuts and Bolts of Missile Defense


Technological Choices

All decision making regarding the development of ballistic missile defenses entails some level of technological path dependency. Despite the high level of funding and the decision by the Bush administration to pursue a policy of “spiral development” that allowed simultaneous research into a number of different BMD architectural solutions, there are limits to the variety of programs that can be developed within a certain time frame. Considering the sunk costs – economic, political and temporal – in existing projects, it therefore becomes difficult and impractical to halt the development of one platform and begin another. The choices made early in the development process have significant strategic implications, as these BMD assets are normally preconfigured to operate within a specific framework. Some adaptation is possible, such as the development of a land-based version of the sea-based Aegis system, but other technology crossovers are not as simple. Programmatic decisions, such as emphasizing the development of a midcourse missile defense against long-range threats or investing in interceptor missiles rather than lasers, have opportunity costs and ultimately limit future deployment options for BMD. These limitations in turn affect the strategic impacts of missile defenses on both adversaries and allies. In practical terms, this path dependency cannot be helped due to limits on resources and development timelines, but policymakers may not always be cognizant of the long-term political and strategic ramifications when investing in the development of a particular BMD asset. Gauging BMD Effectiveness

A missile defense system faces four basic types of tasks during the course of its mission. In the acquisition phase, sensors search for and detect an incoming threat before tracking the threat by pinpointing its position and likely trajectory. In the discrimination phase, the system must differentiate the warheads from debris and countermeasure decoys, before intercepting the target and destroying it with an interceptor missile (Weiner 1984). During the Cold War, the United States developed a network of surface and space-based sensors to detect and track ballistic missiles, and some of this technology has been incorporated into the missile defense system. The final two tasks are the most challenging for developing effective BMD systems. Effectiveness is determined primarily by how few threats “leak” through the defenses


US Missile Defense Strategy

and how efficiently the threats are intercepted, i.e. how few interceptors are needed to defeat each incoming threat. The defensive “footprint” provided by a defensive system depends primarily on the speed of the interceptor and its maximum flight time, but also partially on the range of the sensors. Early tracking and discrimination of the threat allows for a greater defended area and more time for the interceptor to reach the target. The defended area also increases relative to the “flyout speed” of the interceptor, which is determined by its boost acceleration and burnout velocity. For endoatmospheric theater defenses, interceptor acceleration is more relevant as the distances are shorter, while the longer distances required for exoatmospheric intercepts are more dependent on burnout velocity. As fuel is a determining factor for burnout velocity, the interceptors required for TMD can be smaller while midcourse exo-atmospheric interceptors such as the GBIs are larger due to extra fuel requirements. The range limitations of surface-based radars, which are unable to “see” over the horizon due to the curvature of the earth, can be overcome by networking together multiple sensors to provide earlier tracking and discrimination data. This allows for a “launch on remote” capability, whereby an interceptor may launch while its intended target is still over the horizon and receive tracking data en route (Weiner 1984). Defenses can be made more effective by shooting several interceptors at each threat during a specific phase of flight, by increasing the “footprint” of the defenses to require fewer interceptors for a given area, or through a combination of these two by layering the defense and employing a “shoot look shoot” strategy across several phases of flight. It is generally assumed that multiple interceptors will be employed against each threat. This suggests several strategies for the offense to make defenses less effective.1 First and most simply, an attacker can avoid the use of ballistic missiles altogether. Another option is to target the defenses themselves either by destroying sensors or other infrastructure, or perhaps disrupting the sensors through jamming. But for BMD engineers, the greatest concerns are those technological means by which an attacker can reduce the probability of a single interceptor shot resulting in a “kill” of an incoming threat. This single shot probability of kill (SSPK) is a main determinant of missile defense effectiveness. BMD sensors rely on the distinctive radar signature of an incoming warhead to distinguish it from debris or decoys; signature information comes most reliably from observing missile testing but may also be derived from basic physics. An adversary may be able to alter the signatures of its warheads to confuse BMD sensors, reducing SSPK and forcing the defense to expend multiple

The Nuts and Bolts of Missile Defense


interceptors to ensure a kill. An attacker could also cause the defender to deplete its supply of interceptors by saturating the defense with more threats than can be handled. This can be accomplished either by a barrage or salvo of missiles, or by including countermeasures that lessen the effectiveness of the defense by forcing multiple interceptors to be used on each warhead/decoy. Countermeasures are a serious challenge to BMD effectiveness. While debates continue regarding the presence and sophistication of countermeasures in the ballistic missile threats for which US defenses are being designed, it seems likely that defenses will encounter some type of penetration aid. The 1999 National Intelligence Estimate predicted that [m]any countries, such as North Korea, Iran, and Iraq, probably would rely initially on readily available technology – including separating RVs [reentry vehicles], spin-stabilized RVs, RV reorientation, radar absorbing material (RAM), booster fragmentation, low-power jammers, chaff, and simple (balloon) decoys – to develop penetration aids and countermeasures. (NIC 1999)

The United States, responding to the ABM system constructed by the Soviets to defend Moscow, developed multiple independently targeted reentry vehicles (MIRV) during the 1960s in order to saturate the defenses with warheads. The submarine launched Polaris A-2 SLBM developed by the US in the early 1960s, for example, was designed to carry decoys, chaff and electronic countermeasures.2 A British version of the Polaris used a maneuvering bus with two warheads and several decoys encased in balloons. The decoy balloons were equipped with thrusters to replicate the characteristics of the warheads. French, Russian and Chinese ballistic missiles also are assumed to be equipped with similar types of countermeasures. These penetration aids place such a burden on BMD sensor discrimination capabilities that some missile defense critics view countermeasures as an insurmountable technical obstacle that renders BMD useless (Sessler et al. 2000). Current Elements of the US Missile Defense System

Despite these challenges, the United States has developed and deployed a system of sensors, interceptors and battle management infrastructure for missile defense. Each of the three components of the system must not only perform its designated tasks flawlessly, but must also


US Missile Defense Strategy

communicate seamlessly with the others in order for the entire system to achieve an intercept. Sensors

The US BMD system uses a variety of sensors to detect and track ballistic missile threats through all phases of flight. For national missile defense, one of the most relevant is the Cobra Dane radar located on Shemya, Alaska, one of the remote islands of the Aleutian chain stretching into the icy waters of the northern Pacific Ocean. The primary mission of the radar has been to monitor and track Russian ICBMs within a 2000-mile corridor from the eastern Russian peninsula to the northern Pacific Ocean. It has been upgraded to support the missile defense mission by collecting and relaying data that can assist in interception (MDA 2013d). A number of Upgraded Early Warning Radars (UEWR), also originally built during the Cold War, have been upgraded and integrated into the BMD architecture. These radars, located in Beale, California, Clear, Alaska, Fylingdales, United Kingdom, and Thule, Greenland, continuously track reentry vehicles and perform object classification for target discrimination (MDA 2013h). Another sensor constructed specifically for the missile defense mission is the Sea-based X-band radar (SBX). Utilizing a Norwegiandesigned semi-submersible oil drilling platform originally built in Russia and modified by Texan shipyards, the SBX is a twin-hulled, selfpropelled vessel with a large radar dome perched atop a superstructure housing the crew’s living space and work areas. The mobility of the SBX, currently homeported in Honolulu, Hawaii, is intended to allow repositioning to obtain optimal missile tracking and target discrimination information that can assist with missile intercept (O'Rourke 2009; MDA 2013f). In 2012, the SBX was reclassified as a training asset for cost saving purposes, but was deployed to East Asia in April 2013 in the midst of growing tensions on the Korean peninsula. A transportable land-based X-band radar, the Army Navy/Transportable Radar Surveillance – Model 2 (AN/TPY-2) is designed to track all classes of ballistic missile and identify small objects at long distances, according to the MDA, “acting as advanced ‘eyes’ for the system, detecting ballistic missiles early in their flight and providing precise tracking information” (MDA 2013b; Raytheon 2009). Another category of sensors utilize airborne platforms. A recent technological development, which was slated to be included in the European Phased Adaptive Approach, has the use of airborne infrared systems (manned or unmanned) to improve the ability of BMDS to

The Nuts and Bolts of Missile Defense


detect and track large numbers of ballistic missile threats simultaneously. In September 2010, an F-35 Lightning II aircraft successfully detected and tracked a two stage rocket from a distance of over 1200 kilometres using a Distributed Aperture System (DAS) passive sensor that provides a 360 degree view and can detect missile threats without cueing (Northrop Grumman 2010). The final category of sensors is space-based and includes both existing capabilities as well as new systems of satellites to be developed specifically for missile defense. The United States began developing early warning satellites in the 1950s to detect foreign missile launches; the first of the current series of such satellites, the Defense Support Program (DSP), was placed into orbit in 1970. The six DSP satellites currently in orbit – four are needed for the system to be operational – use infrared technology to detect the high exhaust temperatures of missiles during their boost phase. The program to develop satellites specifically for ballistic missile defense has gone through several iterations – Brilliant Eyes in the 1980s, Space and Missile Tracking System and the low earth orbit portion of the Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS-low) in the 1990s, the Space Tracking and Surveillance System (STSS) during the 2000s and the Precision Tracking Space System (PTSS). The Near Field Infrared Experiment (NFIRE) test satellite was launched in April 2007 and has tracked several test launches (MDA 2008). Two additional satellites were launched on a low earth orbit in September 2009 and underwent a four-year period of testing to demonstrate the satellites’ ability to track ballistic missiles through all phases of flight using infrared and visible sensors. The two STSS satellites have been continuously operated and provided exclusive launch data for an intercept test in 2012; the PTSS program to develop a space-based discrimination capability was deemed too high risk and was cancelled in 2013 (Syring 2013). Interceptors: Boost Phase Intercept

The first opportunity any missile defense system might have to destroy an incoming threat is during the target’s initial minutes of flight. From a technical standpoint, the boost phase is an attractive period for intercept due to the slower speeds of the accelerating missile, the easily tracked and targeted rocket booster emitting a hot plume of exhaust, and the possibility of destroying the warheads before decoys could be deployed. But the short window of opportunity for boost phase intercept requires an exceptionally fast interceptor, geographic proximity to the adversary’s launch site and leaves almost no time for decisionmakers to


US Missile Defense Strategy

grant BMD launch authorization. Three types of BPI systems, each balancing these advantages and disadvantages in various ways, have been considered: surface-based interceptors; air-based platforms utilizing interceptors or lasers; and space-based interceptors. Surface-based boost phase systems may include ground or shipbased infrared or radar sensors and high velocity interceptor missiles. The earth’s curvature limits the detection range of the sensors just as the flyout speeds of the interceptors affect their range. Both considerations will therefore impact basing options. These limitations present practical challenges to fielding a BPI system that vary in accordance to the land mass of potential adversaries, including the near-impossibility of Russian or Chinese intercept, the difficulties of an Iranian launch and the more manageable ranges involved in North Korean intercepts. Given the strategic and political considerations of maintaining strategic stability, the tactical weakness of boost phase defenses that necessitate a carefully tailored and geographically limited capability can be a strategic selling point (Wilkening 2000). Employing an air-based platform for boost phase intercept solves several issues with surface-based systems, most notably the limitations of surface-based sensors and access to basing in proximity of the threat. Airborne sensors – using manned aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or high altitude airships – can provide tracking data at greater ranges due to their altitude and ability to “see further over” the earth’s curvature. While basing would be less of an issue for airborne BPI, logistical and tactical issues such as maintaining air superiority, loiter times for BPI and support aircraft, and weight considerations for interceptors would need to be overcome. One airborne BPI concept pursued by MDA was the Airborne Laser, consisting of a chemical oxygen iodine laser (COIL) mounted in a Boeing 747-400F aircraft. After detecting a missile launch using infrared sensors, the ABL aircraft used a smaller ranging laser to determine the atmospheric turbulence along the laser beam path so the adaptive optics for the main megawatt class beam could be effectively focused on the boosting missile, rapidly heating up the outer surface of the target and destroying it. Ostensibly, the system, which would have an operational range of only several hundred kilometers, would be able to deploy twenty such laser shots before its energy reserves were depleted. Secretary Gates reduced funding for the program in 2009, saying that “there’s nobody in uniform that I know who believes that this is a workable concept” (Sanger 2012). The effort was redesignated the Airborne Laser Test Bed (ALTB), and received $40 million additional funding after a successful test that destroyed a short range

The Nuts and Bolts of Missile Defense


ballistic missile in early 2010, but two successive failed tests later that year ultimately resulted in the program’s cancellation in 2012 (Sanger 2012; Timberg 2013). The final boost phase option, a network of space-based sensors and interceptors, would also require a substantial number of interceptor launch platforms and sensors.3 On a strategic level, space-based BPI presents a global capability that could threaten the strategic forces of both Russia and China, unlike surface or airborne BPI options. While interceptor numbers and costs would likely make a realistic space-based defense against these two states unlikely, the development of such a system could at least appear to threaten their strategic deterrent. Interceptors: Midcourse and Terminal Phase Intercept

Boost phase defenses can be effective against all ranges of missile threats and are therefore not usefully categorized as either theater or strategic/national defenses. This is not the case for midcourse or terminal phase defenses. During the past several decades, various midcourse missile defense systems have been considered that feature land, sea, air or space-based interceptors. The most relevant systems today are surface-based platforms. Of these, the only midcourse system designed purely for national missile defense against long-range missiles is the Ground Based Midcourse Defense element. The only other system with the potential for longer-range intercept is Aegis BMD; future developments within this program may produce an interceptor capable of engaging ICBMs. The remaining BMD systems are designed to handle shorter-range threats. The primary component of the ballistic missile defense system designed to defend the US homeland is the ground-based midcourse defense (GMD) program, consisting of ground-based interceptor missiles (GBI), command and control ground systems and the network of detection and tracking sensors described above. The GMD system is currently the only BMD element with the potential to defeat long-range ballistic missiles; the interceptor is designed to collide with the incoming warhead above the earth’s atmosphere at a closing speed of approximately 15,000 miles per hour. This exo-atmospheric ‘hit to kill’ collision, referred to by many as “hitting a bullet with a bullet,” is made possible by a series of sensors – both terrestrial and space based – that track the incoming warhead and guide the interceptor to its target. Under development since 1998, the GBI consists of a three stage, solid fuel booster vehicle that carries an exo-atmospheric kill vehicle (EKV) close to the point of engagement. The Clinton administration


US Missile Defense Strategy

envisioned an initial deployment of 100 GBIs based in Alaska; the Obama administration has maintained the number of interceptors emplaced at Fort Greely, Alaska (26 GBIs) and Vandenberg AFB in California (four GBIs), with an additional fourteen interceptors scheduled to be emplaced at Fort Greely. The fire control and battle management nodes for GMD are located in Fort Greely and Colorado Springs, Colorado. One of the most technically mature programs, the Aegis BMD system currently performs theater defense through midcourse and terminal intercept of ballistic missiles. The Aegis ships are among the US Navy’s most advanced surface combat vessels, with an integrated radar and missile system capable of conducting air, surface and subsurface warfare simultaneously. By December 2013, the US Navy had deployed 30 Aegis BMD ships (25 destroyers and 5 cruisers), with 16 ships deployed in the Pacific and 14 in the Atlantic (MDA 2013i). Previously, the vast majority of the Aegis BMD ships were deployed in the Pacific, but an expansion of the Atlantic fleet in accordance with the European Phased Adaptive Approach has evened the numbers somewhat, with 18 ships in the Pacific and 12 in the Atlantic (Pillar 2007). The onboard AN/SPY-1 phased array radar provides 360 degree coverage and its powerful all-weather S-band radar is able to provide fire-control guidance data for BMD missions.4 It is flexible, however: more of its energy can be focused in a particular sector for enhanced performance while still leaving some coverage for the remaining sectors. The Aegis cruisers and destroyers are equipped with a range of armaments, the most relevant for BMD being the Standard missiles launched from the Mk-41 Vertical Launch System (VLS). The two-stage Standard Missile SM-2ER Block IV missile, principally a surface to air missile, has been configured to provide terminal ballistic missile defense for the Aegis BMD Sea-based Terminal program.5 A newer missile, the SM-3, is the key component of the Aegis BMD Midcourse program and is based on the SM-2, but has an additional stage to provide extended range for midcourse exoatmospheric intercept.6 The SM-3 uses a Kinetic Warhead (KW) that, similar to the GBIs, relies on the kinetic energy of colliding with the target warhead rather than using explosives. Three additional versions of the SM-3 interceptor were originally planned (SM-3 Block IB, Block IIA and Block IIB), each successively increasing both the range and discrimination capabilities of the missile. In 2013, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced the cancellation of the Block IIB missile in order to devote more resources to existing GBI and SM-3 interceptor development efforts.

The Nuts and Bolts of Missile Defense


The Aegis BMD system and the SM-3 missile also demonstrated a limited anti-satellite (ASAT) capability during the 2008 mission Burnt Frost to shoot down a failing reconnaissance satellite. Bush administration officials decided to intercept it with an SM-3 missile launched from an Aegis BMD ship, timing the mission to occur just prior to the errant satellite’s reentry into the atmosphere, where it was expected to begin to tumble unpredictably and make any intercept more difficult. The USS Lake Erie fired one modified SM-3 missile on 20 February from its position northwest of Hawaii, achieving a direct hit and destroying it (Cartwright 2008; MDA 2009). While administration officials emphasized the “one-time” ASAT mission, the operation generated some skepticism concerning its motives since the shoot-down came just over a year after China had demonstrated its nascent ASAT capability by shooting down an aging weather satellite on 11 January 2007.7 In addition to the newer versions of the SM-3 missile, the US Navy is developing land-based Aegis elements that are quite similar to those found aboard the Aegis BMD ships. Called “Aegis Ashore,” these assets would retain the highly effective BMD capabilities of Aegis ships without burdening the costly and multifunctional Aegis ships with what would amount to BMD “picket duty” deployed in particular regions due to sensor and interceptor footprints. The current version of the SM-3 gives it a midcourse defense against short and medium range ballistic missiles, while subsequent versions may be able to handle midcourse intercept of IRBMs and eventually even ICBMs. Interceptors: Terminal Theater Defense

The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system is designed to be an upper tier defense but is able to achieve both endo and exoatmospheric intercept of ballistic missiles during the terminal phase of flight using “hit to kill” technology, and can therefore defend against short to intermediate-range ballistic missiles.8 By engaging longer-range missiles above the atmosphere, THAAD can defend a broader “footprint” and supports a layered defense approach by allowing for a “shoot look shoot” strategy in the terminal phase, with the Patriot system covering the lower tier. Each THAAD battery consists of a truck-mounted launcher with eight interceptor missiles per launcher, a transportable AN/TPY-2 radar and a fire control unit that connects the THAAD components with each other and with the rest of the BMDS. The most experienced and widely deployed missile defense platform for short range intercept is the Patriot system. The most recent version,


US Missile Defense Strategy

the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3), is designed to provide a theater-wide terminal defense against short and medium range ballistic missiles, as well as air-breathing threats such as cruise missiles. Each Patriot firing battery consists of phased array radar, control station and interceptor missiles. An earlier version of the Patriot system, the PAC-2, was deployed during the 1991 Gulf War. While initial reports of their performance against Iraqi SCUD missiles were quite positive, later information revealed a mixed record. A redesigned Patriot interceptor missile, the PAC-3, using kinetic energy “hit to kill” technology rather than the conventional explosive charge used by the PAC-2, began testing in 1997. During the 2003 Iraq War, the little-used Patriot PAC-3s successfully intercepted its targets in both engagements, while older PAC-2 systems intercepted all seven missiles they engaged. Despite this successful outcome, some questions about the Patriot’s reliability remained (Hildreth 2007).9 In 1996, the United States, Germany and Italy initiated a multinational program to develop a short range BMD system that was eventually seen as a possible successor to the PAC-3. The Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) was to be a highly mobile and quickly deployable air and missile defense platform providing 360 degree lower tier missile defense against short to medium-range ballistic missiles, in addition to air defense against cruise missiles, UAVs and both rotary and fixed wing aircraft. Cooperative efforts between the three partner nations did not always function smoothly and the United States ultimately eliminated funding for the program before a working prototype was developed or flight tested. Missile Defense Command and Control

The wide range of BMD sensors and interceptors can function independently, but the capabilities of each are greatly enhanced when networked to other elements in the BMD system. Surface-based sensors have a limited range due to their inability to see beyond the curvatures of the earth; the ability to share information between sensors is therefore highly desirable to achieve continuous tracking of long-range targets. Improved interceptor fly-out speeds allows some systems such as Aegis and THAAD to “engage on remote” by allowing interceptors to fly beyond the range of their own system sensors and rely on data from other sensors closer to the point of intercept. Additionally, as the probability of intercepting a ballistic threat will always remain less than one hundred percent, it is usually understood that several interceptors will be launched at each threat. Whether they are fired in quick

The Nuts and Bolts of Missile Defense


succession or through a process of shoot-look-shoot – whereby one interceptor is launched, the operator checks to see if the engagement was consummated and if not then to launch another interceptor – shared situational awareness is vital. Limiting the number of interceptors used on each threat improves BMD efficiency and increases the total number of threats that can be engaged and ultimately defeated. Resolving these and other command and control issues hinges on what the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) has called the “glue” that integrates the BMD system: a robust command, control battle management and communications (C2BMC) system. The C2BMC software and infrastructure are intended to provide decisionmakers with a holistic global view of the battle space by collating data from surface and space-based sensors to provide real-time situational awareness. In this way, operators should be able to accurately and seamlessly track ballistic threats, develop plans for engaging the target and continuously assess the situation, all within the compressed timelines of a ballistic missile flight (MDA 2013e). A similar level of coordination must occur within each Defense Department Area of Responsibility (AOR), which for missile defense operations mainly involves the Central, Northern, European and Pacific commands. The initial coordinating effort must occur within these regional commands where planners work to design and implement air and missile defenses.10 During active operations, the AADC “controls the battle using approved authorities (e.g. engagement) and the flexibility of the IADS (integrated air defense system)” (JCS 2007). Due to the compressed timelines involved in regional missile defense operations, launch authorization for interceptors will likely be predelegated. For purely regional engagements such as a North Korean attack on Japan, existing combatant command structures will likely be sufficient to coordinate the use of BMDS sensors, interceptors, firing nodes and C2BMC assets. Similarly, an attack on the US homeland would involve the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and the Northern Command (Northcom). US Northcom retains the authority for directing missile defense operations for North America, its key missions include maintaining the GBI fleet, conducting realistic training in addition to its daily operations. But how might missile defenses be employed against long-range threats that cross AORs, or multiple threats of various ranges? If a ballistic missile attack crosses AOR boundaries or a number of missiles of varying ranges are launched in a salvo, the C2 picture quickly becomes complex and the command structure unclear. According to Defense Department doctrine, US Strategic Command


US Missile Defense Strategy

(USStratcom) is the coordinating authority for global missile defense operations, and in 2005 it established an entity within Stratcom responsible for planning, integrating and coordinating such operations: the Joint Functional Component Command-Integrated Missile Defense (JFCC-IMD). Unfortunately, neither JFCC-IMD nor Stratcom holds any command authority for the execution of global missile defense: this continues to rest with the each combatant commander. As Colonel Daniel Sauter wrote in a 2009 study: “Joint missile defense doctrine is woefully insufficient in providing relevant constructs or principles to facilitate an objective analysis for the command and control of global missile defense operations” (Sauter 2009, p. 15). These issues have not been completely resolved, though efforts have been underway to create an operational framework for global missile defense. Conclusion

Intercepting a ballistic missile is an amazingly complex and challenging engineering problem. Among the myriad of factors influencing a success intercept, perhaps the most significant include the quality of the sensor data, the range and speed of the incoming missile, and the phase of flight during which interception is attempted. Missile interception in each of these three phases has a particular set of strategic implications. While technically challenging due to geographical and temporal restraints, boost phase intercept is strategically ideal: BPI has an unlimited defended footprint because it intercepts missile of all ranges and therefore also minimizes the system’s impact on other states. Midcourse intercept systems, on the other hand, are able to defend fairly large areas and are more technologically feasible despite continuing discrimination challenges, but also are less tailored to specific threats. Terminal defenses can defend smaller areas and discrimination is less of an issue, though there is little time to engage incoming missiles. Terminal systems are more often a tactical asset than a strategic one, unless networked together in significant numbers. The United States has chosen to develop and deploy midcourse and terminal phase defenses, having made several attempts at boost phase systems. Short range terminal systems such as the PAC-3 and THAAD have performed well and are reasonably capable. The medium range Aegis BMD system has also performed well in testing and also appears to be a fairly capable missile defense asset. The Ground Based Midcourse Defense system for homeland defense remains unreliable and the Ground Based Interceptor has posted unconvincing test results over the past decade. Successive administrations have deployed what is now

The Nuts and Bolts of Missile Defense


approaching a global network of sensors for tracking and target discrimination, although coverage in some areas remains thin and the challenge of penetration aids has yet to be satisfactorily resolved. Command and control issues are being addressed but coordination across regions has yet to be attempted. In sum, the United States has made significant technical progress over the past two decades in terms of sensors and interceptors, but most of the deployed BMD assets fall short of a full reliable, battle ready system.                                                                                                                        

Notes 1 See Wilkening (1999) and Wilkening (2001). 2

These were never deployed, as Moscow’s ABM system remained limited and the next SLBM developed, the Poseidon in 1971, carried 14 MIRVed warheads. 3 In order to achieve desired response times and intercept ranges, satellites would need to be placed in a low earth orbit (LEO). The resulting sinusoidal surface tracks means that each space-based interceptor launch platform would only be in position during a small portion of each orbit, necessitating a large number of satellites. In addition, the LEO orbital path would also limit the latitudinal range of coverage: in a study by the Congressional Budget Office, coverage of threats launched between 25 and 45 degrees north latitude (to include both Iran and North Korea) would require between 70 and 900 satellites depending on operational requirements (Arthur and Roy 2004). 4 There are several versions of the SPY-1 radar. The US BMD ships use the SPY-1D version, while the Norwegian Fridtjof Nansen class of frigates employ the smaller and less powerful SPY-1F version 5 This is the successor to the Navy Area Defense (NAD) program, formerly the Navy Lower Tier Program. 6 This is the successor to Navy Theater Wide, formerly Navy Upper Tier. Both the SM-2 and SM-3 missiles build upon research conducted in the 1980s and 1990s on a Lightweight Exo-atmospheric Projectile (LEAP). 7 Although the unusually low altitude of the NRO satellite made the SM-3 intercept possible, it should be noted that all exo-atmospheric ballistic missile defense systems have by their very nature an inherent ASAT capability. 8 The program altered its name from “Theater High Altitude Area Defense” in 2004. Some experts have argued that the system has a potential ICBM capability as well. 9 Steve Hildreth’s footnote in a 2007 Congressional Research Service report is worth quoting at length here: “Nine Iraqi ballistic missiles were targeted by Patriot. Another six were launched but not targeted by Patriot because they were projected to land in areas that would not cause harm. The missiles that Iraq fired in 2003 were slower flying and of shorter-range than those fired in 1991. The Defense Department concluded that the Patriot system successfully intercepted all nine missiles it targeted. Seven of the intercepts,


US Missile Defense Strategy


however, were made with the older Patriot PAC-2 system (which still used a proximity warhead to destroy its target), while the remaining two were intercepted by the newer PAC-3. One Iraqi cruise missile reportedly eluded the Patriot radar and hit a sea wall in Kuwait City. And the Patriot system was also involved in three friendly fire incidents that resulted in the loss of a U.S. and British aircraft” (Hildreth 2007, p. 6). 10 According to the latest doctrine on air and missile defense published in 2007 by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Publication 3-01 Countering Air and Missile Threats, planning responsibilities rest with the area air defense commander (AADC). Since theater ballistic missiles are likely mobile and concealed – and therefore difficult to destroy before launch – it is recommended that the AADC employ missile and air defense assets carefully and efficiently: “flexibility will be required because DCA (defensive counter air) planners should anticipate there will not be enough resources to defend all assets” (JCS 2007).

4 BMD and the Clinton Administration

Looking back, the Clinton administration might justifiably be considered the beginning of the ballistic missile defense system as we know it today. Many would find this assertion highly ironic, given the conventional wisdom that Clinton was generally unsupportive of missile defense and accepted its growth due to domestic political considerations. While domestic politics undoubtedly played a role in the policy process, the determining factor for understanding these forces either as essential or simply supplemental pressures lies in the utility of missile defense for Clinton’s grand strategy. The Clinton administration sought to buttress the nation’s predominant position in the international system, became increasingly concerned over the threat from rogue states and worried about retaining access to the global commons. The administration’s missile defense policies generally reflected a structured, threat-based prioritization that looked to balance the need for national security with the desire to remain within the legal structures of its international treaty obligations. Through the description of both strategy and missile defense policy on the pages that follow, a clearer picture emerges of the relationship between ends and means. Grand Strategy in the Clinton Administration

It became known as the “Kennan Sweepstakes”: the effort within the Clinton administration to create a “strategic vision” on par with the strategy of containment first developed by American diplomat George Kennan in his 1946 “Long Telegram.” After the Soviet Union had collapsed and the Cold War had become a matter for the history books, the United States was suddenly left without an overarching strategic framework. During his successful 1992 election campaign, Arkansas 61  


US Missile Defense Strategy

governor William Jefferson “Bill” Clinton outlined three main foreign policy goals: restructuring the US military; increasing the role of economics in world affairs; and promoting democracy (Brinkley 1997). In August of the following year, President Clinton tasked National Security Advisor Anthony Lake to create a group for the purpose of generating a word or slogan similar to ‘containment’ that encompassed the three foreign policy goals from the campaign.1 Lake’s team set to work to find an image and a strategy that would be a “blueprint for America’s post-Cold War foreign policy, a ringing phrase that would merge strands of neo-Wilsonian idealism with hardcore Morgenthauian realism” (Brinkley 1997, p. 115). The “Kennan Sweepstakes” quickly spread through both the State Department and the entire National Security Council staff, where staff member Jeremey Rosner eventually suggested and wrote the first draft of a speech emphasizing “enlargement.” In a September 1993 speech, Lake announced a new strategy based on the idea of enlarging the community of free market democracies. The “sweepstakes” had its winner, and the United States had its new grand strategy. Some analysts argue that the grand strategic response formulated during the waning days of the George H.W. Bush administration and the beginning of the Clinton administration bears a striking degree of continuity to those pursued by both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama.2 In the 1993 speech announcing a new grand strategy, Lake clearly intended the concept of enlargement to be understood as such. He began by outlining the contours of the current international security environment. First, with the emergence of a host of fledgling ex-Soviet states tending toward democratic governance and embracing capitalism, it appeared that the core American values of democracy and market economics were spreading like a wave across the globe. Second, the removal of the Soviet Union left the United States as the dominant global power by any measure: military, economic, diplomatic or cultural. Third, this new environment was characterized by an increase in ethnic conflict. The end of the Cold War had, observed Lake, “removed the lid from numerous caldrons of ethnic, religious or factional hatred” so that “a major challenge to our thinking, our policies and our international institutions in this era is the fact that most conflicts are taking place within rather than among states” (Lake 1993). Finally, the global pace of events had accelerated due to advances in communications technology, such that the rapid exchange of information on a global basis represented both a danger and an opportunity.

BMD and the Clinton Administration


Background: Grand Strategic Concept

Lake argued that the strategy of containment had been about balance of power, but was also fuelled by the belief that if democracy and market economics prevailed, the United States would become “more secure, prosperous and influential”, and the rest of the world “more humane and peaceful.” Democracies rarely fought each other or sponsored terrorism; they made more reliable diplomatic partners and respected human rights. Therefore, he maintained, most American presidents “understood we must promote democracy and market economics in the world – because it protects our interests and security; and because it reflects our values that are both American and universal” (Lake 1993). Lake believed that Woodrow Wilson’s insight still held true, that “our own security is shaped by the character of foreign regimes.” Reaching the key passage in his speech, Lake declared: Throughout the Cold War, we contained a global threat to market democracies; now we should seek to enlarge their reach, particularly in places of special significance to us. The successor to a doctrine of containment must be a strategy of enlargement – enlargement of the world’s free community of market democracies. (Lake 1993)

That Lake understood “enlargement” to be grand strategy was evident as he stated that the strategy “must provide distinctions and set priorities,” combining democratic free market ideals with “traditional geostrategic interests,” a framework suggesting “how best to expend our large but nonetheless limited national security resources: financial, diplomatic and military”. This grand strategy would have four components: strengthening the community of existing market democracies abroad and undertaking an economic revitalization at home; fostering and consolidating new democracies and market economies; countering and minimizing the ability of anti-democratic “backlash states” to threaten the community of market democracies; and pursuing a humanitarian agenda through aid and democracy promotion, especially in areas of most concern to the United States. Lake warned against what the administration viewed as a growing resistance to an active international role, because “with the end of the Cold War, there is no longer a consensus among the American people around why, and even whether our nation should remain actively engaged in the world” (Lake 1993). The administration’s strategy therefore aimed at creating the conditions for a “domestic renaissance” in addition to international engagement, because the world’s growing


US Missile Defense Strategy

interconnectedness meant that security and economic matters had become both domestic and foreign policy issues. By the end of Clinton’s first term of office, the strategy outlined by Lake continued to reverberate in the administration’s yearly strategic documents. The February 1996 security strategy, A National Security Strategy of Engagement and Enlargement, for example, reiterated many of the components of the current grand strategy as well as detailing its implementation during the previous three years. The document stated the government’s interests concisely as “protecting the lives and personal safety of Americans, maintaining our political freedom and independence as a nation and promoting the well-being and prosperity of our nation” (Clinton 1996, p. 12). The 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review expanded upon this theme, observing that US military power in particular may be engaged to protect vital national interests, which it described as “protecting the sovereignty, territory, and population of the United States” and preventing and deterring threats to the homeland; preventing the emergence of a hostile regional coalition or hegemon; ensuring access to the global commons, markets and strategic resources; and deterring or defeating aggression against allies and friends (Cohen 1997, p. 8). Threatening these fundamental national interests, according to the administration, was a “complex array of new and old security challenges”: political and economic instability in the former Soviet Union; China’s authoritative regime as it gains influence; the spread of weapons of mass destruction; rogue states threatening regional aggression; militant nationalism; and a number of transnational issues with security implications such as environmental degradation, resource depletion, population growth and refugee flows (Clinton 1996). The threat of terrorism gained a more prominent position in the final years of the Clinton administration after the 1998 embassy bombings in Africa. Based on the foundational concept of linkages between regime character and US security, the administration consistently pursued three broad strategic goals: (1) enhancing security with military forces that are ready to fight and with effective representation abroad; (2) bolster America’s economic revitalization; and (3) promoting democracy abroad (Clinton 1996, pp. i,11). The administration believed, as Lake had explained three years earlier, these goals to be inseparable, that “the line between our domestic and foreign policies is disappearing” (Clinton 1996, p. i). Responding to an inward-looking domestic population, the administration warned that active international engagement and leadership was possible “only if the American people and the Congress are willing to bear the costs of that

BMD and the Clinton Administration


leadership – in dollars, political energy and, at times, American lives.” The strategy clearly stated that “one purpose of this report is to help foster the broad, bipartisan understanding and support necessary to sustain our international engagement” (Clinton 1996, p. 4). Implementation: The Military Component

To achieve the first of its strategic goals – that of enhancing the nation’s security – the Clinton administration’s declared strategy plainly reflected a belief that the global network of military forces and infrastructure from the nation’s Cold War posture remained crucial to US security and should be retained. The strategy emphasized collective decision making and alliance relationships over unilateral military action, and outlined a specific and limited set of circumstances when the active use of military force would be considered. But Clinton’s frequent use of the military instrument during his time in office revealed a much greater appreciation of its utility. The 1996 NSS addressed three general questions regarding the US military and the use of force: why military force may be necessary, when it should be employed and how it should be employed. These themes are also dealt with in another of the administration’s key documents, the 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), which focused more exclusively on the current and future requirements for US defense posture. The 1996 Clinton strategy argued that a strong defensive capability was needed to deter and defeat aggression, maintaining the previous administration’s requirement for having the capacity to handle two major regional conflicts or “contingencies” (MRC) simultaneously. The global US military presence continued to be useful for deterring aggression, advancing US interests, demonstrating Washington’s security commitments and generally underwriting regional security. The geographic regions of particular interest were those in which great power conflicts had previously occurred: Europe/Eurasia and the East Asia/Pacific regions. Military power was also viewed as helpful in countering the threat from WMD by deterring, defending and protecting against their use. The strategy document argued that, when clearly in the national interest, the US military should be prepared to participate in multilateral peace operations. Finally, military force could be useful in addressing less traditional security threats such as terrorism and narcotics trafficking (Clinton 1996, p. 13). The QDR emphasized how the US military might be used to shape the international security environment by deterring aggression and coercion. The Pentagon document noted that the nation’s ability to deter


US Missile Defense Strategy

potential adversaries depended on a “demonstrated will and ability to uphold our security commitments”; declaratory policy that “effectively communicates US commitments and costs to potential adversaries that might challenge these commitments”; and “conventional warfighting capabilities that are credible across the full spectrum of military operations” (Cohen 1997, p. 10). The Pentagon’s conceptualization of the relationship between military force and national interests embedded in the QDR provided a more nuanced picture than could be gleaned from the security strategy alone, and highlighted classic geostrategic concerns that are implicit in the security strategy but left unstated. The security strategy envisioned a hierarchy of situations for which the introduction of military forces might be required: decisive military force for vital national interests; selective force for important but not vital interests; and a tailored use of force for humanitarian interests. Accordingly, “the decision on whether and when to use force [was] therefore dictated first and foremost by our national interests” and “whether the costs and risks of a particular military involvement are commensurate with those interests” (Clinton 1996, p. 18; Cohen 1997, p. 8). When US troops were engaged, it would be with a clear, achievable mission and adequate means with which to accomplish it. While the administration clearly acknowledged in both documents the necessity of unilateral military action in some instances, it expressed a strong preference for coalitions and “cooperative, multinational approaches that distribute the burden of responsibility” (Cohen 1997, p. 8). Both documents questioned the military’s role in humanitarian operations, arguing that “when the interests at stake are primarily humanitarian in nature, the US military is generally not the best means of addressing a crisis” (Clinton 1996, p. 18; Cohen 1997, p. 8). The administration developed such a stringent set of criteria for participation in United Nations operations that a US contribution seemed highly unlikely. In implementing this strategy, the Clinton administration’s use of the military revealed that it had remained true to its goal of combining Wilsonian idealism with Morganthauian realism, though the United States appeared to emphasize the latter to an even greater degree during Clinton’s second term. Clinton deployed military forces more frequently than several of his immediate predecessors, but in a limited way that avoided long-term entanglements. The pattern of employing military force squares fairly well with the administration’s declared policy: used selectively in limited circumstances with the country’s national interests in mind.

BMD and the Clinton Administration


Just over one month before Clinton’s inauguration, President George H.W. Bush dispatched US troops to Somalia as part of the UN response to a humanitarian crisis there. After an unsuccessful attempt by the new administration to expand its military role led to the deaths of a number of US military personnel, the administration withdrew US forces. Clinton actively enforced the military containment of Iraq, another mission inherited from the previous administration, and on several occasions approving aerial bombings or missile attacks to enforce “no fly zones” or as retribution for an unsuccessful assassination attempt on former president Bush. Military force was used in 1994 to restore the democratically elected leadership in Haiti and stem the flow of refugees to the United States. Forces were deployed multiple times to African countries to protect US citizens and interests, including to Liberia and Sierra Leone. Cruise missile strikes were launched against suspected terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and the Sudan after the bombing of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The most notable instances of wielding US military power, however, were the repeated actions to halt humanitarian crises in the Balkans and restore stability on Europe’s southern border. These operations, first in Bosnia and later – and more intensely – in Kosovo, were conducted in coordination with NATO and initially sanctioned by the United Nations, though later operations proceeded without UN authorization. Some observers theorized that the pattern of military action during the Clinton years signified a “new way of war” brought on by a postCold War “world of legitimate but lesser security concerns,” but faced with a resistant US domestic political base that preferred “its aims noble, its objectives clear, its enemies evil, and its commitments short” (Biddle 2002). For scholars such as Eliot Cohen and Andrew Bacevich, the Clinton administration’s solution to this dilemma was “intervention on the cheap”: the public would accept US military involvement only if the costs were low enough (Bacevich and Cohen 2001).3 And the way to ensure domestic support and minimize the cost in blood and treasure was to avoid introducing ground troops and limit US actions to air campaigns conducted within multilateral coalitions “to lend legitimacy and spread responsibility” (Biddle 2002). After the Cold War’s end, many in the United States anticipated a “peace dividend” from the drawdown of US military forces that suddenly lacked a global competitor. During the George H.W. Bush administration, and in cooperation with Congress under Democratic leadership, the United States underwent a defense drawdown that not only reduced the numbers of military personnel by several hundred thousand, thereby lowering personnel costs, but the administration also


US Missile Defense Strategy

enacted cuts in procurements as well as operations and maintenance (O&M) budgets. Overall, defense spending declined by over 15 percent during this period. The Clinton administration kept O&M spending near 1989 levels but otherwise continued the previous administration’s pace of reductions in military personnel and procurement until the 1998 budget. At that point, procurement funding had, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, dropped to almost half of what was deemed necessary for the military to carry out its missions. Procurement and O&M spending slowly grew during the Clinton administration’s final three budget cycles (Forden 2000). Implementation: The Economic Component

More than military interventions or diplomatic engagement, the Clinton administration’s approach to national security was characterized by a constant focus on economic issues. The existing US global force posture accorded the nation continued strategic influence and the ability to react quickly with force if needed, while the administration’ diplomatic activities provided the political energy necessary to press US interests abroad. This paved the way for the administration’s primary mission – improving the US economic position. This approach was not met with universal approval, even by top US officials such as Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who viewed “enlargement” skeptically as more of a trade policy than a foreign policy (Brinkley 1997). Former Carter official and president of the Council on Foreign Relations Leslie Gelb complained that “a foreign economic policy is not a foreign policy and it is not a national security policy” (Brinkley 1997).4 The Clinton administration pursued an “America first” policy with its economic strategy, working to improve the nation’s international competitiveness and forcing open new markets for US goods and services. The administration understood security and prosperity as selfreinforcing: American prosperity was dependent on economic conditions abroad, which in turn were reliant on the stability and security provided by an active US military and diplomatic role internationally, efforts that came with a price tag and could only be sustained if the US economy thrived. Economic treaties received particular attention, with the creation of a free trade zone between the United States, Mexico and Canada under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and active administration participation at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. After the 1993 Uruguay round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) led to the creation of

BMD and the Clinton Administration


the World Trade Organization, Clinton pushed for Chinese membership of the WTO. The administration also weathered several economic crises, first in Mexico and later throughout Asia. But the principle focus was on American economic strength, and free market principles were upheld as long as it benefitted the US economy. At home, the administration oversaw a sustained economic boom that filled the government’s coffers. Combined with a Republican-led Congress intent on reducing spending, the federal government began a period of balanced budgets that crested in fiscal year 2000 with a surplus of $236 billion. Implementation: The Diplomatic Component

According to the Clinton administration’s declared strategy, diplomacy was to be the preferred strategic implement. US interests could not always be secured unilaterally and “therefore, the only responsible US strategy is one that seeks to ensure US influence over and participation in collective decision making” (Clinton 1996, p. 12). Preventative diplomacy – taking the form of supporting democracy, economic assistance, an overseas military presence, and involvement in multilateral negotiations – offered the “prospect of resolving problems with the least human and material cost.” Diplomacy was used to further US strategic goals through a continuous focus on cultivating and maintaining “durable relationships with allies and other friendly nations.” The main geographic focus of Clinton’s diplomatic efforts reflected the priorities listed in the security strategy and the broad region of primary geostrategic interest to the United States – namely Eurasia. The administration particularly emphasized the importance of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as the anchor of US engagement in Europe. As a security alliance of democratic states, NATO served US grand strategy in a number of capacities: reducing the risk of instability or conflict in Europe; preventing the re-emergence of a Russian sphere of influence; and promoting market democracy in the region (Clinton 1996, pp. 36-38). Clinton invested both time and political energy in the expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe, and supported the creation of the Partnership for Peace program. The National Security Strategy also actively supported multilateral peacekeeping operations under the direction of the United Nations as a way of preventing and containing localized conflicts before a broader military response was required. At the same time, the administration established a rigorous set of criteria for US participation in UN peacekeeping operations that


US Missile Defense Strategy

severely limited the inclusion of American troops, and it led NATO’s 1999 Kosovo campaign without a UN mandate. This coincided with a growing willingness on the part of the administration to disengage from international institutions on a range of issues from the Balkans to the International Criminal Court. This focus on retaining US freedom of action sparked worried reactions from world leaders concerned about the United States becoming a global “hyperpower” that “lacked sensitivity” (Chollet and Goldgeier 2009, p. 176). These actions in Europe, while demonstrating the transatlantic bond and Washington’s continued interest in NATO, also complicated relations with Russia. The Clinton administration initially pursued a “Russia first” policy, pouring political and economic resources into the former Soviet Union in an effort to consolidate the country’s transition to a market democracy. Clinton’s solid personal relationship with and active support of Russian president Boris Yeltsin seemed to contribute to a greater degree of stability within the Russian leadership than might otherwise have been the case. Eventually, however, the expansion of NATO, US activities in the former Soviet sphere of influence and its efforts to alter the ABM Treaty strained relations between the two powers (Walt 2000). At the other edge of the continent, China presented the Clinton administration with challenges to all three of its strategic goals: security, economic development and democracy. After an initial period of diplomatic pressure regarding China’s poor human rights record, Clinton pursued a more balanced approach that stressed economic engagement while working to limit China’s influence in the region by expanding upon partnerships with Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and nations in South Asia. Despite a number of small crises that might have escalated, including closer ties to Taiwan and the accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, Sino-American relations remained stable, if uneven (Walt 2000). On the Korean peninsula, Clinton demonstrated the “diplomacy first” strategy by resisting calls for a pre-emptive attack on North Korea’s nuclear facilities in 1994 and instead forging a diplomatic agreement. Critics point to the 1998 missile tests and the eventual development of a North Korean nuclear capability as evidence of the policy’s failure, but it appeared to slow the country’s nuclear program without risking a costly and uncertain military engagement. The 1996 security strategy stressed US adherence to a broad range of international treaty regimes during the Clinton years, and the administration sought to expand the number of treaties to which it was a signatory. The United States supported, signed, or pursued ratification of a series of non-proliferation and arms control agreements during

BMD and the Clinton Administration


Clinton’s tenure: the Non-Proliferation Treaty was extended indefinitely in 1995, the administration sought to expand the Missile Technology Control Regime and move forward on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention and Biological Weapons Convention. The 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) between the United States and Russia entered into force in 1994, following the successful negotiation in 1993 of a (never ratified) follow-on treaty, START II. A comprehensive program to secure loose WMD materials in the former Soviet Union, the Cooperative Threat Reduction program, made huge strides. But despite Washington’s eagerness to commit itself to specific arms control measures that might limit growing threats to US security, it was unwilling to be constrained when it came to the ban on land mines, the International Criminal Court or the Kyoto climate treaty. The administration and Congress remained selective in expanding US international legal commitments. The United States dramatically increased its emphasis on promoting American values of democracy and human rights during the Clinton years, albeit selectively. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, a wave of new states teetered between embracing democratic principles and “relapsing” back into authoritarianism. The main conduit for these programs, US Agency for International Development (USAID), experienced expanding budgets that grew from $165 million in 1991 to $635 million by 1999, nearly half of it used in the former USSR and other states in Central and Eastern Europe (Carothers 2009, p. 11). The United States had rarely been consistent in its support of liberal institution building, however, a fact also reflected in the actions of the Clinton administration. In some regions, particularly the Middle East and Asia, emphasis on democracy and human rights was toned down due to more pressing security interests. Summary: Clinton Grand Strategy

The Clinton administration clearly intended to create and follow a grand strategy as it is generally understood: a theory of ends and means by which the United States could cause security for itself. For the Clinton team, security in an increasingly complex post-Cold War environment without peer threats was best obtained by expanding the community of market democracies to ensure the nation’s continued physical and economic well-being. The United States approached the use of force in a selective and cautious manner, often working through allies such as NATO and relying on air power to avoid the long-term entanglements


US Missile Defense Strategy

that come with the introduction of ground forces. The administration engaged diplomatically with powers such as Russia and China to maintain regional stability, while pursuing a host of trade agreements that ensured continued access to foreign markets. In each of the three categories – military, diplomatic and economic – the United States during the Clinton years remained firmly focused on those regions containing the greatest threats or the most economic promise. An important aspect of this global strategy was continued access, freedom of action and the growing challenge from rogue states. For this, missile defenses could be a useful tool. Clinton Missile Defense Policy

On a Thursday afternoon in May 1993, a full decade after Reagan announced his administration’s plans to develop SDI, newly installed Secretary of Defense Les Aspin proclaimed the “Star Wars” era to be officially over, its fate “sealed by the collapse of the Soviet Union” (Aspin 1993). To drive home the point, he revealed that the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization would be renamed the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO). Further, the organization would no longer report directly to the Secretary of Defense, but rather to the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisitions and Technology. The Clinton administration was shifting its priorities away from a national space-based missile defense against a massive Soviet surprise attack. The Gulf War had clearly illustrated the threat to US forces deployed overseas posed by regional actors wielding shorter-range ballistic missiles, Aspin explained, and because “that threat is here and now,” the United States would focus first and foremost on efforts to improve theater ballistic missile defenses. “In the future,” Aspin continued, “we may face hostile or irrational states that have both nuclear warheads and ballistic missile technology that could reach the United States,” and leaders that may not be deterred from using nuclear weapons by the threat of an American retaliatory strike. “We don’t know whether a balance of terror will work with renegade states. That’s why you need defense,” he argued (Aspin 1993). The administration therefore had as its second priority that of developing a national missile defense system. As the third and final priority, the Clinton administration planned to invest in promising R&D programs to develop follow on technologies for tactical and strategic defense as a hedge against future threats. President Clinton, in a Department of Defense Directive (DODD 5134.9) issued the following year, formally established the

BMD and the Clinton Administration


administration’s missile defense policies and priorities: develop transportable theater defenses and develop options for deploying a limited national missile defense, while complying with international agreements and treaty obligations (DOD 1994). The set of instructions neatly summarized US missile defense policy throughout Clinton’s presidency, although the order of prioritization would not always remain constant. Indeed, a contentious domestic debate ensued regarding the proper balance between developing theater missile defenses and creating a national missile defense system, placing increasing pressure on the directive’s admonition to comply with all treaty obligations. In January 1996, the Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC), a committee charged with reviewing joint capabilities and comprised of the Vice Chiefs of Staff of each of the military services, studied BMDO programs and endorsed the Clinton administration’s prioritization of TMD over NMD. It also recommended devoting $500 million per year to NMD and $2.3 billion per year over the six-year Future Years Defense Plan (FYDP). The JROC based their conclusions on current and projected threats, but the advice also reflected a need to “save dollars that can be given back to the Services to be used for critical recapitalization programs” (Owens 1996). For several years in a row, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General John Shalikashvili had argued in his annual budget testimony that the higher procurement levels for military modernization could be attained by cutting out inefficiencies and excess in the budget (Shalikashvili 1997). The JROC, with this need for recapitalization and modernization money in mind, questioned BMDO funding levels and expressed concern that BMD programs were not sufficiently focused on current threats. In response, the BMDO initiated an internal study. The resulting Ballistic Missile Defense Program Review, led by Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisitions and Technology Paul Kaminski, reaffirmed the basic BMDO programmatic structure of TMD, NMD and follow-on technologies but recommended some fine-tuning within those categories. As an analytical starting point, Kaminski’s March 1996 presentation of the Program Review before the Senate Armed Services Committee provides a comprehensive picture of US missile defense programs early in the Clinton administration. BMD Architecture: The Military Component

As one of its “fine tuning” adjustments, the Program Review differentiated between upper and lower tier TMD. The US military’s existing theater defenses – the Hawk air defense system, the Standard


US Missile Defense Strategy

Missile aboard the Navy’s Aegis ships, and the Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC) 2/ Guidance Enhanced Missile (GEM) system – were all considered to be very limited both in intercept capability and defended area. This lower tier capability was deemed to be the most pressing need and the review recommended additional funding for the further development of three additional systems: the PAC-3, Navy Area Defense (NAD) and Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS). This led the BMDO to deemphasize its upper tier TMD programs and reduce funding for both Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) and Navy Theater Wide (NTW), the forerunner of the Aegis BMD program. The THAAD program, with an annual price tag of $900 million, was considered to be the most mature of the upper tier systems. BMDO restructured the program and slowed the development timeline. The final area of TMD research focused on developing solutions for Boost Phase Intercept (BPI), with investments being made in two different approaches. First, the Air Force would continue its research into an Airborne Laser (ABL), an effort that received most of the BPI funding. Another concept, launching a kinetic interceptor missile from an unmanned aerial vehicle, remained on the back burner as an alternative to the ABL. Funding for this program supported little more than “concept definition studies”; a decision to continue was slated to be made in 1998 (Kaminski 1996). The Clinton administration had considered three international ballistic missile threats when establishing its developmental priorities for BMD, outlined by Secretary of Defense William Perry in an April 1996 speech at George Washington University. First, a substantial number of states maintained arsenals of SCUD missiles like those employed by Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War. These SRBMs already posed a tactical threat to deployed US forces and regional allies. Second, rogue states were beginning to develop more advanced ballistic missile technology capable of greater ranges, constituting a threat which was becoming more regional than theater in scope. Finally, rogue states might eventually develop ICBMs capable of reaching the US homeland, in addition to the existing (however unlikely) threat of an accidental or unauthorized launch by one of the established nuclear powers (Perry 1996). None of the three threat scenarios require a “thick” defensive system such as the one contemplated for SDI, said Perry, but rather one “quite capable of defending against the much smaller and relatively unsophisticated ICBM threat that a rogue nation or a terrorist could mount anytime in the foreseeable future. And it would be capable of shooting down an unauthorized or accidentally launched missile” (Perry 1996).

BMD and the Clinton Administration


As the theater defense systems erratically but steadily made technological headway, Clinton’s plans for a national missile defense captured all the headlines. Secretary Perry announced at a Defense Department briefing in February 1996 that the administration was initiating a “three plus three” plan for missile defense development.5 In his Program Review testimony, Undersecretary Kaminski further explained the policy. The NMD effort would shift from a technology readiness program to a three-year deployment readiness program, “to develop and begin testing elements of an initial NMD system and preserve thereafter a capability to deploy with three years. If after three years we encounter a threat situation that warrants a deployment, then an initial operational capability (IOC) for a NMD system could be achieved in another three years, by 2003” (Kaminski 1996). To implement this plan, the Defense Department planned to take advantage of additional funds unrequested by the administration but appropriated by Congress. For the first three years, extra funding would allow for an intense developmental effort, after which funding would decrease for the subsequent three year deployment phase. Kaminski stressed that the eventual decision to deploy a NMD would be threat based. The issue here is to be in a posture to be three years away from deployment, so that we can respond to the emergence of a threat. It does not make sense to make a deployment decision in advance of the threat, because we would be making investments prematurely, resulting in a system that would be less capable when it is really needed. In the absence of a threat, it is more sensible to continue to enhance the capability of the system that could be deployed when it is needed. This approach fields the most cost effective capability that is available at the time the threat emerges. (Kaminski 1996)

In a letter to Congressman John Spratt dated 5 June 1996, Deputy Secretary of Defense John P. White provided additional details on the administration’s notional “three plus three” plans. The preliminary architecture under development would include a single interceptor site in North Dakota housing 100 ground-based interceptors along with a ground-based radar. A new forward-based radar and an UEWR site would be located in Alaska, in addition to two additional UEWR sites in the continental US and one each in Greenland and the UK. Several inflight interceptor communications system (IFICS) sites for command and control purposes were planned, including one in northern Alaska and one in the Pacific Northwest. The battle management center would be stationed at NORAD in Colorado (White 1996).


US Missile Defense Strategy

A more complete picture of the Pentagon’s thinking regarding a possible NMD architecture came in early 1997 when the BMDO solicited proposals for a contractor that would hold primary responsibility for developing the system. This lead service integrator would, according to the request for proposals (RFP) announcement text, “design, develop, test, integrate, and potentially deploy and sustain the National Missile Defense (NMD) system” based on the “three plus three” plan (BMDO 1997). The proposal’s parameters included up to 200 ground-based interceptors at one or several US locations, divided into three proposed capability architectures labeled Capability 1 (C1), Capability 2 (C2) and Capability 3 (C3). Intended as an initial capability to defend all 50 states from one US location “against small numbers of threatening warheads from Third World adversaries,” the C1 architecture would include 20 GBIs, satellite sensors, UEWR installations and a forward-based X-band radar. The C2 architecture would provide improved defensive capability for all 50 states against small numbers of more complex threats, adding additional satellites for tracking and discrimination, as well as 100 interceptors. The final “C3” capability mentioned in the RFP simply involved “adopting the C2 architecture to a multi-site deployment within the United States with appropriate GBIs” (BMDO 1997). As the Clinton administration developed its planned architecture for a national missile defense system, several other events occurred which influenced the domestic missile defense debate. First, the Rumsfeld Commission delivered its final report concluding that it was possible that Iran or North Korea could have a functional ICBM within five years, creating a more disconcerting threat estimate than that contained in the 1995 National Intelligence Estimate. Almost as if to add emphasis to the report, the North Korean regime tested a multiple stage Taepodong I missile in August 1998. The combination of these two events served simply to underline the necessity and urgency of the missile defense project. The initial capability had expanded somewhat by October 1999 when Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Walter Slocombe testified before the House Armed Services Committee. Slocombe stated that while no deployment decision had yet been made, an architecture had been decided upon for planning purposes that was “optimized for the most immediate threat: that from North Korea.” A hybrid of the C1 and C2 architectures, this “Expanded Capability 1” would be capable of defending against “a few tens of warheads accompanied by simple penetration aids” and include 100 GBIs based in Alaska, a new X-band

BMD and the Clinton Administration


radar to be constructed in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, five UEWRs and satellite sensors (Slocombe 1999).6 In a Washington Quarterly journal article the following summer, Slocombe reiterated the details of this initial system, noting that it was optimized against the North Korean threat, but it would also have some capability against attacks from other directions. To meet the possibility of an increased, and more sophisticated, threat from the Middle East, we have also considered a second phase, with approximately 100 interceptors at a second site, as well as considerably increased radar and other sensor support. (Slocombe 1999)

In the spring of 1997, the director of BMDO, Lieutenant General Lester Lyles, presented his annual budget briefing to House Appropriations Committee. He spoke of the “continually evolving threat” of theater ballistic missiles and expressed particular concern over the growing threat posed by both anti-ship and land attack cruise missiles. Lyles then announced that BMDO would be expanding its theater defense mission to include these air-breathing threats (Lyles 1997). The following spring, the new Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisitions and Defense Jacques Gansler reiterated this fact, saying that “in the near term, cruise missile proliferation could become at least as severe a threat as the threat we now face from ballistic missiles” (Gansler 1998). According to Gansler, one of BMDO’s main challenges would be integrating the separate missile defense systems in order to achieve a “single, integrated air picture and joint operational defense capability” (Gansler 1998). While some of the TMD systems under development – including Patriot, NAD and MEADS – were capable of handling cruise missiles, these systems were not necessarily designed to be linked together and function in a cooperative way. The introduction of joint Theater Air and Missile Defense systems (TAMD) sought the “acquisition of a multitier, interoperable, defense in-depth capability,” stated Secretary William Cohen in his 1998 Defense Department report to Congress and the president (Cohen 1998). “The increased emphasis on interoperable air and missile defense,” the report continued, “has led to a Family of Systems (FOS) concept. A key aspect of FOS is to leverage the synergy between ballistic and cruise missile defenses, and to integrate the various systems that contribute to a comprehensive effort to defeat the threat” (Cohen 1998). The continuation of the effort to develop a boost phase intercept were also viewed in this way, as a means of adding “an


US Missile Defense Strategy

additional layer to missile defenses” (Cohen 1998). Discussing the FOS concept before a Senate subcommittee in 1998, General Lyle observed that “one system cannot do it all, which requires a layered defense allowing for multiple shot opportunities…Multiple systems working in unison greatly enhance the probability of destroying incoming missiles before they can affect critical assets” (Lyles 1998). The attention given to interoperability and the FOS concept was significant not only for the integration of ballistic and cruise missile defenses, but for the growing appreciation of the value of a “multitiered,” “defense in-depth” layered ballistic missile defense architecture. Incorporating a range of various interceptors able to engage a target missile during different phases of flight could in theory make defenses more robust. At the same time, the distinction between theater and national defenses begins to blur substantially, particularly with regard to boost and ascent phase intercept capabilities. As certain TMD assets – the NTW and ABL programs in particular – gradually became more effective, they would be able to contribute to defending the continental US against ICBM threats. Given the increased emphasis on interoperability among systems, the continued insistence on a conceptual division between theater and national defenses became less a matter of technological relevance than one of political and diplomatic expediency. BMD Testing and Development: The Economic Component

As noted earlier, the United States fielded only a limited theater missile defense capability at the beginning of President Clinton’s second term, and BMDO unsurprisingly devoted its energy over the following four years almost entirely to research and development efforts. Decisions made early in the developmental process have the potential to create path dependencies due to the complex technologies being developed and the time pressures involved. Once an element has been set on a particular developmental path, the sunk economic and temporal costs provide a strong incentive to continue rather than beginning from scratch. The R&D process also established a program’s practicality and the feasibility of its proposed technological solution. If the program develops successfully and transparently, it can have the strategic effect of conveying to adversaries a sense of the robustness of the defense, the credibility of its mission and the administration’s political resolve. In analyzing the R&D effort, particular attention will be given to its research priorities, pace and intensity, and, crucially, funding levels.

BMD and the Clinton Administration


BMD Budgets Soon after the Clinton administration announced the “three plus three” plan for national missile defense, voices in both the Pentagon and in Congress began to question whether the program was being sufficiently funded. The 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review seemed to support this criticism, declaring NMD to be “a high national priority,” while warning that “the existing NMD program could not meet [its] objectives within the programmed budget” (Cohen 1997, p. 48). The QDR then announced that the Defense Department would allocate an additional $2 billion for NMD over the Future Years budget. In general, funding for BMD followed a discernible pattern during Clinton’s second term of office: the amounts budgeted for national missile defense showed continuous growth while money for theater defenses remained fairly constant. For fiscal year 1997, the BMDO requested $2.8 billion, whereof TMD funding accounted for 74% ($1.8 billion) and NMD received about 17% ($508 million) (O'Neill 1996). In FY 2000, the requested amounts stood at $1.9 billion for TMD (60%) and $836 million for NMD (25%), and by FY 2001 both TMD and NMD programs received about the same amount ($1.95 for TMD and $1.92 for NMD, with an equal share of 43% of total BMD monies) (Lyles 1999; Kadish 2000). The steady increases in national missile defense may reflect both a more prominent role within the administration’s strategy as well as healthy doses of additional funding consistently appropriated by Congress above the levels requested in the president’s annual budget. The development of missile defenses during the Clinton years came during a time when defense budgets were declining as the United States sought to realize a “peace dividend” in the new post-Cold War era. Many budget posts within the Defense Department were on the decline, and new spending on BMD should therefore be seen in this context. It is questionable whether a linear relationship exists between research funding and technological results. While the stated priorities of BMDO vacillated between lower and upper tier TMD programs, systems in each of these categories struggled. Most notable of these was the THAAD program, which was eventually restructured in 1997 due to poor performance and a decision to prioritize funding for other efforts. THAAD continued to post a series of disappointing test results until 1999, when a string of successful intercepts proved to be a turning point in the program’s development. Revealingly, the high profile Patriot PAC-3 system also encountered some technical setbacks prior to 1999, but simultaneously revealed considerable cost overruns within the program as well. Pentagon officials were forced to choose between


US Missile Defense Strategy

accepting significant delays and adding additional funds to keep the development on track; the department ultimately chose the latter. Even if exact funding levels are an unreliable indicator of R&D success, severely underfunding a program did seem to express a clear disinterest. In the case of the chronically low budget MEADS program, funding was not even included beyond the 1998 budget and the Defense Department eventually took retroactive measures to ensure the program’s continued existence. Did BMDO receive adequate funding to develop missile defense assets as quickly as possible? Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, then the ranking minority member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, certainly gave that impression in a 1998 hearing: I would also note that we are spending all of the money we can, that we reasonably can spend, to develop that system. We can’t spend any more money on developing national missile defense now in this year’s budget. We just simply cannot usefully spend any more money, or else we would have added more money in the budget, and we would have done that on a bipartisan basis. (Levin 1998)

According to BMDO director Lyle’s testimony in April 1999, the matter was urgent but the budget adequate: Given the reality of the threat, the NMD program cannot afford to fail. The funds provided by the Congress in last year’s emergency Supplemental Appropriation, combined with the programmatic adjustments proposed in our current budget, enable us to deliver the defensive protection as soon as practicable against the emerging rogue nation limited threat. (Lyles 1999)

In general, funding for missile defense during the Clinton years appeared to be adequate for a robust research and development program, though Congress provided significant additional financial support beyond the administration’s budget proposals. In a period of defense cuts, BMDO budgets continued to grow – with much of that growth devoted to developing a national missile defense. Development Schedules Irrespective of funding levels, the missile defense program is by necessity dependent on developing cutting-edge technologies. Research efforts will encounter challenging and seemingly intractable technical obstacles, however well-funded they may be.7 This was the widespread view of the “three plus three” plan for NMD. Noting the recent test

BMD and the Clinton Administration


failures of related programs, BMDO director General Lyles stated in 1997 that, “while the ‘3 plus 3’ program approach remains an absolutely valid strategy, recent events have highlighted the very high risk associated with the program schedule” (Lyles 1997). The 1997 QDR also warned that “even with additional funds, NMD will remain a program with very high schedule and technical risk” (Cohen 1997). This judgment seemed to be confirmed the following year with the release of a report by an independent panel charged with assessing the risk in BMD flight tests and deriving some “lessons learned” from TMD programs that might be of value for NMD efforts. Headed by retired US Air Force General Larry Welch, the panel’s key judgments were quite harsh and received widespread publicity. The Welch report, as it came to be known, concluded that the planning and execution of some missile defense programs “were inconsistent with the difficulty of the task. These programs are pursuing very aggressive schedules, but these schedules are not supported by the state of planning and testing,” and that “the perceived urgency of the need for these systems has led to high levels of risk that have resulted in delayed deployments because of failures in their development test (DT) programs” (Welch 1998). The report further criticized the tendency to press for an “early capability” to address an “urgent need,” concluding that the “added risk has produced little discernable benefit and has actually delayed operational capability” (Welch 1998). For the Clinton administration’s NMD program, the Welch report found that “schedule and cost pressures inherent in the 3 + 3 formulation and the system requirements are inherently even more severe than those for the TMD programs that have experienced excessive flight test failures” (Welch 1998). Because of this, the panel considered the missile defense flight testing regime to be a “rush to failure”, a phrase that was widely quoted and seemed to concisely summarize the panel’s criticism (Welch 1998). The Pentagon itself acknowledged the unrealistic timetable when Secretary Cohen announced in January 1999 that the projected deployment date for NMD would slip from 2003 to 2005, in order to reduce the “exceedingly high risk” to a “much more manageable risk.” Cohen even alluded to the Welch panel, remarking that “there’s been concern expressed by independent analysts that we have been ‘rushing to failure’, and given the reality of the threat, we cannot afford to fail” (Cohen 1999). In its follow-up report in May 1999, however, the review panel spoke to this sentiment by warning against allowing external pressures to dictate BMD development and again criticized the administration’s “three plus three” plan:


US Missile Defense Strategy

The NMD program has characteristics that are fundamentally different from normal development programs. One such unique characteristic is that national leaders have made a conscious decision that the significance of the potential threat to the security of the United States warrants pursuing the program on a high risk schedule. The original 3+3 program was widely regarded as very high risk, with no reasonable expectation of meeting that schedule. (Welch 1999)

The tension between the various interests at stake in the missile defense program – strategic, political and technical – were a constant feature of the BMD effort, particuarly the balance between a schedule that was politically desireable and one that was technically feasible. Testing Regime Not surprisingly, BMDO pursued a testing regime buffeted by these conflicting interests. When the 1998 Welch report recommended slowing down the flight test schedule, it highlighted some of the inadequacies of the testing regime. Flight tests should, according to the report, occur only after the technology had evolved to the point where a successful test was likely, rather than being pressured into testing in order to “learn.” Flight testing should also be conducted for verification after extensive ground testing had resolved as many of the technical issues – thereby removing as much uncertainty – as possible. The Welch report concluded that aggressive scheduling failed to allow enough time between tests to correct the problems that arose (Welch 1998). BMDO director General Lyles presented a philosophy for testing soon after the release of the 1998 report. His principles for a successful development program included event-driven (i.e. technological advancements) rather than schedule-driven testing, stable funding for an adequate testing regime, use of ground-based modeling and simulations and flight testing “at a level that allows verification of system performance” (Lyles 1998). It was on this last point that Phillip Coyle, the Pentagon’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, was most critical of BMDO testing in a September 2000 Congressional hearing, taking place just as the first three years of the “three plus three” plan was nearing completion. Although noting several times the “considerable progress” made by the NMD program, Coyle expressed his concern over the inability “to assess the technological feasibility of NMD” due to the inadequacies of the testing regime (Coyle 2000). During the previous three years, five integrated flight tests (IFT) and three integrated ground tests (IGT) had been conducted. Intercepts were attempted in three of those five flight tests, and only one successful intercept was actually achieved.

BMD and the Clinton Administration


Together with Coyle at the hearing was the new head of BMDO, General Ronald Kadish, who argued that “the problems we have experienced reflect process problems in basic engineering and fabrication, not underlying flaws in the core NMD technologies or design” (Kadish 2000). Coyle went a long way in corroborating this explanation, detailing in his testimony the quality control inadequacies that resulted in test failures. Despite these production issues, Coyle harbored deeper concerns over the general direction of BMD testing and its limitations. He observed that the “program was never structured to produce operationally realistic test results this early. Accordingly, it was not realistic to expect these test results could support a full deployment decision now” (Coyle 2000). He acknowledged the practical limitations facing realistic testing scenarios, but seemed to question the usefulness of flight tests where ‘real world’ conditions had been consciously avoided. In the successful 1999 flight test, for example, a Global Positioning System signal was used to provide initial targeting data to the interceptor. Coyle echoed the worries of many in expressing his concern that the planned flight tests lacked “realistic operational features such as multiple simultaneous engagements, long-range intercepts, realistic engagement geometries, and countermeasures other than simple balloons” (Coyle 2000). In his testimony, Kadish detailed the practical constraints to conducting realistic flight testing for NMD. The Pacific missile range covers a vast expanse of ocean and includes the test launch facility on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, but cannot replicate the distances and altitudes of ICBMs launched from regions such as the Middle East. Successful flight tests involving reentry vehicle intercepts also create space debris and BMDO utilized “lower altitudes and modified trajectories” to alleviate this concern. Other safety considerations further limited testing options and thereby reduce realism (Kadish 2000). One factor that had not hindered testing, according to Coyle, was the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, though some necessary aspects of future testing considered at the time may have been constrained by the treaty. BMD Outreach: The Diplomatic Component

The ABM Treaty loomed over US missile defense policy during the entire Clinton administration, influencing decisions over the system’s proposed architecture, the location of BMD assets, and factored into diplomatic discussions with European allies and other established nuclear powers such as Russia and China. The treaty emerged from a


US Missile Defense Strategy

broader set of negotiations known as the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) conducted from 1969 to 1972. The United States and the Soviet Union each had constructed and deployed limited ABM systems in the 1960s, and officials in both countries began to have concerns about strategic stability and maintaining an effective nuclear deterrent force if ABM systems were allowed to develop and spread. The US position was closely associated with former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, who had argued forcefully for a nuclear strategy based on mutually vulnerability. According to this view, adversaries might be encouraged to make quantitative and qualitative improvements to their strategic arsenals in order to compensate for missile defenses, sparking an expensive and dangerous global arms race. The ABM Treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union stated that each party “undertakes not to deploy ABM systems for a defense of the territory of its country, and not to provide a base for such a defense,” limiting each side to one ABM site (originally two, but amended) with 100 launchers and interceptors, with additional limits on the number and size of ABM radars. In addition, the treaty banned mobile air, sea, and space-based ABM systems (Kartchner 2001; Wirtz and Larsen 2001). Given the previous discussion of the proposed Clinton NMD architecture, it is clear that those preliminary plans reflected the administration’s intent to remain within the framework of the treaty. When Congress passed the Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1996 (H.R. 1530), a subsection entitled “Ballistic Missile Defense Act of 1995” required the administration to develop and deploy a national missile defense by 2003 and loosely specified an architecture. President Clinton vetoed the bill in December 1995, arguing that such an early deployment would be premature and [W]ould also likely require a multiple site architecture that cannot be accommodated within the terms of the existing ABM treaty. By setting US policy on a collision course with the ABM Treaty, the bill would jeopardize continued Russian implementation of the START I Treaty as well as Russian ratification of START II….The missile defense provisions would also jeopardize our efforts to agree on an ABM/TMD (Theater Missile Defense) demarcation with the Russian Federation. (Clinton 1995a)

While the administration initially remained steadfast in their commitment to the ABM Treaty vis-à-vis NMD, the steady progress being made towards the development of more capable US theater defenses spurred Clinton to seek a further agreement with Russia. Although the ABM Treaty did not explicitly limit theater defenses, there

BMD and the Clinton Administration


were several provisions intended to prevent upgrades from TMD to NMD systems that could have potential consequences. The treaty prohibited the signatories from endowing TMD systems with any capability to counter strategic ballistic missiles or from “testing in an ABM mode.” To ensure that the United States was in compliance with the provisions of the ABM and other treaties, the Department of Defense conducted a formal compliance review for each new system developed for the Pentagon (Stansberry 1997). There had been some earlier controversy on precisely this point. In April 1994, a group of physicists led by Lisbeth Gronlund published an analysis in the journal Arms Control Today describing how, according to their computer modeling, the THAAD system under development would theoretically be able to intercept ICBMs and thus be in violation of the ABM Treaty. The BMDO responded by commissioning a Virginiabased think tank called Sparta, Inc., to re-create the models from the Gronlund study to verify their findings. The Sparta researchers proceeded to oversimplify the modeling in ways that a later independent analysis would severely criticize as flawed and deliberately misleading and concluded that the Gronlund findings were inaccurate. The THAAD system would not realistically be able to intercept ICBMs after all. While BMDO did not explicitly endorse the Sparta study, the agency took advantage of their conclusions, which happily supported the BMDO position (and that of the Clinton administration) that THAAD was not in violation of the ABM Treaty. The BMDO initially did not allow the public release of the study, but instead arranged private briefings where Sparta presented their findings to Russian diplomats and members of the arms control community (Mitchell 2000). Engaging the Russians Russia harbored deep suspicions of the US missile defense program, concerned that theater defenses could eventually lead to more comprehensive defenses that might threaten Moscow’s strategic deterrent force. Worries over the possibility of a US technological “breakout” seemed to be justified after the publication of the Gronlund et al. article, which became well known in Russia. As scholar Gordon Mitchell pointed out, the article “spoke directly to this concern because its contents constituted the scientific basis for many public claims that BMDO sneaks strategic defense in through the back door, by cloaking truly strategic missile defense systems in the garb of pure theater defense” (Mitchell 2000). While “technically legal under the ABM Treaty,” Mitchell continued, “Russian perception that such a system was being packaged to circumvent treaty limits could be as damaging to


US Missile Defense Strategy

strategic stability as outright abrogation of the treaty,” concerns that led Russia to make the TMD demarcation issue referred to by Clinton in his 1995 veto statement a prerequisite to further arms control agreements (Mitchell 2000). Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin released a joint statement in May 1995 announcing their two countries’ intention of conducting “discussions in order to reach agreement in the field of demarcation between ABM systems and theater missile defense systems.” Both sides reiterated their commitment to the ABM Treaty as “a cornerstone of strategic stability” and agreed that each had the option of developing TMD as long as it did not lead to treaty violations. Theater defenses must not be deployed that “pose a realistic threat to the strategic nuclear force of the other side” or “tested to give such systems that capability.” The demarcation agreement completed two years later in September 1997 established specific performance criteria to differentiate between theater defenses considered legal under the ABM Treaty and strategic or national defenses that would violate the terms of the treaty. Testing of TMD systems would be allowed provided the interceptor missile did not exceed a velocity of 3 km/second and the target missile did not exceed a velocity of 5 km/second or a range of 3,500 kilometers (Clinton 1995b). At the same time, however, the administration’s NMD program appeared to be in direct conflict with the main provisions of the treaty. In a May 1997 Senate hearing, the director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) John Holum allowed for the possibility that the ABM Treaty might need amending, stated the administration’s position that: Our NMD development will be compliant with the ABM Treaty. If there is a decision to deploy NMD, we would determine whether the system we intend to deploy would comply with the ABM Treaty. If we determined that deployment… required modification to the ABM Treaty, we would seek agreement with our ABM Treaty partners. (Holum 1997)8

During questioning, Holum emphasized that treaty compliance was secondary, stating that “what we will do, what our colleagues in the Department of Defense will do, is design a system as the threat emerges to answer the threat. The determinant of the character of that system will be the threat, not the treaty” (Holum 1997). By the following year, the administration had come to the realization that coverage of all 50 states would require two interceptor sites rather than one. NMD deployment, were it to go forward, would require modifications to the ABM Treaty.

BMD and the Clinton Administration


Time was quickly running out for negotiations with the Russians to preserve the treaty and still have any chance of making a deployment decision in 2000 as dictated by the “three plus three” plan. Deputy Secretary of Defense John Hamre raised some eyebrows in his prepared statement for a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in October 1998: If we determined that deployment of an NMD system would require changes to the Treaty, we would seek agreement on such changes. If, contrary to our expectations, we were not able to reach agreement in the necessary timeframe, then our recourse would be to withdraw from the Treaty because of supreme national interests, which the Treaty permits on six months’ notice. Secretary Cohen has authorized me to be very clear on this point….we will not permit protracted negotiations to delay our deployment and prolong a risk to our people. (Hamre 1998)

Secretary Cohen echoed this argument himself during the January 1999 press conference announcing the administration’s decision to delay the final deployment of NMD by two years to reduce programmatic risk. Cohen noted that NMD development had proceeded within the boundaries of the treaty, but that “deployment might require modifications to the treaty and the Administration is working to determine the nature and the scope of these modifications.” Cohen went on to state that the treaty had been amended before and that any negotiations would be conducted in good faith, but observed that “the ABM Treaty also provides, of course, for right of withdrawal with six months notice if a party concludes it’s in its supreme national interests” (Cohen 1999). Clinton signed the National Missile Defense Act of 1999 into law on 22 July, which declared it to be US policy to “deploy as soon as technologically possible an effective National Missile Defense system capable of defending the territory of the United States against limited ballistic missile attack.” In his signing statement accompanying the law, Clinton emphasized the arms control component included in the bill and added that “any NMD system we deploy must be operationally effective, cost-effective, and enhance our security…we will also review progress in achieving our arms control objectives” (Clinton 1999b). This last point was soon expanded so that when the 1999 National Security Strategy was released later in the year, the “fourth criterion” for deployment of a national missile defense included not only arms control and ABM Treaty considerations, but also the system’s impact on the “overall strategic environment” (Clinton 1999a).


US Missile Defense Strategy

On 18 August 1999, President Clinton met with a number of high level officials in his administration to discuss missile defense, including National Security Advisor Sandy Berger, Secretary of State Madeline Albright, Secretary Cohen, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Ralston, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and Robert Bell of the NSC. Because construction of a new X-band radar to be built on Shemya in the Aleutian Island chain of Alaska needed to begin in the summer of 2000 in order to meet the 2005 goal for an operative system, a decision needed to be made about whether to negotiate the required alterations to the ABM Treaty. After a lengthy and active discussion, Clinton finally ended the meeting by deciding to proceed with a concerted diplomatic effort in order to prepare for NMD deployment, remarking: “Okay, I think you’ve done about the best you can. I’ve read all the memos, and I don’t think we have any choice. If we don’t bankrupt the nation, this is the right thing to do – politically and substantively” (Graham 2003). The administration initiated a multipronged diplomatic effort to convince the Russians to amend the ABM Treaty that involved Albright, Talbott and Holum. As Holum related in a March 2000 speech, the administration sought to address Russian concerns through confidence building and transparency enhancement efforts. The United States, knowing that Russia was most concerned about NMD deployment as a foundation for future missile defense expansion, tried to allay Russian worries that NMD would threaten its strategic deterrent or the strategic balance between the two countries. A number of proposals for cooperative efforts were put forth that ranged from joint intelligence estimates to TMD partnerships. China: The Toughest Case In stark contrast to the Clinton administration’s diplomatic efforts to allay Russian concerns over NMD and negotiate amendments to the ABM Treaty, very little energy was expended to address Chinese concerns. China had historically pursued a policy of minimal deterrence, which emphasized the survivability of their nuclear deterrent in order to credibly threaten a retaliatory counterstrike, and therefore fielded much smaller numbers of ICBMs than the United States or Russia, perhaps as few as several dozen long-range missiles. The architecture proposed by the Clinton administration – especially the C2 and C3 variants – could conceivably threaten the viability of China’s nuclear deterrent. The Chinese had a vested interest in the continued vitality of an un-amended ABM Treaty and even lobbied Moscow to refuse any US attempts to amend the treaty, thus illustrating China’s position as a beneficiary of

BMD and the Clinton Administration


the treaty without being a signatory to it (Roberts 2001). “It has never been US policy to acknowledge or grant the Chinese the survivability of their deterrent,” declared Strobe Talbott (Graham 2003). Deputy National Security Advisor Jim Steinberg concurred, observing that China was a “third party beneficiary of the ABM Treaty, but we have no legal obligation to them” (Graham 2003). Chinese concerns grew as it became increasingly clear that the United States would seek modifications to the ABM Treaty, and officials began to voice their criticism of NMD plans more forcefully. Top arms control negotiator Sha Zukang warned that US plans to develop NMD and amend the treaty would “tip the global balance, trigger a new arms race and jeopardize world and regional stability” (Eckholm 1999). According to one analysis, the Chinese government’s campaign to oppose NMD spread to the entire country as academics produced critical reports which in turn were disseminated in the government controlled media, making missile defense a “household topic” (Yuan 2003). Defense and State Department officials in the Clinton administration held a series of meetings in late 1999 to work the China problem, eventually leading to a February 2000 visit to Beijing by an unusually large number of high level administration officials to discuss missile defense. The Chinese, however, seemed preoccupied with Taiwan and the talks failed to make any headway (Graham 2003). Skeptical Allies Strobe Talbott finished delivering the first extended briefing of US missile defense plans to NATO allies in November 1999 feeling slightly shocked – to his great surprise, nearly every single one of the European allies on the North Atlantic Council had offered tough criticism of the administration’s NMD policy (Graham 2003). The NATO representatives unleashed a litany of complaints ranging from Washington’s failure to initiate consultations earlier to concerns for the future of arms control. As John Holum observed several months later, “our allies [had] ‘unloaded’ their pent-up feelings on the first available American target” (Holum 2000). Washington Post reporter Bradley Graham, who penned a detailed chronicle of ballistic missile defense in the United States, described this experience as a significant turning point for the administration. From that point on, Washington would pay much greater attention to its European allies in soliciting political support for missile defense. As if to further emphasize this opposition to American NMD, the United Nations General Assembly approved in December 1999 a resolution supporting the continued integrity and validity of the ABM


US Missile Defense Strategy

Treaty – calling it a “cornerstone for maintaining international peace and security and strategic stability” – and calling on nations to “refrain from the deployment of anti-ballistic missile systems” for territorial defense. Among the 80 nations voting in favor of the Russian and Chinese sponsored resolution were US allies France and Ireland, while only four countries voted against: the United States, Israel, Albania and Micronesia. The members of the European Union were among the 68 nations abstaining from the vote, a tactic that signaled an attempt to find neutral ground in the debate. NATO’s position was nuanced: theater defenses were desirable, but territorial defense was more problematic (UN 1999). Throughout the 1990s, a series of NATO strategic documents had included statements expressing concern about the increasing proliferation of ballistic missiles and the need to protect NATO’s deployed military forces, territory and population against WMD-tipped missiles. The NATO defense ministers went so far as to endorse a Senior Defense Group on Proliferation report declaring TMD to be an essential part of NATO’s response and that possibilities for developing layered defenses for NATO forces should be explored (Emery 1997). Germany and the Netherlands had already deployed Patriot systems. But the US plans for NMD were unsettling to its European allies, and the administration created diplomatic channels to explain their position and better understand the main European objections (Holum 2000). The first European concern was that the imbalance of security resulting from a US missile shield leaving Europe unprotected could weaken the principle of “shared risk” upon which the alliance depended and lead to a “decoupling” of US and European security interests. The United States might then become more isolationist and retreat into a “Fortress America.” Second, NATO allies were concerned that missile defenses signaled lessening US interest in deterrence and, by extension, perhaps also the extended deterrence guarantees provided to its European allies. NATO members also questioned the fundamental argument that some states simply could not be deterred. The third basic European concern arose from suspicions that Washington was exaggerating the nature of the threat, overreacting in its response, and doing so in a way that was detrimental to arms control efforts. Additionally, some allies accused the United States, as Charles Ball wrote, of “attempting to devise military or technological solutions to the fundamentally political problem of weapons proliferation” (Ball 2001). Additionally, British diplomats suggested that missile defenses were an overly complex solution to the particular political problem of North Korea.

BMD and the Clinton Administration


In order to lessen this strong skepticism of US missile defense plans, the administration initiated a series of meetings and briefings designed to win over their doubting allies. At one such meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, the Pentagon’s Frank Miller carefully explored alliance members’ attitudes toward the extension of BMD capabilities over Europe as well. BMDO director Kadish was even instructed to “quietly” begin to investigate the technical options available for covering Europe with interceptors based in Great Britain and an X-band radar in Turkey, but nothing came of the plan (Graham 2003).9 The push to deploy missile defenses in Europe would not end there, but in addition to US plans for European BMD, more homegrown options would progressively become available for NATO countries in Europe. BMD Partnerships Despite Secretary Aspin’s 1993 announcement that the Star Wars program had officially ended, the legacy of SDI survived in part through the broad network of partnerships begun under its auspices. Many of the countries with which the United States maintained a cooperative partnership for the development of missile defense assets during the Clinton administration had originally signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Reagan administration to cooperatively develop some facet of the SDI program. Some of the partnerships were more technical in nature, and others evolved over time into more fruitful developmental efforts. The preliminary BMD architecture proposed by the Clinton administration partially relied on several sites in Europe for sensors, including early warning radars at Fylingdales, England and Thule, Greenland. The United States signed an SDI partnership MoU with Britain in 1985 – the first country to do so – that began a partnership which set in motion a series of data exchanges, experiments and even a 1994 feasibility study for joint BMD coverage. No such formalized partnership existed with Denmark during Clinton’s tenure, and, as Secretary Cohen acknowledged in July 2000, “none of our allies have formally asked to be included in our NMD system, but many of them recognize that the same missile programs that threaten us would also be a danger to them” (Cohen 2000a). Despite their reluctance on national missile defense, cooperation on theater defenses continued apace with several other European nations, most notably the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) program. Often seen as a model for transatlantic cooperative development programs, MEADS would allow the United States and its NATO allies to jointly operate missile defenses in tactical battlefield


US Missile Defense Strategy

situations. The program encountered difficulties garnering domestic support and was, as noted earlier, completely unfunded in the administration’s budget for 1999. The program underwent a restructuring effort and was fully funded by the end of Clinton’s tenure. The United States also partnered with several countries outside of NATO to develop BMD technologies during the Clinton administration. After signing a MoU in 1986, Israel began limited missile defense cooperation with the United States consisting mainly of studies and experiments, but it was the Arrow interceptor program that really intensified the relationship. Funded in large part by the United States, the Arrow began flight testing in 1995 and improvements were made in successive versions of the interceptor, which was designed to be interoperable with US TMD systems (Emery 1997). The Defense Department argued that experience gained from the Arrow program would be directly applicable to US development efforts regarding testing as well as shared technological solutions. US cooperative efforts with Japan also began with a MoU tied to the SDI program. In the late 1980s, Japan participated in the five-year West Pacific Missile Defense Architecture (WESTPAC) study to explore theater defense options for US deployed forces and allies in the region. A series of regional events, including a North Korean ballistic missile test in 1993, Chinese missile drills in 1995 related to tensions with Taiwan and the United States, and yet another North Korean test launch in 1998, encouraged domestic support for missile defense in Japan. This ultimately led to the signing of a TMD research agreement with the United States in August 1999 that focused primarily on the further development of the Patriot and Aegis programs (Ball 2001). BMD and Grand Strategy in the Clinton Administration

By the time President Clinton stood before an auditorium full of students at Georgetown University on 1 September 2000 to announce his decision not to move forward with the deployment of a national missile defense system, few were very surprised. The testing program had completed only three of its 19 planned intercept tests, and only the first test had resulted in an intercept. The Russians had refused to amend the ABM Treaty and the attitudes of US allies in Europe and elsewhere ranged from skeptical to highly critical. Clinton declared that “I simply cannot conclude with the information I have today that we have enough confidence in the technology and the operational effectiveness of the entire NMD system to move forward to deployment” (Clinton 2000). The president emphasized the importance of the ABM Treaty and

BMD and the Clinton Administration


broader security implication of BMD on arms control, deterrence, and relations with important states such as Russia and China. Despite this decision, the missile defense policies implemented by the Clinton administration had consequential effects. As its grand strategy, the Clinton administration pursued a cooperative version of primacy and had three main strategic goals: maintain an active and forward-leaning overseas force posture focused mainly on Europe and East Asia; revitalize the US economy through international efforts to open markets and reduce trade barriers; and promote democracy and human rights abroad. The administration became an active user of military force, but emphasized limited engagements and tended to avoid scenarios where US forces might be drawn into long-term commitments. These actions were often accomplished in coordination with US allies and usually with a heavy reliance on air power. In contrast to this willingness to engage US forces abroad, Clinton oversaw a significant reduction in defense spending that ushered in what some have termed a ‘procurement holiday’. This fiscal discipline was matched by a foreign policy almost exclusively focused on US economic and commercial interests abroad. Finally, the administration emphasized the transitions of Russia and other former Soviet states to market democracies through the promotion of democratic institutions and election processes. Since most of the individual missile defense programs lacked technologically mature deployable systems, missile defense policy during the Clinton years can only be judged primarily on its rhetorical and political support along with investments into research and development. In broad terms, the missile defense architecture developed during the Clinton administration appeared consistent with the military aspects of its grand strategy, the program’s budgets somewhat consistent – albeit oversized – with the administration’s strategy, and the diplomatic aspects of missile defense policies were fairly consistent with the diplomatic component of US grand strategy. Military Component

Militarily, the administration’s missile defense efforts evolved in roughly the same direction as the threat perception. Clinton’s initial push to develop theater missile defenses seemed reasonable given his regional dual containment strategy of Iran and Iraq during the 1990s, and considering the active use of missiles and defenses during the 1991 Gulf War. This theater emphasis was supported by the conclusions of the controversial 1995 National Intelligence Estimate, which downplayed


US Missile Defense Strategy

any near-term ballistic missile threat to the US homeland. Despite the reassuring findings of the 1995 NIE, the Clinton administration initiated a national missile defense program early the following year. If missile defense policy during the Clinton administration had been driven primarily by perceptions of external threats, it seems logical that the North Korean test launches in 1998 would have prompted the administration’s “three plus three” plan for national missile defense. But the program was implemented over two years before the August 1998 tests, following a December 1995 presidential veto of Congressional legislation forcing the development of a national missile defense system. At that time, a National Intelligence Estimate predicted that neither North Korea nor Iran would acquire an ICBM capability before 2015, giving the administration little impetus to embark upon a costly and rushed NMD development program. The timing of this decision suggests other factors lay behind the move, most likely domestic political considerations. Despite the inconsistency in timing, the decision appeared justified by 1998 with the issuance of the Rumsfeld Commission report in July and the surprise North Korean test launch in August. Overall, concurrent efforts to develop both short and long-range defenses reflected concerns over the regional ballistic missile threat to deployed forces and allies and the potential threat to the US homeland posed by North Korea. Although the national missile defense effort monopolized newspaper headlines and influenced the political climate during the late 1990s, significant progress was made on TMD. The gradual drift of the missile defense program toward an interoperable multi-tiered or layered defense entailed certain strategic consequences that the Clinton administration, while perhaps not actively seeking, at least did not actively oppose. The administration’s restructuring of the BMDO and the new direction it gave to development efforts provides further evidence of the strategic role being considered for the system. The initial proposed architecture for national missile defense suggested, as Undersecretary Slocombe repeatedly stated, a thin defense optimized for a potential ICBM attack from North Korea, but the long-term plans – the C2 and C3 architectures – appeared to be substantially more ambitious. The proposed location of the new X-band radar and interceptors in Alaska were positioned to intercept North Korean missiles on trajectories towards major cities throughout the United States. The Alaska location was less optimal for intercepts of Iranian ICBMs, however, especially compared with earlier proposals that based interceptors near Grand Forks, North Dakota. This location appeared better suited for dealing with possible attacks from both North Korea

BMD and the Clinton Administration


and Iran, although some disagreement arose over the potential exclusion of the Aleutians and perhaps even Hawaii from the defensive footprint (Graham 2003). Extrapolating strategic intent from the proposed Alaskan sites revealed one major flaw, one with strategic consequences for the United States: North Korean ICBM trajectories are nearly identical to those of Chinese ICBMs. The planned location of the radar and interceptors, ideally placed for defending against North Korean ICBMs, was also appropriate for defending against Chinese missiles. The choice to pursue a ground-based midcourse defense for NMD was itself a significant strategic and technological decision. The decision to abandon the space-based missile defense architecture pursued by the Reagan and Bush administrations signaled Clinton’s intention to shift from an extremely technologically challenging global BMD architecture to more manageable surface-based national and theater defenses. If a space-based platform could be made to work, it would immediately threaten Russian and Chinese ICBMs along with those from North Korea, Iran or Iraq. It was this type of strategic thinking that led some scholars and scientists to press for a BMD program based on boost phase intercept, so as not to appear to threaten either the Chinese or the Russian strategic deterrent force. Boost phase defenses, by requiring much closer geographic proximity to the target state, could provide national defense without being suspected of having any defensive capability against China or Russia. The inclusion of permanent ground-based structures in the administration’s plans rather than transportable assets like ABL, THAAD or NTW signals a belief in the permanence of the threat and the need for durable defenses to address it. In addition, while kinetic energy “hit-to-kill” technology had shown promise during early testing, it was not so well developed as to be an overwhelmingly obvious choice for NMD, especially given the decision to proceed with a midcourse defense. Achieving such a long-range exo-atmospheric kinetic energy intercept represented – and continues to represent – a significant technological challenge at a time when theater defenses utilizing the same principles struggled with uneven test results. The testing program conducted during Clinton’s tenure was repeatedly categorized as “high risk” due to its aggressive timetables, while funding levels appeared to be less of a factor. Despite Clinton’s decision not to proceed with NMD deployment, BMDO had established a solid technological platform for the next administration to utilize.


US Missile Defense Strategy

Economic Component

In economic terms, the administration presided over a period of downsizing and budget reductions within the defense establishment that persisted until its final two years in office. Within this context, it is significant that funding for the missile defense program continued to grow even as defense budgets contracted. In fact, however, this pattern is consistent with the administration’s overall handling of the defense budget, as it often had greater ambitions for the use of military force than was reflected in its annual budget requests. The total investment in BMD remained relatively modest compared with the funding levels later enjoyed by the program during the Bush administration, despite regular increases by Congress to the president’s budget proposals. In general, missile defense funding reflected the strategic determination of the Clinton administration to prioritize threats to deployed forces over national missile defenses, though the latter gained parity near the end of the period. Diplomatic Component

In diplomatic terms, the ABM Treaty exerted the greatest influence on the development of missile defenses during the Clinton administration. The first iterations of the NMD architecture showed an intent to remain within the confines of the treaty, or at least within reach of an amended treaty. Even though the architecture had serious implications for China, diplomatic overtures toward non-ABM Treaty signatory Beijing were nearly absent. As the US NMD plans became more ambitious and clearly violated both the letter and the spirit of the treaty, discussions with Russia eventually became the principle diplomatic focus of the administration. These overtures were initiated rather late in the NMD development process, however. A combination of factors, not least Moscow’s strong skepticism of national missile defense and the impending departure of President Clinton from office in 2001, gave little incentive to the Russian leadership to move forward on any possible treaty amendments. This naturally affected NATO’s views of missile defense; despite active (though belated) diplomatic outreach on these issues, allies remained highly skeptical of the wisdom of national missile defenses. Rather than pursing missile defense cooperation through NATO, the United States engaged both European and non-European states on a bilateral and trilateral basis. Cooperative partnerships with Japan, Israel, Germany and Italy presented the administration with a means of

BMD and the Clinton Administration


distributing the costs of developing BMD assets as well as building a nascent web of interoperable missile defense allies. Although these partnerships focused solely on theater defenses, the evolving concept of layered and networked defenses was already blurring the lines between theater and strategic-national defenses. These partnerships would provide a solid foundation for further cooperation. The proposed NMD architecture reflected the limited ambitions of a Clinton team focused on rogue state and terrorist threats, but the last of the three phases of the proposal included substantial quantitative improvements that could eventually threaten the Chinese strategic deterrent. As non-proliferation efforts were highly prioritized during the Clinton years, thin defenses that maintained existing bilateral strategic balances would promote US grand strategy much more effectively. Gradually, however, the administration’s initial proposals containing separate tracks for theater and national defenses eventually gave way to discussions of a layered, multi-tiered approach that incorporated a boost phase intercept capability. A number of scholars argued for a geographically limited stand-alone boost phase architecture that could be deployed close to states of concern while remaining demonstratively ineffective against China and Russia, although confidence in the technically feasibility of BPI during the 1990s remains unclear. In any case, “thick” defense, incorporating boost phase, midcourse and terminal phases, would not alleviate the instability caused by BMD in the United States–Russia–China strategic relationships or reduce the risks of new arms races. These concerns were less pressing for an administration more focused on regional actors, security challenges associated with globalization, and retaining US strategic access. Missile defenses could assist the United States as it sought to retain its global military presence and leadership position while mitigating the risks to its deployed forces and the US homeland. In order to retain political support at home for the administration’s active international engagement, defenses would perform an assurance function for the inward-looking and risk-averse domestic audience of the 1990s. At that time, Russia was a fragile state undergoing a massive political and economic transformation, and the United States had a vested interest in a favorable outcome. Russia’s weakened strategic position and the personal relationship between presidents Clinton and Yeltsin helped reduce the potential diplomatic tensions caused by US national missile defense efforts. This shifted abruptly after Vladimir Putin assumed power in December 1999. Clinton’s handling of the Antiballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty offered one of the clearest signs of an administration grappling with


US Missile Defense Strategy

conflicting grand strategic interests. In principle, Clinton generally favored the sort of international institutions and cooperative efforts that the ABM Treaty symbolized – the use of treaty regimes to address proliferation and arms control issues. On the other hand, the administration had resisted multilateral arrangements that limited its strategic options. Missile defenses by their very existence called into question the effectiveness of institutions and symbolized a unilateral military solution to proliferation and arms control. Despite a concerted effort to develop BMD capabilities within the confines of a revised ABM Treaty, the Clinton administration was ultimately forced to choose between institutions or military capabilities. Other factors weighed heavily in the president’s decision to delay construction of national missile defenses, but the treaty appeared to be among the most decisive, consistent with the administration’s grand strategy. Conclusion

As the first entirely post-Cold War administration, the Clinton White House made a conscious effort to forge a new strategic framework that could replace containment of the Soviet Union. This new security landscape presented great opportunity for the United States as the remaining superpower, but also brought new threats and challenges. As Defense Secretary Les Aspin noted in 1993, missile defenses were viewed as an advantageous means to protect deployed forces, allies and the US homeland from potentially undeterrable states. The priorities initially outlined by Aspin and Clinton – improving theater defenses and developing options for national missile defense – were generally consistent with the threat perception and with the administration’s strategic goals. Despite intense domestic debate over missile defense, the administration’s actions were far from inconsistent with its overarching grand strategy. Even though Clinton ultimately decided not to deploy long range defenses, his policies paved the way for deployment during the Bush administration.                                                                                                                        

Notes 1 Ironically, Kennan himself regretted that US policy had been so focused on the concept of “containment” believing it to have led to “great and misleading oversimplification of analysis and policy.” He urged the Clinton team to come up with a “thoughtful paragraph or more, rather than trying to

BMD and the Clinton Administration



come up with a bumper sticker.” Upon hearing this advice, Clinton reportedly laughed and remarked, “Well, that’s why Kennan’s a great diplomat and scholar and not a politician” (Talbot 2003, p. 134). 2 See, for example, Peter Feaver, “American Grand Strategy at the Crossroads: Leading from the Front, Leading from Behind or Not Leading at All,” in Richard Fontaine and Kristin M. Lord, eds., America’s Path: Grand Strategy for the Next Administration (Washington D.C.: Center for a New American Security, May 2012). 3 See also Dueck (2006). 4 For scholars fixated on traditional geopolitical or balance of power calculations, the Clinton approach failed to qualify as a grand strategy. But given the international security environment, this new approach was not necessarily ill-conceived despite challenging the usual understanding of grand strategy as focused primarily on military force. 5 This move followed a 1995 Presidential veto of legislation passed by the Republican-controlled Congress that would have forced the administration to construct and field a national missile defense system. 6 Note that the expanded C1 architecture, with 100 interceptors and designed to defend against a “few tens of warheads” implied two things: first, the concept of operations (CONOPS) considered an interceptor-to-threat ratio along the lines of 5:1. Second, and more interesting, is the fact that this expanded C1 architecture would conceivably negate China’s strategic deterrent. 7 One method employed by BMDO near the end of the Clinton administration (continued by the MDA) for dealing with this risk was through a process known as “spiral development.” It was hoped that an increased synergy among and integration of technology developers and program managers would allow for more rapid progress (Kadish 2000). 8 Holum assumed the position of Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security in 1997 and the ACDA was incorporated into the State Department two years later. 9 This point is worth emphasizing. Even though the eventual Third Site plans were strongly linked to the Bush administration, the preliminary discussions began during the Clinton years, illustrating another element of surprising continuity between administrations.

5 BMD and the Bush Administration

It was the enthusiastic yet seemingly incongruous embrace of missile defense by the Bush administration in the era of the “war on terror” that initially motivated this book. There is much continuity in American foreign policy and significant parallels can be drawn between the Clinton and Bush administrations, just as there are broad similarities between the Bush administration’s pre-2001 thinking and that exhibited in the years following those events. Nevertheless, the 9/11 attacks had an undeniable effect on the administration’s threat perception, its strategic goals and its choice of tools for furthering those goals. They introduced an additional and overriding layer of strategic concern atop an already significant body of strategic plans. Beneath the focus on international terrorism, however, lay a fundamental set of beliefs about the trajectory of the international security landscape – beliefs that not only justified ballistic missile defenses but in fact made their deployment crucial to national security. Grand Strategy in the Bush Administration

During the 2000 presidential election campaign, Bush voiced support for Clinton’s decision to use military force in the Balkans and declared that he would also use force in similar situations if he felt it were in the nation’s strategic interest. However, Bush generally believed the US military was overcommitted and overextended as a result of Clinton’s policies. He sought a more “judicious” use of US military power that reflected the nation’s humility: “Our nation stands alone right now in the world in terms of power, and that’s why we have to be humble. And yet project strength that promotes freedom….We’re a freedom-loving nation and if we’re an arrogant nation they’ll view us that way, but if 101  


US Missile Defense Strategy

we’re a humble nation they’ll respect us” (Debates 2000). The grand strategy developed and eventually implemented after 9/11 served to prove Bush’s point by placing more emphasis on freedom and less on humility. The United States ostensibly went to war for both freedom and security, but did so in a manner that strained relations with much of the international community. Background: Grand Strategic Concept

The 2001 terrorist attacks did not signify the emergence of international terrorism as a national security threat; US administrations have been dealing with the phenomenon for several decades. The attacks did, however, catapult it to the forefront of American grand strategy, and terrorism suddenly became one of the overarching principles of strategic thinking. The Bush administration believed “the events of September 11, 2001, fundamentally changed the context for relations between the United States and other main centers of global power, and opened vast, new opportunities” (Bush 2002c, p. 28). The primary threat did not come from peer competitors: as the 2002 National Security Strategy observed, “[t]he enemy is terrorism – premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetuated against civilians” (Bush 2002c, p. 5). President Bush, declaring in June 2002 that “the gravest danger to freedom lies at the crossroads of radicalism and technology,” announced that the United States would oppose “with all our power” terrorists and tyrants who sought weapons of mass destruction to “blackmail us, or to harm us, or to harm our friends” (Bush 2002a). The 2006 National Security Strategy, echoing Anthony Lake in 1993 (who, in turn, echoed the words of Woodrow Wilson), proclaimed that “[t]he character of regimes matters as much as the distribution of power among them” (Bush 2006, p. 1). The administration would therefore fight to defend, preserve and extend a “just peace…that defends human liberty” (Bush 2002a). To defend the peace, the nation would be proactive in eradicating terror networks and pressuring authoritarian rogue states. The administration was reluctant to rely solely on deterrent threats to protect the nation from asymmetric attacks, and questioned whether these types of risk-acceptant actors would be susceptible to traditional types of deterrent threats. Additionally, the Bush administration argued that international law recognized the legitimacy of a state defending itself against an imminent attack by acting preemptively, but that this new era was characterized by the potential for large-scale asymmetric attacks carried out by terrorists or rogues with little advanced warning. The

BMD and the Bush Administration


United States therefore believed it could not afford to wait for unambiguous evidence of a threat, and that it would adapt the doctrine of preemption to this new environment (Bush 2002c, p. 15).1 Deterrence remained an important component of US strategic thinking, but due to the uncertainty surrounding these risk-acceptant actors, the United States deemed it prudent to include other measures such as active defenses (ballistic missile defense) and the possibility of preventative actions. To preserve the peace, the administration envisioned a new era of great power cooperation. Bush believed that freedom and market democracy were universal values to which all states would eventually subscribe, and the administration was convinced that great powers such as Russia and China were already developing in that direction. President Bush, in his introductory letter to the 2002 security strategy, argued that international terrorism would encourage greater cooperation: “Today, the world’s great powers find ourselves on the same side – united by common dangers of terrorist violence and chaos” (Bush 2002c). Multinational partnerships and cooperative efforts would be crucial to maintaining security in this unsettled security environment, not only to combat terrorism but to address other regional conflicts that could potentially affect US security. These partnerships should remain flexible arrangements, however, so as not to limit US freedom of action. To extend the peace, the Bush administration sought to expand freedom and market democracy “to every corner of the globe” (Bush 2002c, p. v). The United States strived to “build a balance of power that favors freedom” for a number of reasons. First, Bush felt strongly that this was a longstanding moral obligation of the United States, and that by combating terrorism the nation was engaging in a battle between good and evil. Second, the root causes of terrorism were believed to stem from a potent mixture of political alienation, unaddressed grievances, violent ideologies, conspiratorial subcultures. The long-term solution to eliminating the threat of terrorism could be found in addressing these factors, and democracy provided a remedy for all of them. The spread of democratic values would also benefit US security by encouraging “domestic stability and international order” (Bush 2006, p. 10). Third, it was believed that promoting global development and prosperity was best achieved through the advancement of free market principles. The United States should actively encourage these principles not only because it served the nation’s own economic and security interests but also because economic development improved individual freedom and prosperity. The national interests expressed by the Clinton administration – protecting Americans, maintaining the nation’s political independence


US Missile Defense Strategy

and promoting national prosperity – are fundamental and similar to those of past administrations. They most certainly apply to the Bush grand strategy as well, but in its security strategies the administration did not convey a comprehensive list detailing its understanding of US national interests. Instead, it presented one broad essential interest underpinning all of its strategic goals: “Defending our Nation against its enemies is the first and fundamental commitment of the Federal Government” (Bush 2002c, p. iv). It is in many respects quite effective, as the strategic goals described in the administration’s two security strategy documents are instantly accorded a visceral urgency and unity of purpose because they all stem from this singular consideration. The 2001 QDR emphasized defense policy and geostrategic concerns appropriate to a Pentagon document focused on the military tool, but also provided an overview of “enduring” national interests that expanded upon the singular goal of defending the nation.2 Foremost among them was the broad category of ensuring US security – of its citizens, territory, infrastructure and freedom – and retaining US freedom of action. Second, the nation had a vital interest in honoring its international commitments, including security guarantees to allies, preventing “hostile domination” of key regions, and ensuring peace and stability in the Western Hemisphere. Lastly, the QDR noted the vital importance of continuing the nation’s economic health by ensuring the health of the global economy, security of the global commons through which trade routes pass, and retaining access to key markets and strategic resources (Rumsfeld 2001, p. 2).3 Just as the administration’s understanding of US vital interests was reduced to “defending the nation,” its analysis of the threats to US security might also be understood in an equally concise manner as comprised of terrorists and rogues, or, perhaps at the even more fundamental level discussed by Bush at West Point in 2002, the existence of tyranny. As the 2002 NSS stated on its opening page, “America is now threatened less by conquering states than we are by failing ones. We are menaced less by fleets and armies than by catastrophic technologies in the hands of the embittered few” (Bush 2002c, p. 1). The 9/11 attacks led policymakers in the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department to paint an international security picture with the broad brush strokes of international terrorism. The range of security threats identified by the Clinton administration had not disappeared, but the terrorist threat was suddenly inflated from its earlier status as one of many lesser worries to become the overarching security priority of the White House. It became in many respects the prism

BMD and the Bush Administration


through which US national security was viewed, adding a thick layer of concern atop an already substantial body of strategic worries. The 2001 QDR document, largely drafted prior to 9/11, provides a glimpse of some of these underlying concerns that reflect more structural, geopolitical considerations. The Pentagon did not anticipate the pending emergence of any peer competitors, but warned that regional powers may be able to destabilize regions of strategic interest to the United States. This was particularly true “along a broad arc of instability that stretches from the Middle East to Northeast Asia” that included “a volatile mix of rising and declining powers” with the potential for government overthrows by extremist groups and the “potential to develop or acquire weapons of mass destruction” (Rumsfeld 2001, p. 4). These developments were even more worrisome in the energy-rich Middle East, where several states posed a conventional military challenge as well as seeking to acquire WMDs, “developing ballistic missile capabilities, supporting international terrorism, and expanding their military means to coerce states friendly to the United States and to deny US military forces access to the region” (Rumsfeld 2001, p. 4). The geostrategic threat evaluation prevalent in the Pentagon’s 2001 QDR dovetailed with Bush’s more politically and ideologically focused National Security Strategy on a number of points, none more poignant than nuclear proliferation and the dangers from rogue states like Iran, Iraq and North Korea. The administration believed that this juncture of technology and tyranny contributed to greater instability and a more dangerous and complex security environment. The sudden and overwhelming focus on terrorism was quickly integrated into this perspective, as the phenomenon was understood by the administration to be a response to undemocratic regimes. For the Bush team, therefore, the set of strategic goals framing its response had a logical internal coherence that addressed and satisfied the demands of geostrategy and ideology. As a way to conceptualize the integration of newer and existing threats, the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review adopted the nowinfamous “quad chart” that showed the four sets of challenges facing the United States: traditional threats from nation-states, irregular threats from non-state actors such as terrorist groups, catastrophic threats from actors wielding WMD technologies, and disruptive threats stemming from actors utilizing new technologies such as biotechnologies, cyber or space-based capabilities. The 2006 QDR noted that the Defense Department would retain significant capabilities to address traditional


US Missile Defense Strategy

threats even as it shifted its focus toward the other three categories (Rumsfeld 2006). Implementation: The Military Component

The administration engaged American military forces in a global war against terrorism almost immediately in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Invading Afghanistan in October 2001, it combined a heavy reliance on airpower with limited numbers of special operations units cooperating with local tribal warlords from the Northern Alliance. The operation rapidly and successfully removed the Taliban regime from power with quite limited losses, boosting the administration’s confidence. The experience also reinforced the convictions of the new Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, who had argued for a smaller, more mobile expeditionary force that capitalized on America’s technological edge. It was the natural continuation of the “new way of war” from the Clinton era: quick, effective and low risk (Light 2005). For a number of reasons, the administration chose to initiate a more comprehensive invasion in 2003 against Iraq and quickly toppled the Hussein regime. Other less intensive counterterrorism operations were conducted in other countries, including the Philippines, Somalia and other locations throughout the Middle East and Africa. In both Afghanistan and Iraq, however, the initial successes eventually gave way to drawn out, low intensity operations that combined counterterrorism and counterinsurgency (COIN) missions, general security and stability responsibilities, and providing assistance for the development of governmental structures and processes. These types of nation-building missions were much more costly in troops and materiel than the initial invasions, but both the civilian and military leaderships acknowledged the necessity of such operations and they gradually became doctrinally institutionalized. The nation’s global posture, after a limited downscaling of the Cold War deployment, continued to evolve and reflect the new set of threats. According to Ryan Henry, Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, the new global defense posture would prioritize “shifting away from legacy Cold War structures in Europe…reforming US posture in the Pacific…to assure allies more effectively, dissuade potential competitors, deter aggressors, and defeat adversaries if called upon to do so,” while at the same time “developing the operational flexibility and diversity in options needed to contend with uncertainty in the ‘arc of instability’”, an area stretching from Africa to Southeast Asia (Henry 2006, p. 38). The 2001 QDR listed one of the military’s

BMD and the Bush Administration


operational goals as “projecting and sustaining U.S. forces in distant anti-access or area-denial environments and defeating anti-access and area-denial threats” while the 2006 QDR signaled the US intention to shape the strategic environment in part to “mitigate anti-access threats and offset potential political coercion designed to limit U.S. access to any region” (Rumsfeld 2001, p. 30). As noted in the 2008 Joint Operating Concept: It is not hard to imagine an alliance of small, cash-rich countries arming themselves with high-performance long-range precision weapons. Such a group could not only deny U.S. forces access into their country, but could also prevent American access to the global commons at significant ranges from their borders. (USJFC 2008, p. 26)

In addition to the geographic shift, a new tiered system of bases was established that reflected the thinking of General James Jones, former commander of the US European Command, who argued for the creation of a collection of ‘lily pads’ for US forces, “small, lightly staffed facilities for use as jumping-off points in a crisis” (Campbell and Ward 2003). The United States would retain some “main operating bases” such as those in Europe, but increasingly utilize smaller “forward operating sites” and depots of prepositioned supplies called “cooperative security locations” (Crichlow 2005, p. 2). This would minimize the US ‘footprint’ in sensitive regions while maintaining a forward posture that maximizes speed, flexibility, and the “ability to project power from one region to another and to manage forces on a global basis” (Henry 2006, pp. 39-40).4 In sum, the US network of overseas bases represented, according to one study, “a new type of global expeditionary posture that supports rapid US power-projection operations and one specifically designed to maximize US global freedom of action” (Krepinevich and Work 2007, p. 197). In its 2001 QDR, the Bush administration established a new strategic framework built around four strategic goals: assuring allies and friends that the United States will remain an engaged and reliable security partner, dissuading military competition from other states through policy actions and military capabilities, deterring threats and coercion with new capabilities that offer a wider range of military options, and defeating adversaries decisively if deterrence were to fail (Rumsfeld 2001, pp. 11-12). Additionally, the Pentagon drafted a Nuclear Posture Review utilizing this framework in a reformulation of US policy on strategic weapons, predicated on the idea of reducing the


US Missile Defense Strategy

nation’s reliance on strategic nuclear deterrence while enhancing the credibility of lesser deterrent threats. The traditional nuclear “triad” of bombers, submarine launched SLBMs and land-based ICBMs was replaced with a “new triad” concept. By dividing US capabilities into offensive systems (bombers, ICBMs, SLBMs, new conventional global strike), passive and active defenses (including BMD), and US defense infrastructure (weapons systems, industrial base, etc), this new triad elevated the general importance of the two new legs of the “triad,” and BMD in particular (NPR 2001). Defense spending rose markedly as a result of the sharp increase in military activity relating to US counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. These operational increases added to the steady growth in military expenditures during the final years of the Clinton administration as the “procurement holiday” ended and spending trended upwards. The FY 2000 budget included $289 billion for defense related expenditures by all departments. By 2009, total defense spending had reached $669 billion (CBO 2000, p. xii; CBO 2010, p. 2). Reflecting the low-intensity/high-intensity warfare schism within the Defense Department, some defense analysts concluded that the Pentagon’s budgetary planning revealed a mismatch between operational priorities and budgetary ones. The operational focus remained on asymmetrical warfare and counterinsurgency operations but defense budgets continued to invest in capital-intensive legacy weapons systems more appropriate for largescale conventional conflicts. Scholar Michael Klare argued that “ostensibly, the growing threat of international terrorism is responsible for the Bush Administration’s proposed 2007 military budget…but only a small share of the increase would cover specialized anti-terror and counter-insurgency systems. The biggest and costliest items…are intended for use against an entirely different enemy: The People’s Republic of China” (Klare 2006).5 Implementation: The Economic Component

Although the Bush administration had not embraced globalization with the same fervor as Clinton, the connection between economic and political freedom still resonated among policymakers. The strategy viewed economic freedom as reinforcing political freedom by “creating diversified centers of power and authority that limit the reach of government. It expands the free flow of ideas” (Bush 2006, p. 28). In the strategy document, the administration highlighted its role in the Doha round of negotiations of the World Trade Organization, the successful

BMD and the Bush Administration


passage of the Central American Free Trade Agreement, as well as the negotiation of a number of regional and bilateral free trade agreements. The Millennium Challenge Account constituted just one small example of US policy linking economic and political development, with its focus on good governance. In a speech announcing the countries selected for the program, President Bush outlined the effort as one that “encourages all nations to embrace political and economic reform. The United States has pledged to increase its core development assistance by half, adding $5 billion annually by 2006. To be eligible for this new money, nations must root out corruption, respect human rights, and adhere to the rule of law” (Bush 2004). Diplomatic efforts by Washington to encourage economic development were conducted in nearly every region of the world, with initiatives that demonstrated the close ties between the ideological, humanitarian, economic and strategic interests in US policy. In regions with abundant energy resources, this connection between market access and US strategic interests is abundantly clear. The majority of the oil and gas reserves are located in the Middle East, the Caspian Sea region, northern South America, and Western Africa. Washington increasingly viewed the development of new and diversified sources of energy outside the Middle East as a strategic interest. Economic and strategic interests also converge in these regions with regard to China, although geostrategic competitions for resources never really crystallized. In addition to strategic decisions concerning US actions overseas, every administration makes decisions on domestic policies that directly affect US national security. Apart from the economic aspects of US energy dependence, the United States has become increasingly vulnerable due to its economic and monetary policies. The US federal budget underwent a dramatic shift after 2001, when a $127 billion surplus in 2001 became a $158 billion deficit in 2002. The national debt – including debt held by the public and by government accounts such as Social Security – ballooned from $3.4 trillion in 2001 to over $11 trillion by January 2009, due to large-scale tax relief measures, dramatic increases in defense spending and a severe economic slowdown. Constant and sizable deficits, however, can hamper economic growth and foreign investors fund these budgetary shortfalls. The overseas funding of US debt exacerbates the continuing balance of payments deficit. Such factors can have strategic consequences (Biddle 2002).


US Missile Defense Strategy

Implementation: The Diplomatic Component

Perhaps the most noticeable and controversial shift in diplomatic policy during the Bush administration, namely the de-emphasis of strict institutionalized diplomatic frameworks in favor of more flexible arrangements that allowed the United States to retain a high degree of strategic flexibility, had its roots in the Clinton years. The invasion of Afghanistan was conducted with the blessing of the UN and NATO but without NATO participation, which came afterwards in the form of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). The administration formed a “coalition of the willing” for the Iraq war, though a number of its traditional European allies resisted and the United Nations failed to sanction the invasion. Formal treaties such as the Antiballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, the International Criminal Court, an international ban on land mines, and the Kyoto climate protocol were all rejected by the Bush administration. Bilateral relationships and flexible treaty arrangements were instead emphasized. Some of the allies and partners experiencing improved relations with the United States were India, Japan and Australia. While the latter two had been solid US allies for decades, a noticeably intensified strategic relationship also evolved with India during the Bush years, perhaps symbolizing Washington’s desire to encourage that country’s evolution into a major regional power and thereby serve as a regional anchor against Chinese influence. This diplomatic alliancebuilding effort, combined with the continued acquisition of military systems designed for large-scale conventional warfare, constituted a US hedging strategy towards China. The administration simultaneously attempted to engage bilaterally with China and encourage its integration into international regimes.6 The administration’s most important arms control treaty with Russia, the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), or better known as the Moscow Treaty, was signed in 2002. While it limited the numbers of deployed strategic weapons in each country’s arsenals, the legal framework was much less stringent than previous arms control regimes due to its lack of a verification regime and the legally nonbinding nature of the agreement. To combat proliferation of WMD on a broader scale, the Bush administration formed a new but also legally nonbinding institution in 2003, the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). Rather than a formal organization, the PSI “envisions partnerships of states working in concert, employing their national capabilities to develop a broad range of legal, diplomatic, economic,

BMD and the Bush Administration


military, and other tools to interdict shipments” of weapons of mass destruction (State Department 2005). As further evidence of a strategic shift to more troubled regions, Secretary of State Rice began a modernization and restructuring process within the State Department in January 2006 with a concept called “transformational diplomacy.” (Rice 2006). In addition, diplomatic personnel began a geographic repositioning process whereby hundreds of postings in Europe and Washington DC were eliminated and new positions were created in Africa, South Asia, East Asia and the Middle East. Additionally, the Department envisioned increased collaboration between civilian and military structures, exemplified by the Office of Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS) (Nakamura and Epstein 2007). Taken together, the reforms highlighted a new way of thinking within the administration that placed an increased emphasis on shaping developments, trends and circumstances within countries, as opposed to a more traditional interstate conceptualization of diplomacy. The State Department’s focus on the internal dynamics of other nations squared with the administration’s broader “Freedom Agenda,” as it came to be known. Funding for democracy promotion continued to rise, but grassroots efforts in many countries began to suffer as a result of the administration’s strong democracy rhetoric as a rationale for the Iraq invasion. As the earlier discussion of its overarching strategic concept revealed, the administration’s efforts in both Iraq and Afghanistan were to some degree motivated by a strategic interest in spreading democracy throughout the greater Middle East. The United States was also seen as an active participant in the so-called “Color Revolutions”, where popular political protests demanding more democratic reform led to regime changes in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan between 2003 and 2005 (Carothers 2009). Summary of Bush Grand Strategy

The Bush administration was strongly influenced by the 9/11 attacks and formulated an aggressive response combining wide-ranging military counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations with strong rhetoric promoting freedom and democratic principles. While the “grand strategic theory” under which the administration operated had many similarities to Clinton’s, the combination of tools utilized to pursue its grand strategy relied much more heavily on military force, focusing its efforts on terrorist organizations and the rogue states that assisted them. A deep-seated skepticism of institutional arrangements that could limit US freedom of action led to bilateral and coalition-type arrangements


US Missile Defense Strategy

that eventually drew criticism from the country’s traditional European allies. The Bush White House had some success with regional coalition building in the Asia-Pacific and for a number of years enjoyed reduced tensions with Russia as well, but its overall diplomatic approach was a source of considerable consternation among its allies and potential adversaries. The United States pursued unsustainable fiscal policies that, combined with a domestically instigated financial crisis, created massive budget deficits and added trillions of dollars to the national debt. The administration made a number of strategic adjustments during its second term in office, toning down its tough rhetoric and placing more emphasis on cooperation and dialogue, but the strategic framework remained more or less intact. It was a framework for which missile defenses were well-suited. Bush Missile Defense Policy

Texas governor George W. Bush made his support for missile defense quite clear during the 2000 presidential campaign. In May of that year, Bush told an audience at the National Press Club in Washington of the urgent need to develop a defensive system to protect “all 50 states – and our friends and allies and deployed forces overseas – from missile attacks by rogue nations, or accidental launches” (Bush 2000). The security environment had undergone a fundamental shift since the Cold War, he argued, and new concepts of deterrence and countering proliferation threats were needed to ensure the country’s safety. He criticized the apparent reluctance of the Clinton administration to pursue BMD, the limited nature of the system that was eventually proposed, and expressed concern that Clinton’s re-negotiation of the ABM Treaty might not allow for the unfettered development of adequate defenses. Bush warned that “the administration is driving toward a hasty decision, on a political timetable. No decision would be better than a flawed agreement that ties the hands of the next President” (Bush 2000). No doubt heartened both by Clinton’s subsequent decision to defer the implementation of the “C1” architecture and his failure to negotiate any revisions to the ABM Treaty with the Russians, the newly elected Bush administration now had the flexibility to craft its own approach. In a major address on 1 May 2001, the new president outlined the reasoning behind his administration’s push to develop BMD. For Bush and his foreign policy team, missile defenses were a logical response to the emerging threat posed by rogue states in this post-Cold War era, an era for which the ‘balance of terror’ logic codified in the ABM Treaty

BMD and the Bush Administration


had little relevance. New ideas were required to prevent irresponsible states “for whom terror and blackmail are a way of life.…They seek weapons of mass destruction to intimidate their neighbors, and to keep the United States and other responsible nations from helping allies and friends in strategic parts of the world” (Bush 2000). Bush had directed Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to review “all available technologies and basing modes for effective missile defenses that could protect the United States, our deployed forces, our friends and our allies” (Bush 2000). Signaling both the urgency with which he viewed the threat and his intent to field BMD elements as rapidly as possible, President Bush announced that Secretary Rumsfeld had already “identified near term options that could allow us to deploy an initial capability against limited threats,” mentioning both land and sea-based options. Options for boost phase intercept were singled out as being of particular interest. The president closed his speech by calling for the formation of a new security framework for US–Russian relations to replace the outdated ABM Treaty. The members of the new administration harbored a set of beliefs regarding missile defense that appeared fundamentally different from their predecessors, altering the direction of the missile defense effort almost overnight. Two concepts with an immediate impact on implemented policy were among those mentioned by President Bush in his May 2000 speech: the assumption that America’s allies would be offered protection within the missile defense system, and the belief that deploying an initial capability was urgently needed to counter the growing threat. These two ideas shaped the administration’s early policy decisions in ways that would influence not only the system’s architecture but its technological development and US diplomatic relationships as well. The ballistic missile defense program was suddenly infused with new energy and increased funding as a cadre of ardent missile defense supporters assumed key roles in the White House and Pentagon. They would push hard for the early deployment of promising BMD capabilities and, in doing so, experience their own “rush to failure.” By the end of the Bush administration, the ABM Treaty would be relegated to the history books and the United States would have an initial missile defense capability to protect the homeland. Other elements such as THAAD and Aegis BMD would be closer to technological maturity while the Patriot system would once again go to war in Iraq. Despite these advances, serious questions regarding testing procedures and the system’s operational effectiveness would remain unanswered.


US Missile Defense Strategy

BMD Architecture: The Military Component

At the behest of the president, the new Pentagon team headed up by Secretary Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, and the new director of BMDO, Lt. General Ronald Kadish, undertook a complete reevaluation of BMD architecture, components and testing regime. The new administration held a different set of assumptions regarding missile defense and it was unclear the extent to which the system developed during the Clinton years would be compatible with this new focus. Foremost among these assumptions was the idea of a layered defensive system that would target incoming threats in all three phases of flight. Although the BMDS architecture promoted by Secretary Cohen and BMDO director Lyles had gradually drifted toward a layered or “multi-tiered” system, they had refrained from following this design decision to its logical conclusion – that national defenses would be indistinguishable from theater defenses if networked intercept capabilities for boost phase, long-range midcourse and ICBM-capable terminal phase were developed. During his annual round of Congressional budget hearings in July 2001, however, BMDO Director Kadish presented the new approach and made this point quite clearly: the administration intended to focus on an integrated layered system, “no longer differentiating between theater and national missile defense” (Kadish 2001). Kadish also emphasized that the final architecture would purposefully not be predetermined, arguing that the “system will take shape over time. We do not intend to lock ourselves into a highly stylized architecture based on either known technologies or hoped for advances in technology that will take a decade or more to complete” (Kadish 2001). Building a Test Bed Testifying along with Kadish that week was Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz, who provided additional details of the administration’s first major initiative – the construction of a set of facilities that would form a “BMD test bed,” allowing for more complex and realistic testing scenarios than those able to be conducted from Vandenberg AFB or Kwajalein Missile Range. Launchers would be built at several sites in Alaska, including five silos at Fort Greely and two on Kodiak Island. From the Wolfowitz testimony, plans for the Fort Greely site were of a more permanent nature, with the development of command and control routines and “assessment of the adverse effects of Arctic conditions at a potential operational site,” while the Kodiak facility was intended purely for testing purposes. The sensors to be utilized for the test bed included

BMD and the Bush Administration


the Cobra Dane and Beale early warning radars in Alaska and California, respectively, and a new X-band radar to be constructed in the mid-Pacific Ocean (Wolfowitz 2001). In December 2001, President Bush acted on his conviction that the ABM Treaty was an outdated agreement. Bush announced that he had, in accordance with its terms, formally notified Russia of the US intent to withdraw from the treaty, stating that he would not allow the United States to “remain in a treaty that prevents us from developing effective defenses” (Bush 2001b). The primary impetus for the decision stemmed from the administration’s desire to expand BMD testing in ways that would clearly be in violation of the treaty. The removal of the ABM Treaty gave BMDO the flexibility to design, construct and test defensive components in the most advantageous way available without the legal restrictions of the treaty. Closely following Bush’s announcement, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld issued a detailed memorandum in January 2002 outlining the goals of the missile defense program, highlighting in particular four BMD priorities for the Defense Department. The first two goals dealt with the architecture: to defend the United States, deployed forces, allies and friends; and to build a layered defense against missiles “in all phases of their flight (i.e. boost, midcourse, and terminal) against all ranges of threats.” The second set of goals focused on the timeline: “to enable the Services to field elements of the overall BMDS as soon as practicable” and “to develop and test technologies, use prototype and test assets to provide early capability, if necessary, and improve the effectiveness of deployed capabilities by inserting new technologies as they become available or when the threat warrants an accelerated capability” (Rumsfeld 2002a). Additionally, Rumsfeld directed the BMDO to be redesignated the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), and shifted the agency within the Defense Department’s organizational structure so that its director would report directly to the Undersecretary of Defense (Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics) “to enhance elevated national priority and mission emphasis” (Rumsfeld 2002a). These goals were reinforced by the president himself on 16 December 2002 with the issuance of National Security Presidential Directive 23, which dictated the rapid deployment of an initial BMD capability. The president referred to the 1999 National Missile Defense Act that called for the United States to “deploy as soon as is technologically possible an effective National Missile Defense,” although the directive noted that “national” and “theater” were no longer useful terms. NSPD-23 outlined a distinctive developmental framework expressly based on proposals by Secretary Rumsfeld, including the


US Missile Defense Strategy

deployment of Ground Based Interceptors, Patriot units, and land, sea and space-based sensors. The president expressed approval for Rumsfeld’s proposals: NSPD-23 stated that “the Defense Department shall begin to execute the approach proposed by the Secretary of Defense and shall proceed with plans to deploy a set of initial missile defense capabilities beginning in 2004” (Bush 2002b).7 Immediately following the release of NSPD-23, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security J.D. Crouch, together with Lt. General Kadish of the newly renamed Missile Defense Agency, briefed reporters on the initial BMD architecture to be fielded. The long-range midcourse defense system referred to as National Missile Defense under Clinton and was now dubbed the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) program. It included ten interceptors at Fort Greely and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in 2004, with another ten to be added at Fort Greely the following year. Upgraded Aegis cruisers and destroyers armed with 10–20 sea-based SM-3 interceptors would defend deployed forces and the US homeland against short and medium-range threats. Additional Patriot units would add the final terminal layer of defenses. The Missile Defense Agency had, in August 2002, authorized the construction of a transportable sea-based X-band radar to be operational by 2005, rather than the permanent radar planned by the Clinton team for Shemya. Additionally, Crouch reported that the United States had officially requested permission from the governments of the United Kingdom and Denmark to upgrade and utilize early warning radars in Fylingdales and Thule, Greenland (Crouch and Kadish 2002). Administration officials also began informal exploratory talks with two additional European governments – Poland and the Czech Republic – regarding the possible deployment of missile defense facilities (Hildreth and Ek 2009). With an initial architecture in hand, the Bush administration was poised to develop a defensive system against long-range threats with multiple systems, two interceptor sites in the United States and a network of BMD sensors stretching from Alaska to Europe. While the addition of Aegis BMD ships and Patriot batteries would clearly strengthen the system’s defensive capabilities, the actual deployment of these elements in the multilayered defensive architecture remained unclear. To afford adequate coverage of the US homeland from short to medium-range ballistic missiles would require a substantial number of Aegis ships permanently stationed along each coastline, the implementation of which could prove unwieldy in practice. Using PAC3 batteries to create an overlapping terminal layer of protection for the

BMD and the Bush Administration


US homeland seemed would be even worse. Due to their defensive footprints, the longer-range midcourse GBIs represented a logical choice for defending larger swaths of territory while the terminal phase capabilities were more appropriate for protecting deployed forces. The technological division between national and theater defenses remained despite the conceptual adjustments of the Bush administration – it was the development of a boost phase capability that could contribute most to erasing that distinction. Although administration officials were careful not to reference the technological progress made by the previous administration, it was obvious that the planned initial capability more than slightly resembled an expanded version of Clinton’s C1 architecture. Despite claims to the contrary, MDA engineers were not starting with a blank piece of paper. Unlike Clinton, however, who focused first on theater defenses and gradually shifted his attention to national defenses, the Bush team clearly emphasized territorial defense from the very beginning, albeit in layers. Not surprisingly, those layers closest to having an operational capability were those programs emphasized by Clinton: GMD, Patriot, Aegis and THAAD. Operational Experience The technological maturity of the Patriot system was unexpectedly put to the test in 2003, when it was deployed to protect coalition forces during Operation Iraqi Freedom. During the 1991 Gulf War, Patriot batteries utilized the Patriot Anti-tactical Capability (PAC-2) interceptor designed to destroy incoming missiles with an explosive charge, and experienced uneven results. The upgraded PAC-2 Guidance Enhanced Missile (GEM) included improved sensor electronics but retained the high-explosive warhead. The modern PAC-3 interceptor missile developed during the Clinton and Bush administrations instead used kinetic energy to destroy its target. During the 2003 Iraq conflict, both Patriot systems saw combat and were successful, although the older PAC-2 GEM variant was employed more frequently than the newer PAC-3 units. Of the nine missiles intercepted by coalition forces, seven were destroyed by PAC-2 GEMs and two by PAC-3 interceptors. Iraqi forces chose to launch slower alSamoud-2 and al-Babil-100 ballistic short-range missiles rather than the faster Scud missiles, providing a less strenuous operational evaluation for the newer Patriot interceptors. Patriot batteries also mistakenly targeted three coalition aircraft during the conflict, resulting in the loss of one American and one British aircraft and three servicemen (Gormley 2003; Hildreth 2007).8 In any regard, the successful intercepts validated


US Missile Defense Strategy

the military value of missile defenses in a tactical situation and were used to indirectly validate the administration’s decision to pursue the development of other BMD elements (Kadish 2004). Despite this determination to accelerate the deployment of BMD components connected with the Pacific Test Bed, implementation of the administration’s plans proceeded much more slowly than anticipated. By early 2005, MDA had emplaced six ground-based interceptors at Fort Greely and two at Vandenberg AFB. Seven Aegis ships had been modified to support long-range surveillance and tracking, and two ships had been outfitted with SM-3 interceptors to provide an engagement capability. Upgrades to the Cobra Dane early warning radar were completed and additional EWR upgrades were underway at Beale, California and Fylingdales, United Kingdom. The Sea-based X-band radar (SBX) had been built and was undergoing testing before being stationed at its homeport of Adak, Alaska. Finally, the necessary command and control components had been developed to facilitate the networking of the individual components into an integrated system (Obering 2005). US Air Force Lt. General Henry “Trey” Obering III, Lt. General Kadish’s successor as MDA director, assured Congress that the agency was “on the right track to deliver multilayered, integrated capabilities,” but warned of programmatic adjustments after several unsuccessful test flights and an accidental explosion at a booster motor assembly facility (Obering 2005). In the following two years, the missile defense program made less progress than anticipated, but a steady trickle of additional GBIs and SM-3 interceptors continued to be integrated into the system together with further work on upgrading existing sensors. During this period, Obering and MDA paid particular attention to the Ground-based Midcourse Defense element, viewing progress there as “critical” due to its expected role as the “backbone of our national missile defense capability for years to come” (Obering 2005). External events once again influenced the BMD program in 2006 as both North Korea and Iran conducted ballistic missile flight tests. On 4 July, North Korea launched up to six missiles of various ranges, including a recently developed three stage variant capable of intercontinental ranges, the Taepodong 2. The ICBM’s flight ended prematurely – after a mere 42 seconds – when the rocket’s first stage failed to burn completely and the missile fell into the Sea of Japan. The other missiles launched were a mix of short-range Scud-C missiles and intermediate-range No Dongs that ended up in the Sea of Japan as well. The US Northern Command tracked the missiles using ground, sea and space-based sensors. GMD interceptors were operational at Fort

BMD and the Bush Administration


Greely and Vandenberg AFB, but remained idle after it was quickly apparent that the North Korean missiles posed no threat to US territory. MDA director Obering voiced his optimism that the system would have been effective if needed, testifying the following year that “we were able to provide the president with an option – an option to activate an integrated missile defense system, a system that I am confident would have worked” (Obering 2007). During a press conference only days after the North Korean tests, President Bush acknowledged the country’s missile defense capability remained “modest,” but remarked, “I think we had a reasonable chance of shooting it down; at least that’s what the military commander has told me” (Sanger 2006). The test launch provided the impetus for MDA and the government of Japan to accelerate efforts at the system’s first forward deployed Xband radar, stationed at Shariki Air Base, Japan, which collected data during the test launches along with Aegis ships positioned off the coast of Japan. Lt. General Obering detailed the valuable operational experience gained from North Korea’s launches in testimony the following year: “we successfully took the system out of the development mode and handed it over to the warfighter for operation. This activation of the system last June helped us to refine procedures and taught us invaluable lessons about system operations (Obering 2007). The successful targeting and destruction of a crippled reconnaissance satellite in February 2008 by the missile defense system, using X-band sensors and launching an SM-3 interceptor missile from an Aegis BMD ship, offered an additional operational test for the missile defense system. The European Third Site, NATO and Global Missile Defense The United States and several of its allies in Europe had conducted informal discussions regarding an interceptor site outside the United States; MDA director Obering noted in his 2006 budget testimony that “as part of our effort to make the system more robust, improve defense of our allies, and address threat uncertainties, we are continuing discussions with our allies in Europe regarding the deployment of radars and a Third Site for Ground Based Interceptors” (Obering 2006). The Bush administration initiated formal discussions of these Third Site elements with Poland and the Czech Republic in early 2007. According to Congressional testimony by Brian R. Green, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategic Capabilities, the placement of ten ground-based interceptors in Poland and a midcourse radar in the Czech Republic was “intended to counter the increasing threat from Iranian missiles” and “optimize the defensive coverage of both Europe and the


US Missile Defense Strategy

United States. They would provide a second layer of defense for the United States” (Green 2007). These plans also included an additional radar – a transportable X-band sensor similar to that stationed in Shariki, Japan – to be positioned in an unidentified country closer to Iran (Hildreth and Ek 2009). This radar was eventually stationed in Israel. After the Bush administration announced its plans for European missile defense, Congressional committees in both houses commissioned studies to evaluate other options for defending Europe. Through a defense authorization bill, the Senate Armed Services Committee questioned whether other BMD assets might be more easily and expediently deployed to defend Europe. A combination of Patriot PAC-3, Aegis BMD and THAAD could provide near-term defensive capability from short, medium and (eventually) intermediate-range threats from Iran. This option was promoted by, among others, Representative Ellen Tauscher of California. MDA Director Obering took issue with the alternate plan, arguing that the significant numbers of Aegis ships required to remain “on station” to ensure sufficient coverage would likely make such plans challenging to implement (Hildreth and Ek 2009). Deputy Undersecretary Green acknowledged the flexibility of mobile assets such as Aegis BMD and Patriot, but argued that the permanence and predictability of a ground-based interceptor site provided greater political and strategic benefit (Green 2007). Defense Secretary Robert Gates recommended to the president in December 2006 that the Third Site plan offered the best means of protecting both the United States and its allies given Iran’s long-range threat (Gates and Cartwright 2009).9 The United States, through its plans for European missile defense, hoped to provide both a redundant capability for homeland defense against threats emanating from the Middle East – given that both its interceptor sites were based on the western edge of the continental US – as well as provide some defensive coverage for its European allies. A purely short-range capability was undesirable as it could not accomplish the first task, but the two-stage GBIs earmarked for Poland would not be able to defend Europe in its entirety. This led to discussions between representatives of the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) regarding the possibility of incorporating BMD assets from NATO members into a European missile defense structure, filling in the coverage gaps left by the US Third Site. The North Atlantic Council had in March 2005 established the Active Layered Theater Ballistic Missile Defence (ALTBMD) program office, with the intent of creating a coordinated network of national missile defense assets within NATO. This “system of systems” would

BMD and the Bush Administration


coordinate alliance members’ national BMD assets through a battle management, communications, command, control and intelligence (BMC3I) element. For lower tier defense, the system could include PAC-3, MEADS and the Aster 30 SAMP/T developed by France and Italy. Upper tier defense would be provided by THAAD and Aegis/SM3 assets.10 The number of member states fielding such assets remained limited throughout the Bush administration’s time in office, and coordination between US BMDS and ALTBMD remained in the planning stages. As the Aegis BMD ship-based platform increasingly demonstrated its potential through testing, the combination of this asset with joint US– Japanese assets in Northeast Asia, US–Israeli cooperation in the Middle East and the prospect of joint US–NATO networked missile defense capabilities in Europe allowed the United States to consider a truly globe-spanning BMD capability. President Bush directed the US Strategic Command in January 2003 to coordinate the planning and integration of global missile defense. During Congressional testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in March 2004, USStratcom commander Admiral James Ellis, Jr. stated that the missile defense mission required a global approach, due to its expansion from coordinating limited shorter-range systems to a broad multi-layered BMD system designed to defend the United States, its allies and deployed forces. For USStratcom, this entails synchronizing and integrating “all combatant commanders’ Ballistic Missile Defense plans into a fully coordinated, cohesive Global Ballistic Missile Defense strategy. The concept is designed to minimize operational vulnerabilities, mitigate risk, and appropriately set and prioritize resource requirements from a global perspective” (Ellis 2004). By the end of 2008, as Bush was preparing to hand over the reins of responsibility to newly elected president Barack Obama, the United States had deployed an initial missile defense architecture consisting of 26 GBIs in Alaska and California, 32 Standard Missile-3 interceptors placed onboard a total of 18 Aegis BMD ships capable both of engaging ballistic missile threats and performing long-range surveillance and tracking, 635 PAC-3 short-range interceptors, the Sea-based X-band radar (SBX), UEWR sensors at Beale, California, Fylingdales, UK and Shemya, Alaska, two forward-based radars stationed in Japan and Israel, the Defense Support Program satellites and various C2BMC elements deployed around the globe. Development continued on the Airborne Laser, THAAD, MEADS, KEI, MKV and the NFIRE satellite program. In addition, US allies in a number of countries were also pursuing BMD


US Missile Defense Strategy

capabilities with the intention of integrating them into a US-led global missile defense architecture. BMD Testing and Development: The Economic Component

When Lt. General Kadish presented his annual budget testimony before Congress in July 2001, less than six months after the inauguration of President George W. Bush, the BMDO director (soon to be MDA director) made it abundantly clear that the US missile defense program was shifting its focus dramatically. In addition to the new conceptualization of the system’s architecture – a layered system to defend the United States, allies and deployed forces – the administration was also determined to create a new and more flexible research, development, testing and evaluation (RDT&E) framework more conducive to constructing an operational system from such cutting edge technology: The new program is a major change in our approach to developing ballistic missile defense. The previous National Missile Defense program, for example, was a high risk production and deployment program dependent for its success on an RDT&E effort that was underfunded but charged with developing a system that would operate at the outset with near perfection; and it was based on rigid military requirements. The new program is built around a fully funded, rigorous RDT&E effort designed to demonstrate increasing capability over time through a robust, realistic testing program (Kadish 2001).

Capabilities-Based Planning and Spiral Development This new developmental construct reflected a broader shift towards “capability-based planning” within the Defense Department. Rather than relying on a preconceived set of “rigid military requirements” based on the expected level of technological and operational capability needed for the system to be effective when deployed, the increased emphasis on strategic uncertainty within the Defense Department led Kadish and his team of developers to pursue a more evolutionary and exploratory process. The development strategy pursued by MDA reflected a new approach by the Defense Department known as evolutionary acquisition with spiral development (EA/SD). Known colloquially as simply “spiral development,” the concept stemmed from a desire to be more responsive and flexible, as well as attempt to control development costs. With the rapid advancements taking place in missile defense technology, spiral development offered a logical way to provide some defensive capability while retaining the flexibility to progressively

BMD and the Bush Administration


refine the technology. The new evolutionary approach also emphasized the early initial deployment of capabilities, and the BMD program was reorganized “with the aim of developing militarily useful capabilities in biannual blocks, starting as early as the 2004–2006 timeframe” (Kadish 2001). Finally, Kadish promised a robust testing regime with a “larger number of tests than in the past,” adding that the new testing philosophy was “to add, step-by-step and over time, complexity such as countermeasures and operations in increasingly stressful environments” (Kadish 2001). Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld codified this approach in his January 2002 memo, directing the newly formed MDA to pursue an evolutionary, capabilities-based approach whereby the system could be improved incrementally through block upgrades. To facilitate the necessary institutional flexibility needed for spiral development, Rumsfeld took the unusual step of releasing MDA from normal acquisition and requirements guidelines, including the cancellation of the missile defense operational requirements documents (ORD). According to a 2005 article penned by a MDA program manager, “the missile defense ORDs mandated discrete and exact levels of effectiveness (key performance parameters) for each missile defense element,” while the accompanying capstone document “laid out the overall framework for the entire missile defense mission” (Biggs 2005). Removal of the performance requirements – what Kadish referred to in his 2001 testimony as “rigid military requirements” calling for near perfection – allowed the MDA to deploy an initial, imperfect capability upon which improvements could be made. GMD Rushes to Failure Once Again The creation of a missile defense “test bed” for the Block 2004 development phase was a natural consequence of this acquisition framework. The decision to include the interceptor site at Fort Greely and the Cobra Dane radar in the test bed architecture was curious, however – particularly the testimony of Dr. Patricia Sanders, BMDO Deputy Director for Test, Simulation and Evaluation, just two weeks after Kadish and Wolfowitz described the test bed in their 2001 Congressional testimony. BMDO, said Sanders, would not be launching any interceptors from Fort Greely “during the testing process because these missiles would fly over land in violation of current flight test safety restrictions” (Sanders 2001). The fixed westerly orientation of the Cobra Dane radar, originally intended to detect Soviet missile launches, provides high quality tracking of trajectories from Russia and North


US Missile Defense Strategy

Korea, but would not be useful for looking southward toward the planned test bed architecture (Gronlund and Wright 2001). Additionally, as Wolfowitz made clear in his testimony, the L-band Cobra Dane radar would not be useful for the fundamental BMD task of discriminating warhead from decoys and debris. Indeed, “in any operational system, we anticipate that the X-band radar at Shemya would be required to provide needed discrimination, even with all possible upgrades to Cobra Dane” (Wolfowitz 2001). Construction of an X-band radar at Shemya was included in the Clinton-proposed architecture and described as a necessary component for GMD by Wolfowitz, but was not included in the administration’s test bed plans. This capability gap was eventually filled with the construction of the Sea-based X-band radar (SBX), initially homeported in Adak, Alaska. There appeared to be inconsistencies between the capabilities required for an initial capability and those needed for testing purposes. Over the next several years, the MDA seemed to struggle with President Bush’s December 2002 decision in to use the test bed as a hybrid testing platform and initial operating capability. As Director Kadish presented his annual budget testimony before Congress in the spring of 2003, he voiced a sense of optimism over the change of plans borne from a series of successful intercept tests the previous year. “Given our fielding approach, and given the successful testing we have accomplished to date, I believe we are ready for this” (Kadish 2003). Kadish noted that prior to the December decision, the budget would have “reflected the development of a set of Test Bed capabilities that could have been made operational. Instead of building a Test Bed that might be used operationally, we are fielding an initial defensive capability that we will continue to test” (Kadish 2003). He acknowledged the need to “strike a balance between our desire for perfection in the missile defenses we deploy and our desire to have as soon as possible a defensive capability where none exists today” (Kadish 2003). This tension would remain throughout the Bush administration’s time in office. Director Kadish had in 2001 promised a “robust” test regime with more frequent and more realistic testing enabled by sizable funding increases for missile defense programs, a large portion of which was devoted to the GMD effort. The program achieved a series of four successful GMD flight tests from July 2001 through October 2002, reportedly even incorporating countermeasures in the form of decoy balloons during an Integrated Flight Test (IFT-8) in March 2002. But in December 2002, the exo-atmospheric kill vehicle (EKV) failed to separate from its booster and was unsuccessful in intercepting the target

BMD and the Bush Administration


missile during an Integrated Flight Test (IFT-10), and occurred less than a week before the release of NSPD-23. Integrated flight testing was abruptly suspended for over two years, ushering in what was to be a nearly four-year drought of successful flight test results. Punctuated only by the failures of IFT-13c in December 2004 and IFT-14 in February 2005, the GMD program did not conduct a successful intercept again until September 2006. Leadership of MDA had transferred from Kadish to Lt. General Henry “Trey” Obering in July 2004, and Obering established an independent review team (IRT) to examine the GMD program after the failed February 2005 test. The review team quickly set to work and submitted its report to MDA only a month later, in March 2005. Regarding the factors leading to the failed tests, the IRT observed that four “program management variables” normally were involved when developing complex systems such as GMD: performance, schedule, cost and risk. The team felt that although the performance requirements were well-defined, the schedule had no margin for error, and budgets – despite the increased funding – remained tight. When the program encountered problems, the only factor able to be adjusted was risk, and it was always adjusted upward. The IRT warned that “if risk remains the relief valve, additional test failures will likely occur that will result in schedule slips and cost increases” (IRT 2005). Particular emphasis was placed on schedule pressures: The initial deployment of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system was intended to be the start of an iterative, spiral-type development process. Due to a need to deploy rapidly, there has not yet been an opportunity to complete the verification of a number of key components of the architecture, and some will be phased in over time (IRT 2005, p. 17).

These deployment pressures directly affected quality control measures, according to GMD personnel interviewed for a 2006 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report. The GMD program fielded an initial capability in 2004–2005, as it was directed to do. However, there were consequences of the accelerated schedule. The fielding schedule for some GMD components slipped and the program could not complete an end-to-end test needed to verify GMD’s performance….GMD officials told us that in the process of accelerating GMD’s schedule they became inattentive to weaknesses in the program’s quality control procedures. The GMD program had realized for some time that its quality controls needed to


US Missile Defense Strategy

be strengthened. However, the program’s accelerated schedule left little time to address the problems (GAO 2006, pp. 29-30).

The GBIs emplaced at Greely and Vandenberg were also a manifestation of inadequate quality control. After the initial deployment, MDA discovered, according to the GAO, that “the performance of some ground-based interceptors could be degraded because the interceptors included inappropriate or potentially unreliable parts”; retrofitting of the GBIs had begun as of 2008 but would take an additional four years and the risk remained that some GBIs “might not perform as designed” (Francis 2008). In its 2006 report, the GAO concluded that “MDA succeeded in fielding an initial missile defense capability by the end of fiscal year 2004 and in improving that capability by 31 December 2005, when Block 2004 ended. However, the block included fewer components than planned, cost more than anticipated, and its performance is unverified” (GAO 2006, p. 18). The judgment seemed clear: after the overly ambitious NMD program of the Clinton administration was accused of a “rush to failure,” the Bush administration had, with nearly twice the available financial resources, fallen into a similar trap. The assets had been deployed, but no one could be certain – and had no way of being certain – that the system would be effective. With a clear warning from the IRT that the continuation of such practices would only lead to more failure, the development difficulties experienced by the GMD program should have served as a valuable corrective and impetus for a readjusted and reinvigorated testing regime. It did not. Strategy and Politics of Testing for GMD The deployment of an initial capability appeared to add additional complexity to an already complex testing program. Rather than pursuing a developmental technology that would eventually be fielded, the nowdeployed system also needed to prove itself through testing in order to be strategically effective. “The test program,” the IRT authors declared, is designed to verify the system performance under increasingly realistic conditions and, over time, should increase confidence in the system’s performance. Successful test intercepts will send a strong message to adversaries of the US, who may be dissuaded by the effectiveness of the system from investing further in ballistic missile forces and/or be deterred from attacking the US, our deployed forces, our allies, and friends. Therefore, successful flight testing is a strategic issue as well as a key to continued successful system development (IRT 2005, p. 7).

BMD and the Bush Administration


In addition to reminding MDA of the strategic implications of GMD testing, the IRT report authors also concluded that a new approach to the testing program could reduce risk. Rather than asking, as MDA program managers had done prior to the failure in 2002, why a flight test should not occur, they should instead be required to prove why a flight test was necessary. Testing through failure was no longer a sensible policy in light of the deployed system. The IRT recommended a new phase for GMD: “‘The Performance and Reliability Verification Phase,’ in which mission assurance becomes the highest priority objective” (IRT 2005). As scholar Graham Spinardi concluded in a 2008 article, “the strong desire of the Bush administration for early deployment may have undermined the role that flight-testing can play in improving the technology. Because the rush to deploy has created high expectations as regards to performance, every flight-test was now inevitably a ‘public experiment’” (Spinardi 2008). The IRT essentially recommended that the testing program become more realistic – as long as the MDA could ensure successful tests. In the space of the three year period between the IRT report and the end of the Bush administration, MDA attempted only four intercept flight tests and achieved successful intercepts in three of them (September 2006, September 2007 and December 2008) (MDA 2013c). The target missile malfunctioned and flew off course during a May 2007 flight test, and an interceptor was never launched. MDA Director Obering spoke to the pace of testing in his 2008 budget testimony: We have been asked why we have not conducted more tests of the long-range defenses to date. The answer is that we have found it very difficult to do more than one or two a year. One of the reasons these flight tests are so expensive, upwards of $100 million a test or more, is that we employ several data collection assets. We want to make sure we capture every piece of information about the test that we possibly can. The result is that we collect so much data with each test that it takes months just to sift through it, catalogue it, and analyze it properly (Obering 2008).

Despite Kadish’s 2001 testimony promising a more realistic testing regime and the 2005 IRT report recommending “increasingly realistic testing,” the flight tests instead exhibited a stagnating level of complexity. The three successful intercepts between 2006 and 2008 were almost identical despite a new, longer test trajectory and the notable integration of multiple sensors in the test: a target missile launched from Kodiak Island intercepted by a GBI from Vandenberg AFB. The target missile still traveled a much shorter distance – and


US Missile Defense Strategy

therefore flew much slower – than the actual ICBM threat it represented, providing the interceptor with a less challenging task. Much of flight test also appeared to be scripted, with important discrimination data regarding warhead flight characteristics and other sensory inputs preloaded into the C2BMC system. The GMD sensors were thereby presented with a specific “expected” scenario during the flight test, eliminating the need for the system to spontaneously produce and act upon this information. None of the flight tests since the failed 2002 test included a more complex target package than the mock warhead to be intercepted, despite the possibility of an adversary developing penetration aids such as countermeasures (Coyle 2009). The lack of progressively more realistic testing conditions or more predictable success rates has caused some analysts to question the progress of the GMD program. As the Defense Department’s 2009 DOT&E report concluded of GMD testing, “all intercepts have occurred within a small portion of the threat battlespace and under nearly the same intercept conditions. Although the MDA has plans to test over a wider range of intercept conditions and threat battlespace, until this is accomplished, there will be insufficient data to accredit the models and simulations needed to assess GMD operational effectiveness” (McQueary 2009). In a 2007 CRS report, Steve Hildreth reflected over the kinetic energy “hit to kill” concept and the combined NMD/GMD effort, writing that “there do not appear to be any recognizable patterns that emerge to account for the mostly unsuccessful history of the effort. Nor is there conclusive evidence of a learning curve, such as increased success over time relative to the first tests of the concept over 20 years ago” (Hildreth 2007). Progress: Terminal BMD and Shorter-Range Midcourse BMD Hildreth was more optimistic regarding “hit to kill” technology for theater defenses, based on the testing records of the PAC-3 interceptor and the Navy’s Aegis BMD/SM-3 programs. Deployed during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, the Patriot PAC-3 system gained operational experience and posted a solid – albeit limited – performance record. The 2003 friendly fire incidents revealed serious but correctable flaws with the Patriot sensors. Further testing involving a combination of PAC-2 and PAC-3 interceptors defending against multiple simultaneous ballistic and air-breathing threats – a highly relevant and likely scenario – conducted near the end of the administration’s term in office provided mixed results and revealed that refinements were needed, even the technologically mature Patriot system.

BMD and the Bush Administration


The Aegis BMD system also gained some operational experience during the Bush years, intercepting and destroying a wayward satellite in 2008. In contrast to the deployed but relatively untested GMD system, continued technological development and adjustments to Aegis BMD and Patriot reflected their operational or near-operational status. As Philip Coyle observed in his 2008 Congressional testimony, the Aegis program proceeded more methodically and with a greater degree of realism than the GMD effort (Coyle 2008). While the early versions of the SM-3 interceptor lacked the necessary fly-out velocities for longerrange defenses, the Aegis system appeared fairly capable against short to medium-range missiles during testing. A third shorter-range system, Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), received a slight name change – ‘Theater’ had become ‘Terminal’ – as a result of the Bush administration’s removal of the NMD-TMD typology. The program struggled mightily throughout the early 1990s during its demonstration-validation stage with a string of failed intercepts between 1995 and 1999, before several successful tests starting in 1999. The program began flight tests again in 2005 after a six year hiatus as part of its engineering and manufacturing phase, with mostly positive results (Hildreth 2005). By 2008, it was considered to be on the cusp of having operational status, though still considered a less proven technology than Patriot or Aegis. These three systems – PAC-3, Aegis BMD and THAAD – occupied the same conceptually unclear spiral development domain as GMD – where the systems could not be considered fully operational but were clearly past the developmental stage. Just as the Bush administration had pressed ahead with an initial capability GMD deployment, something similar was occurring with these three systems, but on a lesser scale. While they clearly underwent more rigorous testing regiments than GMD, all three were either pressed into this “initial capability” service status or into a manufacturing phase without having completely validated their operational status as battle-ready. The original flight test plans for THAAD, for example, included an aggressive schedule of 15 tests starting in 2006 in order to begin operational testing by 2009: only seven tests were completed with two “non-tests” due to target missile malfunctions (GAO 2006; MDA 2013c). Pressures to field any type of initial capability available appeared to compress pre-deployment testing and excluded some rigorous operationally realistic testing scenarios. Once these assets were viewed as ‘operational,’ as GMD, PAC-3 and Aegis BMD were – they became susceptible to the strategic concerns of test failure expressed in 2005 by the IRT. Even with the more mature technologies, the MDA was moving quickly.


US Missile Defense Strategy

Several MDA programs remained clearly in the realm of developmental efforts – labeled Capability Development Programs – and included the Airborne Laser, the Kinetic Energy Interceptor, the Multiple Kill Vehicle and the Space Tracking and Surveillance System. The ABL program was restructured in 2004 and achieved two significant milestones soon after. A series of successful tests combining six smaller lasers into a single concentrated beam – “First Light” – was achieved in 2004, while tests to evaluate the system’s flight worthiness – “First Flight” – followed in 2005. The other Capability Development programs exhibited very limited progress during the course of the Bush administration. BMD Budgets The Clinton administration had steadily increased its focus on national missile defense after a period in which the BMDO appeared intent on developing tactical theater defenses, resulting in a situation in which NMD and TMD received equal economic support. The Bush administration arrived with a new architectural approach. The missile defense effort would prioritize a comprehensive, layered approach, whereby each layer was ostensibly seen as equally important. The programs inherited from the Clinton administration exhibited dissimilar levels of technological maturity – shorter-range midcourse and terminal assets like Patriot and Aegis were much closer to operational status than boost phase systems or long-range midcourse defense. The need to further develop less mature systems, however, came into conflict with the desire to quickly deploy an initial capability, which was best accomplished by investing most heavily in those systems nearest an operational capacity (Patriot and Aegis) or the GMD system that provided a large defended footprint. The Bush shift from a NMD/TMD conceptual framework to a layered architecture complicates any direct comparisons between the Clinton and Bush administrations in terms of budgetary priorities. Additionally, budget data for each program is less readily available than dollar amounts for each “segment” or BMD layer: boost, midcourse or terminal.11 From these numbers, two patterns nevertheless emerge. The Bush administration clearly prioritized national missile defences, at least initially. The midcourse defense segment (with GMD as the largest recipient) received by far the largest portion of BMD funding from 2002-2006, but this gradually decreased as the THAAD and Patriot program budgets grew. Additionally, the amounts consumed by these individual development programs decreased over time even as the total BMD budget steadily grew from $7.7 billion in 2002 to just over $10

BMD and the Bush Administration


billion by 2009, suggesting that operating and construction expenses increased as system elements were deployed and BMD became more operational (DOD 2010). After calls from Congress to alter the biannual block construct in order to improve transparency, accountability, and oversight, MDA shifted in 2007 to the following threat-based block structure: Block 1: Defend the United States from limited North Korean longrange threats Block 2: Defend allies and deployed forces from short- to mediumrange threats in one theater Block 3: Expand the defense of the United States to include limited Iranian long-range threat Block 4: Defend allies and deployed forces in Europe from limited Iranian long-range and intermediate-range threats Block 5: Expand defense of allies and deployed forces from short to intermediate-range threats in two regions (McQueary 2009) While this appeared to have little overall effect operationally, it provided a clear prioritization of the threats for which MDA was assumed to be developing defenses. Asia appeared to be the main focus of the earlier blocks, with the GMD system addressing block one, USJapanese cooperation with Aegis and Patriot in block two, the European Third Site in block three, expanded US-NATO cooperation in block four with a broad layered BMD capability as the goal of block five. One final research and development decision worth noting was the creation in March 2007 of the Missile Defense Executive Board (MDEB) as a response to some of the problems created when Defense Secretary Rumsfeld streamlined the BMD acquisitions process in the name of expediency. The lack of oversight and coordination with the military branches proved disorderly in a number of ways for the management of missile defense programs, and the MDEB eventually led to procedural improvements (Gates 2010a, p. 42). BMD Outreach: The Diplomatic Component

The unwavering rhetorical support for a robust ballistic missile defense system by candidate George W. Bush during the 2000 presidential campaign served to prepare both supporters and detractors of BMD for the inevitable surge of activity that began soon after Bush took office. Bush and his team of advisors stressed the need to protect US allies as well as the US homeland. By removing the word “national” from


US Missile Defense Strategy

“national missile defense,” they immediately made the system more acceptable to European allies concerned with “decoupling.” When Defense Secretary Rumsfeld attended the annual international security conference held in Munich only two weeks after Bush’s inauguration, the New York Times observed how the new administration had “already managed to shift the focus of the European security debate,” so that “the issue is more how the United States should go about developing missile defenses, than whether it should try” (Gordon 2001b). Rumsfeld appeared to make little headway in allaying the concerns of European leaders at the conference, who remained unenthusiastic about US plans for the system and Rumsfeld’s vague proposal to assist European countries in constructing their own BMD systems. Sensing the inevitability of the policy, leaders nevertheless refrained from voicing strong opposition or protests to the clear path being taken by the administration on missile defenses. Failure to develop BMD, Rumsfeld argued, would have consequences for Europe. The United States may eventually become unwilling to confront regional aggression by ballistic missile-capable states or may resort to preemptive strikes against rogues. The administration was even considering deep cuts in its ballistic missile inventory to alleviate concerns over a new arms race being sparked by missile defenses (Gordon 2001b). The Bush administration wasted little time in engaging not only its skeptical allies but also China and Russia, whose strategic deterrents could be potentially affected by a US defensive system. Bush met with senior Chinese officials in March to discuss the possible sale of Aegis destroyers to Taiwan, which China adamantly opposed. Beijing had signaled its willingness to accept theater defenses in Japan and discuss the Aegis sale. In the wake of worsening Sino–American relations, a Chinese official expressed his country’s concern not that the United States would use BMD to launch a preemptive first strike but that missile defenses would cause the United States to act aggressively in the region.12 He warned that US arms reductions would not satisfy Beijing as long as BMD was developed concurrently and suggested that if missile defenses were deployed, China might focus on developing inexpensive asymmetrical means to counter them: “It has many, many parts and most of them are vulnerable to an attack” (Gordon 2001a). Abrogating the ABM Treaty Just as the Clinton administration had attempted during its final year, President Bush initially set out to convince the Russian leadership to accept modifications to the ABM Treaty. High level diplomatic meetings, such as those between Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and

BMD and the Bush Administration


Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz in May 2001, failed to alleviate Russian concerns. On 10 September 2001, US Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith arrived in Moscow for another round of such discussions. The terrorist attacks in New York and Washington the following day greatly altered American security policy, but questions of nuclear weapons, strategic balance and missile defenses were less affected. The heightened sense of vulnerability may instead have led to broader support for missile defenses and a renewed determination to construct them. The president personally engaged Russian President Vladimir Putin on multiple occasions and their friendly relationship became even closer after the 9/11 attacks. In the end, however, Bush failed to convince the Russian leader to agree to revise the ABM Treaty, who protested that the flexibility demanded by the United States would effectively destroy the treaty (Sanger and Tyler 2001). Putin later remarked that despite requesting repeatedly from the Americans “specific parameters that stood in the way of US desires to develop defensive systems…we heard only insistent requests for bilateral withdrawal from the treaty” (Wines 2001). On 13 December 2001, the President formally gave the legally required notice to Russia that the United States would withdraw from the ABM Treaty in six months’ time, emphasizing in his announcement the outdated nature of the Cold War era treaty and the need to protect the United States from terrorist attacks and rogue states. The Russian response to the announcement was muted, framing the decision as a disagreement between friendly nations. Rather than enlarge its nuclear arsenal in response, Putin suggested that Russia would instead attempt to secure an arms control agreement to replace the ABM Treaty. The United States and Russia signed a treaty on Strategic Offensive Reductions (SORT), also known as the Moscow Treaty, in May 2002. In the accompanying joint declaration, both parties agreed to increase transparency and cooperation on missile defense, including the creation of a joint center for exchanging early warning data and joint BMD exercises (State Department 2002). On 14 June, one day after the ABM official expired, Russia announced that it no longer would be bound by the 1993 START II treaty, which banned MIRVed missiles. The agreement, which was never legally binding, had been rendered somewhat irrelevant by the Moscow Treaty and the move was interpreted as more political than having real strategic significance (Wines 2002). Russia and China signed an agreement in July 2001 to develop a coordinated response to an eventual US withdrawal from the treaty, thereby giving the appearance of unified resistance to Bush’s plans. This


US Missile Defense Strategy

did not appear to have any tangible effects, although the two countries had similar responses to the US abrogation. In September 2001, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, in a diplomatic gesture marking a change in longstanding US policy, signaled the administration would not oppose the continued modernization of China’s nuclear arsenal in a bid to convince Beijing that US missile defenses were not aimed at them (Sanger 2001). While remaining unconvinced, the Chinese reaction to the treaty’s demise was mild as officials reiterated their opposition to US missile defense plans and their concerns over a new global arms race (Rosenthal 2001). Pushing Ahead: Missile Defense in Europe In Europe, the Bush team benefited from the previous administration’s diplomatic efforts toward reluctant allies. While Clinton’s belated political discussions could not overcome the appearance of having somewhat neglected Europe on this issue, these preliminary overtures had an effect. It should be noted that Clinton’s diplomacy was just one of many cycles of transatlantic discussions on missile defense, or as Colin Gray wryly observed: “the Western defense community has impaled itself debating this subject in every decade since the 1960s” (Gray 2002). Regarding the current “cycle of impalement,” however, one survey of European views on missile defense conducted in July 2000 observed a considerable change in the European official and expert thinking on the many aspects of missile defense issue of the last several months. This change is primarily the result of the substantial time and effort that the administration has invested in consultation with allied governments during that period. There is still a wide gap in perception…but the dynamic is towards a narrowing of that gap and towards a greater similarity of views on all the major issues involved. (Cambone, Daalder et al. 2000)

The new administration followed with a new round of intense political discussions throughout Europe, most notably after Bush’s May 2001 address on missile defense. Throughout the next year, the administration’s foreign policy efforts in related areas also served to address several main European objections. The administration’s fundamental view that US BMD should also defend its allies lessened worries over strategic “decoupling,” while diplomatic efforts alleviated concerns over the Russian reaction to missile defenses and apprehension that these tensions in combination with other strategic implications of BMD might adversely affect global arms control efforts. It helped to

BMD and the Bush Administration


alleviate allied concerns that relations between the United States and Russia were on solid footing, with the muted official Russian reaction to the ABM Treaty, the recently concluded 2002 Moscow Treaty and a good personal relationship between Putin and Bush. Another factor that may have reduced discomfort over Russia’s future relationship with Europe was the creation in 2002 of the Russia–NATO Council, which provided an institutional framework for handling such issues. In 2002, the United States formally requested the use of the early warning radar at Fylingdales in the United Kingdom, as well as requesting from Denmark the use of a UEWR in Thule, Greenland. Parallel to this process, the United States also initiated bilateral talks in 2002 to explore the possibility of establishing a ground-based interceptor site in Poland and a midcourse X-band radar in the Czech Republic. This so-called Third Site would primarily offer better protection for the United States against long-range ballistic missile threats from the Middle East, but would also offer some coverage of Europe (Hildreth and Ek 2009). Meanwhile, NATO pursued BMD capabilities in parallel to the US plans. At a 2002 meeting of NATO Defense Ministers in Brussels, representatives noted the consensus on the need for theater missile defenses for deployed forces and urged the upcoming NATO summit to consider options for territorial and population defenses – consistent with the indivisibility of alliance security. At the 2002 summit in Prague, NATO proceeded to order a feasibility study on this topic; the resulting report was subsequently approved by NATO in April 2006. The ALTBMD program office was established in 2005, and NATO’s missile defense plans, although perhaps prompted at first by the United States, eventually seemed to gather its own momentum. By the 2008 Bucharest summit, the alliance had considered the US proposals for Europeanbased BMD assets and decided to study options “to link this capability with current NATO missile defence efforts as a way to ensure that it would be an integral part of any future NATO-wide missile defence architecture” (NATO 2008). By this time, the Russian position had become increasingly hostile to US missile defense plans in Europe, partially due to concerns over the adverse effects of BMD on its strategic deterrent force but more likely due to political objections. The Russian leadership watched the eastward expansion of NATO and American bases with growing alarm, viewing the possible placement of missile defense assets in Poland and the Czech Republic as an unacceptable encroachment of Russia’s perceived sphere of influence (Finn 2007). Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, during a diplomatic tour of Europe to reassure both Russia and European


US Missile Defense Strategy

allies, rejected any possibility of a “new Cold War” and invited Russia to participate as a partner in missile defense. Russian officials ignored the invitation, reiterating their belief that BMD was a “destabilizing factor which could have significant impact on regional and global security” (Reuters 2007). Less than a week after Gates’s Moscow visit, President Putin announced that Russia would suspend its obligations under the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, an agreement which had yet to be fully ratified by any of the parties but held significant symbolic value. Russia also suspended its participation in joint theater missile defense exercises held regularly since the mid-1990s. As tensions increased between the United States, Europe and Russia, President Putin delivered a stark warning prior to a June 2007 G8 meeting: “If the American nuclear potential grows in European territory, we will have new targets in Europe” (BBC 2007). In the days that followed, however, President Putin suggested a number of modifications to the US plans that Russia might find more acceptable. Moscow would not “rule out” accepting missile defenses in Europe if the United States were to station interceptor missiles either in Iraq, Turkey or on sea-based platforms. Additionally, the Russian president proposed incorporating into the US BMD architecture a Soviet-era early warning radar still operated under lease by Moscow in Gabala, Azerbaijan. Finally, he suggested that the United States, Russia, and European countries conduct a joint evaluation of ballistic missile threats through 2012. Putin’s proposals were viewed as a positive sign by the Bush administration, but the specifics were met with skepticism (Chivers 2007). By the end of Bush’s term in office, therefore, the United States had achieved a significant diplomatic victory in NATO for missile defense, but deeply entrenched tensions remained between Washington, Moscow and Beijing. While disagreements between the United States and China over missile defense had been largely overshadowed by the political conflict unfolding in Europe, the Chinese continued to express their displeasure. In January 2007, the Chinese successfully tested a nascent anti-satellite capability, destroying one of its older weather satellites reaching the end of its useful life. While not directly related to the missile defense program, the demonstration of technological prowess and the threat of an arms race in space caused concern in Washington (Broad and Sanger 2007).13 In 2008, the new Russian president Dmitri Medvedev and Chinese president Hu Jintao released a joint statement criticizing plans for missile defenses “in certain regions of the world,” because such systems “do not support strategic balance and stability, and harm international efforts to control arms and the non-proliferation

BMD and the Bush Administration


process” as well as adversely impacting “trust between states and regional stability” (Wong and Cowell 2008). Expanding the International Network of Partnerships Apart from the growing political consensus among European allies regarding the usefulness of missile defenses and the institutional processes unfolding inside NATO to coordinate a “system of systems”, some individual member states also became active participants in the US BMD system. The UK and Denmark granted the United States permission to upgrade and utilize radars on their territory. Poland and the Czech Republic signed bilateral agreements with Washington to host BMD elements, though these agreements were not formally ratified by their respective elective bodies and remained in the planning phases throughout the Bush administration. One cooperative casualty of the Bush administration was the joint US-Russia Russian American Observation Satellite (RAMOS) program, for which the administration decided to halt funding in 2004. Despite a great deal of discussion regarding joint US–Russian participation in missile defense, very little of substance resulted. Conversely, the network of European states fielding, actively pursuing, or expressing interest in developing missile defense assets grew markedly during the Bush administration. Germany, Italy and the United States continued their cooperation on the MEADS program despite delays, disagreements over specific components and persistent funding problems. The United States assisted the Netherlands in developing an active phased array maritime combat radar system capable of detecting and tracking ballistic missiles and a December 2006 test of the system concluded successfully. The Netherlands also acquired the Patriot PAC-3 system in 2007. A number of other countries both in Europe and elsewhere operate some variant of the Patriot – mostly the older PAC-2 version – including Germany, Greece, Spain, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Taiwan, Korea and Japan (Raytheon 2013). Outside Europe, the United States formed BMD cooperative agreements with Australia and Canada to consider joint BMD development projects. Japan and Israel deepened their missile defense partnerships with the United States during the Bush administration’s tenure. In December 2003, Japan became the first ally to complete upgrades to its Aegis destroyers and purchase SM-3 interceptors. The acquisition of the Patriot PAC-3 system thus provided Japan with a layered national missile defense system. The administration signed additional Memoranda of Understanding with Japan between 2002 and


US Missile Defense Strategy

2005 to broaden cooperative development projects for BMD technologies. The coordinated response to North Korea’s test firing in 2006 provided an operational setting for US and Japanese BMD assets to interact, as did the successful participation of a Japanese Aegis cruiser in a US flight test that year. By 2008, MDA Director Obering was referring to Japan as its “leading ally on BMD” (Obering 2008). Israel made steady progress on its lower tier Arrow interceptor program, enabled by US financial support. A forward-based X-band radar was also deployed on Israeli territory. With growing interest from European, Middle Eastern and Asian partners, the United appeared to be moving steadily toward a global network of BMD partnerships. Summary: Bush Missile Defense Policies

President Bush envisioned “thicker” layered ballistic missile defenses to protect the United States, its allies and its deployed forces. The intensity and political conviction with which the new administration pursued the development of a BMD system contrasted sharply with its immediate predecessor and created an impression of inevitability both at home and abroad. The administration’s initial diplomatic and developmental efforts were rather successful as the GMD achieved several test intercepts, while European allies and the Russian leadership appeared increasingly acceptant of the US plans. This momentum was fleeting, however, as the United States encountered resistance both technologically and politically. Throughout the Bush period, missile defense efforts might be characterized as “hurried.” The aggressive timetable appeared motivated as much by political calculation as by threat perception. This rush to deploy ultimately extracted economic and political costs on the United States. MDA undoubtedly proceeded more rapidly with testing and the acquisition of technologically advanced hardware, but questions remain regarding cost effectiveness, quality control and the overall health of the missile defense system. The decision by President Bush in 2002 to coopt the construction of a test bed and deploy an initial defensive capability weakened the GMD testing program, which soon underwent a long period of inactivity followed by a period of unsuccessful flight tests. The United States had less operational confidence in the initial capability fielded, but was forced to take into consideration the strategic and political effects of an unsuccessful test. Had the administration refrained from deploying an initial capability and advertising it as such, the GMD test program may have enjoyed greater test flexibility and ultimately achieved better results.

BMD and the Bush Administration


The administration’s diplomatic efforts were initially quite successful in achieving a smooth transition away from the ABM Treaty with minimal diplomatic repercussions from Russia, non-signatory China, and Washington’s European allies. The gradual acceptance of US BMD plans within NATO, and the eventual formation of plans to integrate NATO and US assets, was a diplomatic victory for the administration. Continued cooperation with Japan and Israel, along with the inclusion of several other partner nations, contributed to an overall impression of a burgeoning global missile defense network. But this process also caused a hardening of positions: allied cooperation occurred alongside increased resistance from Russia and China. The Bush administration presided over the rapid development of the US BMD system and achieved a number of technological and political milestones for missile defense. These achievements are tempered by the unwillingness of the administration to proceed diligently and methodically in the system’s development, however, and the rush to deploy may have weakened the foundation upon which future BMD development depend. BMD and Grand Strategy during the Bush Administration

The Bush administration shared many of the fundamental grand strategic viewpoints of its predecessor, but differed noticeably regarding the mixture and application of various instruments of national power required to pursue the nation’s strategic goals. The empirical data suggests that the administration saw a much broader set of security threats connected to global terrorism, a set of threats for which missile defenses could play a meaningful role. Missile defense policy appeared fairly consistent with the military aspects of Bush’s grand strategy, somewhat consistent with its diplomatic aspects and fairly consistent with the economic aspects. Military Component

The missile defense program experienced a massive upswing in political and economic support immediately after Bush assumed office, and the attacks on 9/11 only served to intensify existing security concerns for which missile defenses appeared well-suited to address. This point was made emphatically in the 2001 Nuclear Posture Review, which integrated BMD firmly within official US strategic thinking. The 2001 attacks confirmed the growing acknowledgement among US policymakers that security in the post-Cold War world entailed active


US Missile Defense Strategy

international engagement to handle a wide spectrum of threats. Technology and unpredictable non-state actors would erase the security buffer provided by geography – the “stopping power of water” was less relevant in a globalized world given the linkages between terrorist groups and rogue states wielding WMDs and ballistic missiles. Given these new threats, a defensive posture relying solely on deterrence theory was deemed irresponsible. Not only would BMD offer an insurance policy in case deterrence failed, the existence of defensive assets could strengthen existing deterrent relationships and reinforce non-proliferation efforts. The sudden deployment of large numbers of US military personnel engaged in a global war on terrorism added a further operational impetus to improve defensive capabilities to protect these forces. The administration’s emphasis on national rather than theater defenses, however, may be seen as inconsistent with this. As civilian-based defenses against asymmetric attacks took shape – in the form of increased airport security procedures, on-board air marshals and an massive new homeland security bureaucracy – missile defense was rarely considered as a solution for terrorists wielding ballistic missiles, but for other threats in the new security environment symbolized by the 9/11 attacks. The administration, however, considered a terrorist ballistic missile attack against the homeland to be a potential threat. Economic Component

In general, however, the administration’s shift to a warlike posture translated into large defense budgets, with some of this funding naturally channeled into the highly prioritized missile defense program. Even so, the inaugural Bush missile defense program budget was twice that of the final Clinton budget, and MDA budgets in 2008 and 2009 each were three times that of the Clinton years. The administration’s overarching objective of developing effective missile defenses suffered from an ambitious deployment schedule that exerted unnecessary pressures on the testing and development process. In its push to deploy an initial capability, the Bush team may well have weakened the overall efficacy of the system by not allowing adequate testing under the rubric of a developmental program. Once the system was deployed, each test became laden with an extra layer of strategic significance and incentivized the MDA to simplify testing in order to reinforce the perception of BMD efficacy. The rushed schedule seemed unnecessary as neither North Korean nor Iran had demonstrated anything resembling an ICBM capability and could not credibly threaten the US homeland. The demands for theater defenses, on the other hand,

BMD and the Bush Administration


were much more urgent given the substantial numbers of US forces deployed overseas. The decision to prioritize GMD over shorter-range systems such as Aegis or THAAD – as reflected in funding and programmatic statements – is slightly at odds with the Bush administration’s grand strategy. Diplomatic Component

The administration’s BMD policy also exhibited a mixed record regarding the diplomatic component of grand strategy. Bush argued that the attacks were such a game-changing event for the international system that great power relations had been altered and new opportunities for cooperation had emerged. The administration’s fundamental skepticism toward institutions and treaties, along with President Bush’s belief in the diplomatic value of his personal relationship with Russian president Vladimir Putin led Bush to announce the US withdrawal from the ABM Treaty in December 2001. His belief in the ascendency of great power cooperation appeared to be confirmed as Russian reaction both to the treaty’s demise and the initial deployment of a national missile defense architecture (the GMD program) remained fairly muted. This was not to last, and missile defense policy decisions began to exact strategic costs on other US interests. Once the Bush administration began to expand its BMD architecture to include sites in Europe – particularly the Third Site facilities planned for Poland and the Czech Republic – Russia began to express its displeasure and US–Russian relations deteriorated. The United States included the Third Site in its missile defense architecture in order to provide supplemental defensive capability for the United States as well as some defense of Europe. The decision to provide redundant coverage for the United States from Europe is slightly curious. The grand strategic objective – protection of the United States and Europe – could have been achieved without the decision to deploy long-range ground-based interceptors in Poland, perhaps by considering a second GMD site on the US east coast and shorter-range capabilities for European defense. This might have achieved a similar level of protection while avoiding increased diplomatic tensions with Russia as well as NATO allies upset by the bilateral nature of BMD cooperation in Europe. Conclusion

Despite the overarching focus on terrorism, the Bush administration developed a conceptual strategic framework for which missile defenses


US Missile Defense Strategy

were well suited. It was a perspective that bore many similarities to the Clinton administration: concerns about maintaining a dominant global role, the continued proliferation of ballistic missiles, and the potential for having its deterrent capabilities negated and its freedom of action limited. For the Bush team, missile defenses were an urgently needed solution to a pressing strategic challenge, and limited capabilities were better than none at all. In its rush to acquire protection from ballistic missiles, however, the administration developed and deployed a long range defensive system with questionable effectiveness and shorter range systems in need of further testing. In effect, the early deployment undermined the credibility of the system. In sum, though, MDA’s efforts were wholly compatible with US grand strategy during the Bush administration.                                                                                                                        

Notes 1 Undertaking military action against another state before a clear and imminent threat has developed is normally characterized as a preventative action; the Bush administration was therefore arguing for the conflation of preemptive and preventative war. 2 The 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review, having mostly been prepared in the first months of the administration but released only weeks after the September attacks, served as a makeshift bridge between the strategy that might have been and the strategy that was actually implemented. Nevertheless, there is an interesting degree of consistency between the pre- and post-9/11 strategies. 3 These “interests” outlined by the QDR may in fact be better understood as strategic goals. 4 This echoes the “Base Force” concept of the early 1990s, where US influence would be retained through a preponderance of force spread across smaller military facilities across the globe. 5 See also Andrew Krepinevich (2006). 6 See for example Drezner (2007) and Shambaugh and Inderfurth (2007). 7 According to the 2009 testimony of MDA director O’Reilly, a classified 2002 Defense Science Board Study recommended the early deployment of a GMD capability. While this cannot be verified, it might challenge the perception that the Bush administration alone pushed for this early deployment (O'Reilly 2009). 8 In the third incident, a US F-16 destroyed a Patriot battery after its radar had identified the aircraft as hostile. 9 The discussions over alternative plans become more interesting in light of the Obama administration’s decision to cancel the Third Site plans, replacing it with an architecture similar to that supported by Tauscher, who eventually became the diplomat responsible for implementing the policy within the Obama administration.

BMD and the Bush Administration



10 See also Yost (2006). 11

In addition, the block structure used by MDA hinders any good comparisons of each program over time, as funding for each element within each biannual block was often listed rather than total funds allocated to that program each fiscal year. 12 An American EP-3 Aries electronic surveillance plane collided with a Chinese fighter aircraft on 1 April 2001, resulting in the loss of the Chinese pilot and his plane and creating a tense international incident when the American crew was detained for almost two weeks after performing an emergency landing on Hainan Island. 13 It has been speculated that the February 2008 Burnt Frost operation, in which an American satellite was destroyed by an SM-3 missile launched from a US Aegis BMD ship, was a response to this event.

6 BMD and the Obama Administration

After the controversial policies of the Bush administration, domestic and international audiences anticipated a significant shift in US foreign affairs. The plain-spoken and moralistic Bush was succeeded by a former law professor and US Senator who spoke in conciliatory tones and employed long complex arguments in his speeches. The new president generated a great deal of optimism with his ambitious agenda, but the implementation of these ideas proved to be much more challenging. While the visual shift in leadership styles was dramatic and the new rhetorical tone emanating from the White House was unmistakable, tangible modifications to US grand strategy were far less remarkable during the Obama administration than many had anticipated. The nation’s missile defense policies remained central to its strategic posture and became a logical component of the nation’s strategy as the administration increasingly focused on anti-access threats, great power competition and retaining global freedom of movement. Grand Strategy in the Obama Administration

The budgetary ramifications of a severe economic recession, in combination with the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, framed and limited the incoming administration’s short-term policy options. As the United States gradually withdrew from Iraq and formulated an endgame for Afghanistan, Washington became fixated with budgetary matters and defense appropriations were targeted for reductions alongside domestic programs. Underscoring this fiscal challenge, the Obama administration announced a “strategic rebalancing” towards the Asia-Pacific and the Middle East brought on by “the changing geopolitical environment and our changing fiscal circumstances” 145  


US Missile Defense Strategy

(Panetta 2012b, p. 1). President Obama appeared personally engaged in the formation of security policies, which often led to delays in reaching decisions and inconsistencies in their implementation. Background: Grand Strategic Concept

Perhaps the most notable element of Obama’s strategic approach was the attention devoted to domestic renewal as the key to rejuvenating America’s role in the international system. The 2010 National Security Strategy gave pride of place to an ambitious agenda of domestic nationbuilding to improve the country’s long-term stability and security. Obama declared in an April 2009 speech that the United States must build its economy on a “foundation of rock” rather than “the same pile of sand,” a sentiment that also applied to other sources of American power: the military; the educational system; domestic technological development; health care access and affordability; clean and diverse energy supplies (Obama 2009d). Additionally, the new administration argued in its 2010 National Security Strategy that the ability to promote democracy and human rights abroad began with the power of America’s moral example at home. By “demonstrating through words and deeds the resilience of our values,” the United States would “sustain a key source of [its] strength and leadership in the world” (Obama 2010, p. 10). Similarly, the 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance was predicated in part on supporting “the national security imperative of deficit reduction through a lower level of defense spending” (Panetta 2012b, p. 1). Secondly, the Obama White House recognized the interdependency of a globalized world and believed in the value of diplomatic engagement to “shape outcomes” favorable to the United States – a point reiterated in the 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance document as well (Panetta 2012b). The United States would, as the National Security Strategy stated, rejuvenate partnerships strained from the Iraq invasion and other elements of the “war on terror,” reengaging allies “as active partners in addressing global and regional security priorities” (Obama 2010, p. 11). Additionally, the United States would continue to develop cooperative relationships with China, India and Russia to address issues of global concern like terrorism, nuclear proliferation, climate change and economic instability (Obama 2010, p. 11). Further, the administration – in contrast to Bush’s more confrontational stance – argued that their diplomatic engagement would offer adversaries a choice: integrate into the global community or become isolated from it. Engagement would rely on a broad combination of tools: diplomacy and development, military and law enforcement cooperation, and economic

BMD and the Obama Administration


partnerships. Finally, mirroring a tenet of “transitional diplomacy,” the Obama team sought to facilitate “international engagement outside of government” directly with civil societies and citizens in other countries (Obama 2010, p. 12). The third and final component of Obama’s approach relied on the promotion of a “just and sustainable international order” grounded in the belief that a rules-based international system emphasizing the rights and responsibilities of nations “can advance our own interests by serving mutual interests” (Obama 2010, p. 12). By working to make multilateral institutions such as the United Nations and the G20 economic forum more effective and more relevant, the United States sought to improve the “international capacity to prevent conflict, spur economic growth, improve security, combat climate change, and address the challenges posed by weak and failing states” (Obama 2010, p. 13). As past administrations have recognized, these global concerns affect US security. The Obama administration implicitly acknowledged the inability of the United States to devote the resources necessary to provide security on a global basis, and the unsatisfactory outcomes that resulted from attempting it during the Bush administration. By seeking to shift some responsibility to an international framework of institutions and alliances, the United States could retain its leadership role while conserving the military and economic resources strained under the previous administration. The 2012 strategic guidance stated that “whenever possible, we will develop innovative, low-cost, and smallfootprint approaches to achieve our security objectives” (Panetta 2012b). The Obama administration identified the core national interests of the United States as (1) the security of the United States, its citizens, and US allies and partners; (2) a strong US economy in an open international economic system; (3) respect for universal values at home and around the world; and (4) an international order advanced by US leadership that promotes peace, security, and opportunity through stronger cooperation to meet global challenges. Among the threats to these interests, “the American people face no greater or more urgent danger than a terrorist attack with a nuclear weapon” (Obama 2010, p. 23). During the 2008 election campaign, Obama had characterized nuclear proliferation as “a threat that rises above all others in urgency” and one that required “securing, destroying, and stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction” (Obama 2007). The 2010 National Security Strategy detailed plans for conducting “a global campaign against al-Qaeda and its terrorist affiliates,” thereby drawing a distinction between this more focused counterterrorism objective and the broad “war on terror” framework of the previous administration (Obama 2010, p. 7). The 2010


US Missile Defense Strategy

Quadrennial Defense Review expressed concern over the rise of China and India, along with other destabilizing trends such as resource competition, rapid urbanization, climate change impacts and demographic trends (Gates 2010c). By 2012, the fragile economic situation in the United States and budgetary realities had created enormous fiscal pressures that forced policymakers to reconsider the strategic underpinnings of its grand strategy. As political pressure mounted to undertake substantial cuts to US defense spending, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and his successor Leon Panetta both argued for a strategic approach to the reductions. The resulting strategic guidance documents released in January 2012 (Sustaining US Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense and Defense Budget Priorities and Choices), while perhaps not entirely budget-driven, reflected the administration’s determination to reduce its global security-related activities (Panetta 2012a; Panetta 2012b). The passage seized upon by most analysts embodied the perception that the US was now conducting a “strategic pivot” towards Asia: “while the US military will continue to contribute to security globally, we will of necessity rebalance toward the AsiaPacific region” (Panetta 2012b, p. 2) While the practical implications of this rebalancing remained unclear, it appeared to accelerate a strategic readjustment that began during the Clinton administration but was sidetracked by the Bush administration’s global war on terrorism. Implementation: The Military Component

The Obama administration assumed control of the executive branch at a time when the United States was heavily involved in two major regional conflicts. The authors of both the 2010 NSS and the 2010 QDR made a conscious effort to deal with the short-term issues relating to those conflicts while also attempting to estimate the nation’s likely military requirements for the next two decades. First, the United States sought to successfully conclude ongoing conflicts through a responsible drawdown of US forces in Iraq while at the same time denying, disrupting and degrading the Taliban in Afghanistan. The QDR declared that the “outcome of today’s conflicts will directly shape the global security environment for decades to come,” though it failed to explicitly outline the linkages between regional instability, failed states and US security.1 Additionally, the United States seeks to prevent and deter conflict by building partner capacity (military to military training, advising and assistance to partners), contributing to coalition and

BMD and the Obama Administration


peacekeeping operations and extend the global defense posture of forward stationed forces and prepositioned equipment. Until the world is free from nuclear weapons – an ambition of several US administrations – the United States would continue to field a credible strategic deterrent. In addition, the Obama administration sought to establish and reinforce regional deterrence frameworks to hinder regional aggressors and provide stability. The military would be prepared to handle terrorist attacks, domestic natural disasters, state aggression that includes anti-access / area denial-capable or nuclear armed states, locating and securing WMD, supporting and stabilizing fragile states, protecting US citizens abroad, conducting cyberspace operations and preventing human suffering due to mass atrocities or national disasters abroad. The United States and Russia agreed to additional reductions in strategic arms through the New START agreement that entered into force in February 2011. This highly ambitious agenda required a global presence, continued access to all regions of the globe, and a flexible military able to achieve what has been termed “full spectrum dominance.” The Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy warned in May 2009 that the US military could “expect to see more hybrid conflicts in which the enemy combines regular warfare tactics with irregular and asymmetric forms of warfare,” “pulling” the military “in two very different directions” (Kruzel 2009). Flournoy, together with fellow Defense Department official Shawn Brimley, predicted two strategic trends capable of threatening US dominance. First, the widespread proliferation of technology to both state and non-state actors could allow for the increased deployment of “anti-access and high-end asymmetric technologies that can put allied infrastructure at risk and hamper US power projection” (Flournoy and Brimley 2009). Second, rising or resurgent powers such as China, India and Russia would “demand a role in maintaining the international system in ways commensurate with their actual or perceived power and national interests” (Flournoy and Brimley 2009). A tangible expression of these concerns can be found in the development of an AirSea Battle concept designed to negate Chinese asymmetric capabilities in East Asia in order to retain US freedom of movement (Gates 2010c, p. 32). In many aspects of its force posture, the new administration remained fairly consistent with its predecessor, perhaps a natural consequence of Obama’s decision to retain Defense Secretary Gates (through 2011) but also due to a broader domestic consensus on the US role as a global security provider. The United States appeared poised to remain actively deployed overseas in substantial albeit reduced


US Missile Defense Strategy

numbers; this long-term tailored forward presence sought to assure allies, allow for rapid power projection in times of crisis, ensure strategic access, shape the strategic environment and generally promote regional security. These missions meshed quite well with the increasing emphasis on regional security architectures, combining this global force posture with regional coalition building and enhancement of partner capacities. The US military remained globally active and visible during the Obama administration. The Norwegian Nobel committee unexpectedly awarded President Obama the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 based on the expectation that the president would seek diplomatic rather than military solutions to global crises and that he would pursue a nuclear disarmament agenda as outlined in his 2009 Prague speech (Obama 2009b). Upon receiving the award, though, Obama delivered a somewhat surprising Nobel lecture that offered a rousing defense of the use of force and “just war” doctrine. While drawing a distinction between using force unilaterally and through more legitimate international frameworks, declaring that “there will be times when nations – acting individually or in concert – will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified,” he called for stronger institutions through which states could act together to confront security challenges (Obama 2009a). Even so, the administration attempted to balance this “just war” position with its growing desire to reduce global US military commitments. The 2011 conflict in Libya demonstrated the administration’s desire to shift some of the global security burden onto its allies – what one official, speaking of the US response to the Arab Spring, termed “leading from behind” (Lizza 2011). Paradoxically, the Nobel speech came amidst the administration’s steady escalation of the war in Afghanistan with substantial increases in troop numbers and expanded use of targeted killings from unmanned aircraft inside both Afghanistan and Pakistan. The administration and its NATO allies established a 2014 transition date which was abruptly made more politically feasible after the dramatic liquidation of Osama bin Laden by US Special Forces in May 2011. Smaller operations against suspected terrorist cells and pirates in Somalia, Yemen and elsewhere demonstrated Obama’s willingness to use force on a smaller scale, particularly with regard to the frequent use of drones. A steadily worsening security situation on the Korean peninsula in 2009–2010 led some commentators to argue for preemptive action against North Korea, but the Obama administration demonstrated its commitment to institutional processes by pressing the UN Security Council to enact a set of stiffer sanctions against the regime in June 2009 (Zelikow 2009;

BMD and the Obama Administration


Cooper and Sanger 2009). American and South Korean naval forces conducted joint exercises in 2010 to demonstrate resolve and assure allies of US commitments, underlining the administration’s resolve. Obama consistently resisted calls for active military interventions. He ignored increased pressure for military action against Iran and instead chose to push through a fourth round of sanctions against Teheran in 2010 after preliminary negotiations proved unfruitful (Baker 2010). After several efforts by other states to negotiate an agreement with Iran, a new round of formal talks began in April 2012. The administration kept its distance in the face of a worsening situation in Syria as an armed rebellion against the Assad regime blossomed into a full scale civil war. Obama sent mixed deterrent signals regarding the consequences of the regime’s use of chemical weapons and the administration employed a series of measures short of military action, further underlining the administration’s disinterest in acting unilaterally absent a consensus within NATO or the UN. The sudden invasion of Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea by Russian Special Forces in early 2014 presented the United States and its European allies with yet another diplomatic challenge. Once again, Obama sent mixed strategic signals and remained resolute in his decision not to risk military confrontation. Sustaining a forward leaning global US posture requires continued high levels of defense spending, although the withdrawal of forces from Iraq and Afghanistan provided some budgetary relief. Obama promised a renewed 21st century military, and together with Secretary Gates signaled a desire to trim unneeded projects while retaining those crucial to ongoing and future military operations. There was broad recognition that defense spending could not be sustained at the levels seen during the Bush years. Secretary Gates attempted to find some savings within certain struggling acquisition programs, but more substantial reductions were finally adopted under his successors, Leon Panetta and Chuck Hagel, when faced with Congressionally mandated across-the-board cuts. Implementation: The Economic Component

President Obama’s overarching concept for ensuring the long-term security of the United States began with a reinvestment in domestic institutions and programs, many of which are directly related to the country’s economic health. Among them were education (especially science, math and technology training), immigration reforms that benefit the US workforce, investments in energy technology and sustainable


US Missile Defense Strategy

domestic industries, and health care reforms that reduce medical costs. Inadequate control over the country’s financial markets had also been seen as a contributing cause to the financial meltdown that arrived in full force with the collapse of Lehman Brothers during the presidential election season in 2008. The administration believed these growing inadequacies directly affected the nation’s ability to maintain its leadership role in the international system, and that addressing these domestic issues would have strategic benefits. Similarly, the administration’s diplomatic emphasis on international institutions also applied to economic issues, whereby multilateral forums and financial institutions were often the preferred means by which the United States pursued its economic and trade agenda. Especially in light of the global financial stagnation that continued to plague the international community during Obama’s term in office and created serious national financial crises in a number of European countries, the White House saw its role as that of a facilitator: “to promote prosperity for all Americans, we will need to lead the international community to expand the inclusive growth of the integrated, global economy. At the same time, we will need to lead international efforts to prevent a recurrence of economic imbalances and financial excesses” (Obama 2010, p. 31). Similar to Obama’s domestic agenda, the series of G20 summits from 2008 to 2010 aimed to strengthen the coordinating role of that institution after the global financial crisis, but ended without agreement on an effective policy coordination mechanism (Zedillo 2010). As has been the case with many of the administration’s policy positions, an optimistic strategy to initiate institutional solutions to complex challenges has been tripped up by reality. Obama spoke strongly about returning the United States to responsible fiscal management as the financial crisis in 2008 left the nation’s economy still struggling in 2012 despite billions of dollars in federal stimulus funds to jump start the economy. The Bush administration together with Congress chose to enact sweeping and costly tax relief legislation while the country was engaged in two conflicts, the combination of which led to massive deficit spending and added nearly $8 trillion to the national debt. But the flood of emergency spending to shore up the national economy took its toll on the debt as well, and the Obama administration added some $4 trillion within the space of three years. The unsustainable nature of this fiscal situation was clear to Congressional leaders as well as the White House.

BMD and the Obama Administration


Implementation: The Diplomatic Component

A visible shift in strategy implemented by the Obama administration was a greater willingness to engage in dialogue with partners, estranged allies and potential adversaries. The president believed this to be one of the failings of the previous administration, and set about to rectify it. Obama traveled to Prague in April 2009 to repair European relationships strained by disagreement over the Iraq war, and to Cairo in June to extend an open hand to the Muslim world that had been angered by US policies in its fight against terrorism. The administration opened diplomatic channels with Iran and declared a “reset” of relations with Russia. In nearly all instances, the speeches appeared to be well received but serious underlying policy differences remained, particularly regarding Russia. As outlined in the administration’s overarching grand strategic concept, Obama recognized that the United States could not address global security challenges that also directly affected US security without strong and sustainable partnerships. With the Cold War institutions “buckling” in the face of a new threat environment, President Obama continued the call for strengthening the UN, the World Bank, the G20, and other international forums for cooperative action. But for addressing security and stability issues, Obama instead sought to emphasize regional alliance structures. The 2010 NSS called alliances a “force multiplier” and “indispensable for US interests and national security objectives,” none of which are considered more important than the nation’s relationships with its European allies. The strategy declared the transatlantic relationship to be “the cornerstone for US engagement with the world,” where the United States engaged both bilaterally and through the “preeminent security alliance in the world today”: the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Obama 2010, p. 41). While NATO remained a crucial link to US security, other regional partnerships were also growing in importance. Particularly in Asia, US alliances with Japan, South Korea, Australia, the Philippines and Thailand were emphasized in the 2010 security strategy, the 2010 QDR and the 2012 strategic guidance. The Pentagon document singled out geo-strategically important Singapore as a security partner destined for a greater role in a US-led regional defense structure (Gates 2010c, p. 66). The United States had also been more active in promoting defense cooperation in the Middle East, particularly among the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council. The role of democracy and human rights was noticeably muted during Obama’s first year in office. The security strategy focuses more


US Missile Defense Strategy

on indirectly building the foundations for democratic institutions by providing basic human needs such as adequate food, clean water and health care. While expressing, as most US administrations do, a determination to support democratic processes, the Obama White House marked a clear shift from the lofty and moralistic rhetoric of President Bush. During her initial trip to China, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton remarked that pushing human rights issues “can't interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crises,” though President Obama eventually raised human rights concerns with Chinese President Hu (Wilgoren, Henderson et al. 2011). Obama also resisted domestic pressure to respond more forcefully to the violent crackdown on street protests in Iran following an election there that was widely discredited. Summary of Obama Grand Strategy

The Obama administration inherited two ongoing conflicts, an economic crisis and an international community at odds with US policy. There was great anticipation both within and outside the United States that Obama would pursue an entirely different grand strategy. This did not happen. The new administration adopted a more conciliatory and cooperative rhetorical tone and made significant adjustments to some policies, but the overall ambitions and focus of the United States were not radically altered. Militarily, the drawdown of forces in Iraq proceeded apace while Obama sharply escalated military efforts in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan, and expanded the use of drones for global counterterrorism operations. The administration showed its resolve in avoiding new overseas entanglements by resisting an active leadership role in either Syria or Ukraine, although Obama made a series of diffuse and ultimately hollow deterrent threats in both crises. Obama’s strategy sought to reestablish America’s global leadership role, facilitate the construction of regional security architectures underwritten by the United States, and ensure access to all regions of the world and overall freedom of action, especially in Asia as the US accelerated a strategic rebalancing begun during the Clinton administration. International partnerships and institutions were viewed as valuable tools for the United States and President Obama expressed a willingness to bind the country to such regimes. Obama appeared less focused on economic and trade issues despite the global financial crisis, and struggled to return the nation to solid fiscal ground after significant emergency spending to firm up the domestic economy has added even more debt to that created by his predecessors. The 2012 DPG seemed to

BMD and the Obama Administration


signal that the United States no longer had the financial wherewithal to continue with a strategic of global primacy. With a reduction in the nation’s level of strategic ambition, deterrence and defenses would play a more central role: including missile defenses. Obama’s Missile Defense Policy

During the 2008 presidential campaign, candidate Obama had offered qualified support for BMD, declaring that the United States “must seek a nuclear missile defense and demand that those efforts use resources wisely to build systems that would actually be effective.” He demanded “far more rigorous testing to ensure it is cost-effective and, most importantly, will work,” while also strengthening national defenses against other means of attack (Obama and Biden 2008). Lastly, the Obama campaign argued that BMD should be pursued “in a way that reinforces, rather than undercuts, our alliances, involving partnerships and burdensharing” with NATO (Obama and Biden 2008). The candidate’s positions on missile defense during the campaign generally reflected the bipartisan support typically enjoyed by the system in Congress. Obama’s views were also a poignant reminder of how much the policies of the Bush administration had shifted the terms of the debate. By quickly deploying a rudimentary GMD system and accelerating the development timelines of shorter-range systems such as Aegis and THAAD, Bush ended the discussion about whether the United States should deploy a national missile defense system. It would be politically difficult for a future president to dismantle GMD once it had been deployed and shorter-range systems were beginning to show progress. With some level of national missile defense in place, the new administration could focus on systems for regional or theater defense. For Obama, then, policy decisions amounted to adjusting the pace and scope of missile defense development rather than questioning its existence. After successfully winning the presidency, Obama travelled to Prague in April 2009 to deliver one of the first major foreign policy addresses of his young administration. The president focused on the threat of nuclear weapons and declared: “So today, I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons” (Obama 2009b). The path to this goal would be long, admitted Obama, and entailed a lessening of US reliance on nuclear weapons in its security policy, ratification of a new START treaty as well as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), strengthening the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) regime and creating a


US Missile Defense Strategy

new framework for civilian nuclear cooperation. The president reminded his global audience that North Korea and Iran remained security threats, and, mindful that his hosts in the Czech Republic had reached agreement with the Bush administration regarding the Third Site in Europe, proclaimed that “as long as the threat from Iran persists, we will go forward with a missile defense system that is cost-effective and proven” (Obama 2009b). Obama then added a significant caveat by remarking, “If the Iranian threat is eliminated, we will have a stronger basis for security, and the driving force for missile defense construction in Europe will be removed” (Obama 2009b). BMD Architecture: The Military Component

Only a few days prior to the Prague speech, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who had agreed to continue in the new Democratic administration, foreshadowed the coming budgetary battle by signaling that the administration would be willing to make “tough choices about specific systems and defense priorities based solely on the national interest.” Gates argued that “every defense dollar spent to over-insure against a remote or diminishing risk…is a dollar not available to take care of our people, reset the force, win the wars we are in, and improve capabilities in areas where we are underinvested and potentially vulnerable” (Gates 2009). Gates announced that missile defense programs would be restructured “to focus on the rogue state and theater missile threat”: holding the number of GBIs at thirty, reducing the Airborne Laser program to a research and development effort, and terminating the Multiple Kill Vehicle program. The MDA budget suffered an initial reduction of $1.4 billion, but that figure would rebound slightly over the next few years (Gates 2009). MDA director Lt. General O’Reilly provided additional details while testifying before a House subcommittee the following month. In what appeared to be an implicit admission that, after nearly a decadelong effort, the necessary technology for boost phase defenses was not yet attainable, O’Reilly confirmed that the Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI) program would be terminated and the Airborne Laser (ABL) downgraded to a research and development program. Instead, MDA would focus on achieving intercepts slightly later in the flight path, during the initial portion of the midcourse phase known as the ascent phase (O'Reilly 2009). Seen as a more achievable goal, ascent phase intercept could, according to MDA official David Altwegg, “optimize our ability to execute a shoot-look-shoot tactic to defeat a threat before countermeasures are deployed, minimize the potential impact of debris,

BMD and the Obama Administration


and reduce the number of interceptors required to defeat a raid of threat missiles” (Bennett 2009). This shift away from boost phase intercept had the practical consequence of further eroding the basis for constructing a layered system for homeland defense. Terminal phase systems for homeland defense were less practical as their smaller footprints would require substantial numbers to provide national coverage, leaving midcourse defense from the GMD system and possibly some future variant of the SM-3 interceptor as the only national defense assets available. O’Reilly emphasized that for the current budget cycle, the highest priority would be given to increasing the protection of US deployed forces and allies from regional ballistic missile threats (O'Reilly 2009). Reflecting Gates’ state priorities of theater defenses and protection from rogue states, substantial funding increases would be provided for THAAD as well as the Aegis BMD and SM-3 programs, while delaying slightly plans to increase the number of deployed GMD interceptors. The European Phased Adaptive Approach The first major embodiment of this adjustment toward regional defenses came on the morning of 17 September 2009, as President Obama stood before the White House press corps and announced his administration’s decision to cancel the Bush administration’s plans for a Third Site in Europe. A review of the policy, combined with greater technological progress on shorter-range BMD systems and new threat assessment that placed particular emphasis on Iran’s burgeoning short to medium-range missile capability, led the administration to conclude that a new approach was necessary. Rather than fielding ten GBIs in Poland which, according to the current concept of operations of launching two interceptors at each threat, could potentially defend against a maximum of five long-range missiles threatening the United States or Northern Europe, Obama adopted a graduated approach based on the Aegis BMD and THAAD systems to provide greater coverage of Europe from shorter-range missiles.2 This new European “Phased Adaptive Approach” (EPAA) would develop and deploy defenses in four distinct stages. Phase One, which was initiated in 2011, covered portions of southern Europe and included the deployment of a US Aegis BMD ship with the SM-3 Block IA interceptor to be based in Rota, Spain, along with the forward-deployed AN/TPY-2 X-band sensor in Turkey that improved the performance of European and US-based BMD assets. In Phase Two, to be implemented around 2015, the deployment of more sensors, a newer version of the SM-3 interceptor (the Block IB), and the inclusion of a land-based SM-3


US Missile Defense Strategy

facility (“Aegis Ashore”) in southern Europe would expand the coverage area. By approximately 2018, Phase Three would add an additional land-based site in northern Europe and yet another version of the SM-3 (Block IIA) to expand coverage to all NATO allies in Europe from medium to intermediate-range threats. By 2020 and Phase Four, the final upgrade to the SM-3 (Block IIB) would improve MRBM and IRBM defenses, and provide some defense against the ICBM threat to the United States from the Middle East (Gates 2010a; White House 2009). This shift away from the Bush-era Third Site plan to a network of transportable sea and land-based assets would, according to Obama, “retain the flexibility to adjust and enhance our defenses as the threat and technology continue to evolve. To put it simply, our new missile defense architecture in Europe will provide stronger, smarter, and swifter defenses of American forces and America’s allies” (Obama 2009c). The president noted that the plan provided more “comprehensive” defenses built from assets that were “proven and costeffective,” as well as consistent with NATO’s BMD plans (Obama 2009c). At a Defense Department press conference following the president’s announcement, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff James Cartwright pointed out that Iran’s ability to threaten salvo launches of hundreds of missiles would easily overwhelm a handful of $70 million GBIs. More effective and economical would be a network of Aegis ships, each carrying close to 100 SM-3 interceptors costing between $10-15 million apiece. Signaling the administration’s ambitious future plans, Cartwright compared the PAA in Europe to that already being implemented in Northeast Asia, making it clear that the adaptive approach for Europe “is an architecture that is globally exportable” (Gates and Cartwright 2009). The Ballistic Missile Defense Review As a result of a Congressional mandate included in the 2008 Defense authorization bill, the Department of Defense released The Ballistic Missile Defense Review (BMDR) in February 2010, the intention of which was “to match US strategies, policies, and capabilities to the requirements of the 21st century threats facing the nation now and in the future and to inform DoD planning, programming, budgeting and oversight” (Gates 2010a, p. 1). Key Defense Department officials were involved in its development, including Under Secretary for Policy Michèle Flournoy, Under Secretary for AT & L Ashton Carter, and VCJCS Cartwright. The BMDR was developed in coordination with a series of other strategic reviews conducted by the administration, including the Nuclear Posture Review, the Quadrennial Defense Review

BMD and the Obama Administration


and the Space Posture Review. The BMDR included sections discussing the current administration’s threat analysis, the strategic framework for missile defense and policy priorities, the strategic missions BMD is expected to perform, efforts to strengthen international cooperation and issues relating to the management of BMD programs. Interestingly, the BMDR suggested that missile defense capabilities may eventually allow for less emphasis on nuclear weapons for regional deterrence: “Against nuclear-armed states, regional deterrence will necessarily include a nuclear component (whether forward deployed or not). But the role of US nuclear weapons in these regional deterrence architectures can be reduced by increasing the role of missile defenses and other capabilities” (Gates 2010a, p. 23). Similarly, the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review stated that: Although nuclear weapons have proved to be a key component of U.S. assurances to allies and partners, the United States has relied increasingly on non-nuclear elements to strengthen regional security architectures, including a forward U.S. conventional presence and effective theater ballistic missile defenses. As the role of nuclear weapons is reduced in U.S. national security strategy, these nonnuclear elements will take on a greater share of the deterrence burden (Gates 2010b, p. xiii).

In general, the BMDR authors painted a disconcerting picture of the ballistic missile threat, which was deemed to be “increasing both quantitatively and qualitatively…many states with missiles are increasing their inventories, at the same time that a growing number of states are deploying missiles with greater capabilities.” An increasing number of states were switching to advanced liquid fuel or even solid fuel systems, which “increase flexibility, mobility, survivability and reliability,” while the overall trend pointed to greater ranges and accuracy. Various methods of defeating missile defenses were also being developed “through both technical and operational countermeasures.” The BMDR further noted that some states were developing nuclear, chemical and biological warheads that could greatly magnify the ballistic missile threat. Overall, “these technical capabilities could be significant sources of military advantage during a conflict. But they may be equally significant in times of peace or crisis, when they may undergird efforts to coerce other states” (Gates 2010a, p. 3). The document differentiated between threats to the US homeland and regional threats. Regarding the former, there were no immediate threats even though the potential existed from several countries. The greatest concern remained North Korea’s continued development of a


US Missile Defense Strategy

long-range missile and Iran’s pursuit of dual-use space-launch vehicle/ballistic missile technology. The ICBM capabilities of both Russia and China were acknowledged, neither of which were the focus of US missile defenses. The report stressed that the United States sought balanced, non-adversarial relationships, “cooperating when mutually advantageous” with Russia and a “relationship that is positive, cooperative, and comprehensive” with China. The regional threat assessment also included North Korea and Iran, based on their development of short to intermediate-range ballistic missiles. According to the BMDR, these two states were threatening because they “have shown contempt for international norms, pursued illicit weapons programs in defiance of the international community, and have been highly provocative in both their actions and statements” (Gates 2010a, p. 6). The report then discussed a number of international trends regarding the ballistic missile threat. Notably, China topped the list of concerns with its large arsenal of conventionally armed SRBMs threatening Taiwan and the development of an anti-ship ballistic missile capability. With the continued modernization of China’s missile programs, it was “developing advanced ballistic missile capabilities that can threaten its neighbors” and eventually “will be capable of reaching not just important Taiwan military and civilian facilities, but also US and allied military installations in the region” (Gates 2010a, p. 7). Another major concern expressed by the BMDR was the set of risks associated with the proliferation of advanced missile and WMD capabilities, which included transfers to states and non-state actors or terrorist groups and creating “the potential for increasingly sophisticated regional missile threat capabilities” (Gates 2010a, p. 7). This last point was emphasized by MDA director O’Reilly during a NATO conference in October 2010. In contrast to Obama’s 2009 Prague speech which explicitly tied European missile defense to the Iranian threat, O’Reilly now signaled that the United States viewed overall missile proliferation trends as threatening and would remain committed to developing European defenses: I can tell you that the concern the United States has is aimed at the proliferation of ballistic missiles. Not only their proliferation in numbers, but their sophistication; not just in their capability but in the simplicity of what it takes to launch a ballistic missile….So it’s not just concerns about nation-states. It’s concerns about proliferation…so with that, I don’t see a path for the threat and the need for these systems to go away. (Atlantic Council 2010)

BMD and the Obama Administration


Based on these assessments of the threats to the US homeland and to regions in which the United States has particular security interests, the administration listed the following priorities for the missile defense program: • • • • • •

Defend the homeland from limited ballistic missile attack. Defend US deployed forces, allies and partners from regional missile threats. Test new capabilities under realistic conditions before deployment: “Fly before you buy.” Acquisition of new BMD capabilities must be sustainable over time. BMD capabilities must be adaptable and adjustable to meet future threats. US will seek to lead expanded international BMD efforts.

The first two architectural priorities were similar to those of the Bush administration, and the programmatic priorities – particularly the determination to conduct realistic testing – proved as difficult for the Obama administration as it had been for the Bush team. Continued Modifications to Homeland Defense A number of these priorities addressed quite directly both the administration’s conceptualization of the desired BMD architecture and the practical steps needed to achieve it. With the GMD system already deployed and offering some defensive coverage of the US homeland, the administration confirmed in 2012 that the number of “operationally deployed” GBIs would be not be increased above the overall total of 30 operational interceptors deployed in fiscal year 2010, even though construction on a second missile field at Fort Greely was completed that allowed for the deployment of additional GBIs if desired (Jaffe 2012). In March 2013, however, after North Korea’s nuclear test and continued development of an ICBM capability, the administration reconsidered and announced that 14 additional GBIs from the reserve stockpile would be deployed to Fort Greely (Hagel 2013). At the same time, the Pentagon initiated a feasibility study of an additional interceptor site in the continental United States, reflecting Congressional direction contained in its yearly defense spending legislation. Independent analyses published in 2011 and 2012 viewed the GMD system’s ability to defend the East Coast as less robust and European BMD deployments insufficient for US homeland defense (DSB 2011; NRC 2012). This conclusion generated some domestic political pressure


US Missile Defense Strategy

to construct an East Coast GBI site, but the Pentagon and the White House remained non-committal. In addition to the GMD program, a second “layer” of national defensive capability was being planned. The development of the SM-3 Block IIB interceptor remained an important component of homeland defense. By striving to intercept threats during the ascent/early midcourse phase of flight – “pre-apogee”, according to O’Reilly – prior to the deployment of countermeasures, a layered approach could still be achieved. These plans ran somewhat counter to the critical conclusions of a 2011 Defense Science Board report that called into question the feasibility of early intercept and a 2012 National Academies report that recommended the abandonment of Phase IV of the EPAA in favor of an additional GMD site in the United States (DSB 2011; NRC 2012). Fiscal pressures, concerns about the technical feasibility of the Block IIB interceptor and the overall value of the EPAA’s fourth phase to homeland defense ultimately led the Obama administration to announce the cancellation of the Block IIB in March 2013 at the same press conference announcing the additional GBI deployments.3 Budgetary pressures also led the Sea-based X-band radar (SBX) to be reclassified as a test asset that could become reactivated when necessary (Jaffe 2012). In April 2013, the United States did in fact temporarily deploy the SBX to the Asia Pacific theater amid rising tensions on the Korean peninsula. Tailored Regional BMD The most significant alterations to the BMD architecture occurred at the theater or regional level, reflecting the administration’s overarching strategic evaluation. While the more technically mature systems developed by the United States were designed specifically to counter shorter range missile threats – including Patriot, THAAD and Aegis BMD – the BMDR observed that “these capabilities are modest numbers when set against the rapidly expanding regional missile threat” (Gates 2010a, p. 19). The three systems, designated theater missile defense assets during the Clinton administration and incorporated into Bush’s layered architecture, were now evaluated from a perspective of regional defense due to the improved capabilities and greater ranges of both the threat and defenses. The elimination of the ABM Treaty removed the need to legally distinguish between TMD and NMD systems, but distinguishing between the technical attributes of defenses as either theater-regional capabilities or homeland-national missile defense remained analytically, programmatically and strategically useful.

BMD and the Obama Administration


The regional focus during the Obama administration therefore led to a greater reliance on programs such as Aegis BMD and the SM-3 interceptor. The expanded role given to the SM-3 interceptor in the EPAA including ship- and land-based systems, exemplified this emphasis. Even as the United States emphasized more mature systems that defend geographically limited areas, plans were in place to expand the range of these capabilities. MDA began examining ways to improve target tracking capabilities earlier in flight so that interceptors might achieve what has been labeled Early Intercept (EI) without relying on faster interceptor boosters, though the 2011 Defense Science Board review was quite critical to the feasibility of these plans (DSB 2011). Efforts to develop an early intercept capability were eventually abandoned as impractical. The United States also invested in data sharing schemes to better enable a “launch on remote” or “launch on network” capability that would allow an interceptor to be launched at a target beyond the range of its “organic” sensor, using tracking and intercept data from other BMD assets and thereby greatly increasing its range (Gates 2010a, pp. 21-22). The BMDR report reflected a geographic region-based approach as the administration’s primary organizational structure for missile defenses. The document noted that “it is becoming increasingly important to think ‘top down’, or more strategically, about the deployment of missile defense assets in a regional context. In other words, regional approaches must be tailored to the unique deterrence and defense requirements of each region” (Gates 2010a, p. 22). This would be accomplished by pursuing a phased adaptive approach unique to each region’s deterrence requirements and prioritizing relocatable assets, particularly as demand was expected to exceed supply over the next decade and transportable systems would allow assets to be shifted to regions where the need was greatest. Advancements in data sharing enabled launch and engagement “on remote” also allowed for the possibility for regional BMD assets deployed in areas such as the Middle East, Europe and Northeast Asia to eventually be networked together, creating a global missile defense network that could provide regional defensive capabilities and contribute to US homeland defense. The EPAA exemplified the administration’s intent to encourage cooperation and facilitate burden sharing among US allies. In April 2009, NATO members reaffirmed their commitment to developing BMD assets for its deployed forces and study options for expanding these capabilities to provide coverage to NATO territory and populations. The alliance also declared that “missile threats should be addressed in a prioritized manner that includes consideration of the level


US Missile Defense Strategy

of imminence of the threat and the level of acceptable risk,” observed that US contributions of BMD assets “could enhance NATO collaboration” on missile defense, and stated that Russian cooperation on European BMD would be desirable (NATO 2009). The first phase of the EPAA commenced in March 2011 with the deployment of the Aegis BMD ship USS Monterrey to the Mediterranean Sea, followed by the placement of forward based X-band radar in Turkey later that year. At the 2012 NATO summit in Chicago, the alliance declared operational an interim ALTBMD capability and renewed their commitment to territorial BMD. In an important departure from the previous administration, Obama’s EPAA plan created an integrated strategic framework for the networked deployment and joint operation of US and NATO assets, providing a path to closer cooperation and economic burden sharing by emphasizing relocatable regional-theater BMD systems. With the United States ready to fund the EPAA, its NATO allies needed simply to declare their willingness to accept the substantial US contribution to the ALTBMD “system of systems” command structures in order to greatly enhance European defenses. Rather than the Third Site plan for a primarily bilateral BMD partnership in Europe supplemented with a NATO system for territorial defense, the EPAA was instead fully integrated into a NATO framework. Questions remained, however, about the exact command and control structures for the system. The Russian ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, implied that US– NATO cooperation would simply give the United States access to NATO assets: “You have one button and 28 fingers. I even know which finger will press the button” (NTI 2010b). Despite these issues, the Obama administration made deliberate policy decisions to begin the creation of regional structures in Europe and elsewhere. Washington secured an agreement with the government of Poland in October 2009 to host a land-based SM-3 facility at the location previously designated for the 10 GBIs during the Bush administration. In February 2010, Romania agreed to host a land-based SM-3 site on its territory (Tauscher 2011). One program considered to be a likely contribution to the ALTBMD architecture, the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS), slowly collapsed and was eventually phased out (Hodge 2010). Other existing European BMD assets such as Patriot systems in the Netherlands, Germany and Greece would be included in the NATO structure. A similar regional approach had been partially implemented in northeast Asia with close cooperation between the United States and Japan to counter the threat from North Korea and less conspicuous US

BMD and the Obama Administration


coordination with Taiwan’s Patriot batteries which had been fielded to counter the Chinese ballistic missile threat. In the Middle East, the administration pushed for a rapid deployment of sea and land-based BMD assets to countries such as Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Kuwait. An AN/TPY-2 X-band radar was deployed to Qatar, the United Arab Emirates purchased several THAAD batteries and AN/TPY-2 radars, Kuwait significantly expanded its arsenal of Patriot interceptors and radars, and the US conducted regular Aegis BMD ship patrols in the Persian Gulf – creating the foundation for a networked BMD architecture in that region as well (Shanker 2012). The architecture was tweaked abruptly in March 2013. Responding to a North Korean nuclear test and evidence that the regime was developing a road-mobile ICBM, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that 14 additional GBIs would be emplaced at Fort Greely. This constituted the deployment of the full complement of interceptors at both Alaskan missile fields and would deplete the planned reserve stockpiles. Additionally, Hagel announced that an additional AN/TPY-2 radar would be deployed to Japan for improved early warning and tracking. Finally – and perhaps most consequentially – the administration announced the cancellation of the SM-3 Block IIB interceptor that constituted the primary qualitative improvement to the EPAA in its final phase. MDA had planned for the Block IIB interceptor to have some capability to defeat long range ballistic missiles, and its deployment in Europe was intended to provide an additional layer of homeland defense for the United States (Hagel 2013). BMD Testing and Development: The Economic Component

The Obama administration’s missile defense policy entailed a wave of regional-theater BMD deployments and reflected the administration’s whole-hearted acceptance of missile defense as, in the words of Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn, a “cornerstone of our defense” (Lynn 2010). But the system’s operational effectiveness remained unclear. The Defense Department’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, J. Michael Gilmore, noted in April 2010 that “GMD has not yet attempted an intercept of an intercontinental ballistic missile target. The intercept flight tests it has conducted on intermediate-range missiles have been conducted under a limited set of operationally-realistic engagement parameters” (Gilmore 2010). Successful testing of the THAAD system against short-range threats had been successful, noted Gilmore, but it had yet to be “tested against a true medium range ballistic missile” (Gilmore 2010). To address the shortfalls, the MDA


US Missile Defense Strategy

accelerated certain portions of its testing program with varying degree of success. Mixed Test Results The Aegis BMD program made substantial progress during the first three years of the Obama administration. The MDA conducted a noteworthy exercise in March 2009 named Stellar Daggers, in which an Aegis ship demonstrated its versatility by simultaneously engaging an SRBM in its terminal phase with an SM-2 Block IV and a cruise missile with an SM-2 Block IIIA. The Aegis program also conducted a successful ballistic missile midcourse intercept test of a non-separating SRBM target in July 2009 and Japanese Aegis ships executed two successful tests of the SM-3 Block IA against MRBM targets in October 2010 (MDA 2013a; MDA 2013c). Significantly, the Aegis BMD program demonstrated in April 2012 the “launch on remote” capacity of an operational SM-3 Block IA to intercept an IRBM, using sensor data from a forward based AN/TPY-2 radar.4 The first intercept test of the new Block IB model of the SM-3 interceptor, conducted in September 2011, was unsuccessful, but the subsequent follow-up test in May 2012 involving a SRBM target resulted in an intercept. Several successful tests in 2013 revealed improved coordination and complexity, with the interception of multiple missile targets utilizing a combination of Aegis BMD and THAAD assets (NTI 2013). The THAAD program followed a similar pattern of failure prior to success. A flight test of the THAAD system was unsuccessful in December 2009 after quality control issues led to the failure of the target missile to launch, but another test in June 2010 scored a hit. After chronic quality control issues with several different systems, MDA leveled heavy criticism against its suppliers. Executive Director David Altwegg told reporters that “we continue to be disappointed in the quality that we are receiving from our prime contractors” (Altwegg 2010). Altwegg noted that a “lack of attention to detail” had caused a number of quality failures in a missilery effort that is “all about detail” (Altwegg 2010). Notably, the program successfully conducted its first multiple intercept flight test in October 2011 as an air launched SRBM and a sea launched SRBM were launched shortly after one another before each was engaged and destroyed by separate THAAD interceptors. The GMD program was less fortunate. It experienced a test failure during FTG-06 on 31 January 2010, which was unofficially ascribed to both the failure of the SBX to perform target discrimination as well as quality-control-induced mechanical failure in the exo-atmospheric kill

BMD and the Obama Administration


vehicle (EKV) (Butler 2010). The subsequent intercept test flight FTG07 in July 2013 was also unsuccessful, leaving the BMD program without a positive flight test result since 2008. The Airborne Laser development program, after successfully targeting a missile from a distance of fifty miles in February 2010, failed in September to destroy a missile from twice that distance when the system successfully tracked the target and began lasing but ceased prematurely (AOL 2010). The follow-up test in October, attempting to replicate the success of the first test at a fifty-mile distance, failed to due to tracking issues and the laser was never engaged (NTI 2010a). The struggling program was finally cancelled in February 2012 (AP 2012). This development, combined with the termination of the Kinetic Energy Interceptor program, ended MDAs attempts to develop a boost phase capability. An independent analysis by the National Academies released in 2012 contained harsh judgments not only on the possibility of developing boost phase intercept, but also regarding the GMD program. The study’s critical conclusions were even more extraordinary given the group of experts involved, many of whom held generally favorable views on missile defense. The report bluntly stated that the Pentagon “should not invest any more money or resources in systems for boostphase missile defense. Boost-phase missile defense is not practical or cost effective under real-world conditions for the foreseeable future” (NRC 2012, p. 124). Further, the National Academies scholars were highly critical of the GMD program’s interceptors, architecture and doctrine, which they deemed to have “shortcomings that limit their effectiveness against even modestly improved threats” (NAS 2012, p. 105). They were skeptical of the utility of Phase IV of the EPAA for homeland defense and recommended an additional site in the continental United States, but with a new interceptor based on the now-cancelled Kinetic Energy Interceptor. Finally, the report bemoaned the minimal effort put forth by MDA to improve exo-atmospheric midcourse phase target discrimination. A New “Rush to Failure” In December 2008, MDA had implemented a new testing strategy, the Integrated Master Test Plan (IMTP) that emphasized the collection of system data under “critical engagement conditions” in order to “verify, validate, and accredit” the models and simulations to be used by MDA to assess the system’s efficacy (Gilmore 2010). MDA would rely on these “models and simulations of the BMDS,” O’Reilly explained, “and compare their predictions to empirical data collected through comprehensive flight and ground testing to validate their accuracy,


US Missile Defense Strategy

rather than physically testing all combinations of BMDS configurations, engagement conditions, and target phenomena” (O'Reilly 2009). While this would reduce the costs associated with flight testing, system developers would also become more reliant on the validity of the models and their ability to reflect the various operational characteristics accurately. Gilmore therefore cautiously concluded: The ability to conduct comprehensive and objective assessments of BMDS capability is still a number of years away. If the MDA can execute the revised IMTP, the data needed to validate models and perform quantitative assessments of BMDS performance will become available. However, it will take as many as five to seven years to collect those data. (Gilmore 2010)

MDA director O’Reilly reassured Congress of the agency’s commitment “to prove, through comprehensive testing, that the ballistic missile defense system works.” O’Reilly maintained that such testing requires a “stable configuration of the system being tested, a clearly defined threat, a consistent and mature operational doctrine, sufficient resources to repeat tests under the most stressing conditions, and a welldefined set of criteria of acceptable performance. Unfortunately, none of these situations applies to the BMDS” (O'Reilly 2009). Another primary consideration were the costs of conducting a flight test, which ranged from $80–90 million for an Aegis or THAAD test and up to $200 million for the GMD system (Altwegg 2010). However, J. Michael Gilmore, the Defense Department’s head of testing, warned in his 2010 testimony of the ambitious schedule laid out in the Integrated Master Test Plan, which charts the planned testing regime through the five-year Future Years Defense Program: The IMTP is a rigorous plan for obtaining the test information needed to assess BMDS performance quantitatively. However, I am concerned that it is success-oriented with limited schedule flexibility and no incorporation of repeat, or backup, tests to compensate for test failures.... Assessing the capability of each phase of the PAA will require some of the most complex testing ever attempted by the Department of Defense. (Gilmore 2010)

While still concerned with the “success-oriented” testing schedule, Gilmore appeared more satisfied with the IMTP by April 2012, but nevertheless cautioned that the “ability to conduct comprehensive quantitative assessments” of the entire system remained years away (Gilmore 2012). The cancellation of the SM-3 Block IIB interceptor in

BMD and the Obama Administration


March 2013 alleviated some of this pressure, while freeing up funding which could then be redirected into the other SM-3 models as well as the struggling GMD program. Meanwhile, operational missile defense elements started to display the strains of rapid deployment. A September 2009 GAO report found that “to rapidly field missile defenses…DOD has in some cases put ballistic missile defense elements into operational use before first ensuring that the military services had created units and trained service members to operate them” (GAO 2009). The report noted that ad hoc organizational structures and personnel solutions were found in relationship to the AN/TPY-2 radar units deployed to Israel and Japan, the SBX and temporarily deployed THAAD batteries. The report also noted that “the Army faced personnel shortfalls to operate the midcourse system. These shortages affected the Army units’ ability to support ongoing research and development activities and ultimately resulted in operational readiness concerns” (GAO 2009). A separate US Navy investigation questioned whether the Aegis fleet was prepared for its new mission of European missile defense as part of the Obama administration’s PAA for Europe. The Navy panel found surprisingly low readiness levels aboard the ships and worsening radar system performance trends due to poor training, lack of qualified personnel and overly burdensome bureaucracy required of the shipboard crews to obtain replacement parts for the radars (Ewing 2010). According to a follow-up report, many of these shortcomings appeared to have been addressed by 2012, although the demand for BMD assets from regional combatant commanders continued to outpace available resources. For the US Navy, missile defense had become such an integrated part of its operational capabilities and service strategy as to almost ensure that the BMD mission would constitute a large part of the Navy’s future activity. BMD Budgets Missile defense budgets during the first years of the Obama administration reflect the architectural and strategic adjustments described above, as several programs were eliminated and others strengthened. Procurement of BMD assets represented a growing portion of the budget, especially with the continued acquisition of SM-3 and THAAD interceptors. The cancellation of the Bush administration’s Third Site plans translated into a saving of close to $500 million in construction costs. After an initial reduction in missile defense spending from fiscal year 2009 to 2010, spending increased slightly for FY2011 to $10.2 billion and peaked in FY2012 at $10.4 billion before trending


US Missile Defense Strategy

downward in 2013 to $9.7 billion. The budget request for 2014 amounted to $9.1 billion prior to the automatic budgetary reduction process known as “sequestration”, which was expected to exact a nine percent across-the-board cut to military spending programs (DOD 2013). The GMD program, funded at $1.4 billion for 2009, saw a $400 million reduction the following year, but that number increased to $1.34 billion for 2011 and $1.5 billion in 2012 as work continued on improving the discrimination and tracking technology and procuring additional GBIs. The 2013 announcement of the acquisition of 14 additional GBIs reportedly came with a $1 billion price tag that should boost GMD spending substantially. Notably, Aegis BMD funding exceeded that of the GMD program in each of the Obama administration budgets, signaling an important shift in US missile defense policy focus. The administration increased funding for the conversion of Aegis ships for BMD use and upgrades for existing Aegis BMD ships, along with the acquisition of SM-3 Block IA interceptors for operational duty and Block IB missiles for testing. The THAAD program budget hovered near the $1 billion mark, with a high of $1.3 billion in 2011 before gradual reductions to $778 million in 2013. The program continued development efforts and planned for the acquisition of several additional batteries each year after 2012 (DOD 2010; O'Reilly 2010; DOD 2013). Once the initial dip in overall BMD funding occurred in FY2010, the Obama administration appeared on course to reach spending levels comparable to the Bush years, helped by a generally supportive Congress. BMD Outreach: The Diplomatic Component

Only a few weeks after President Obama’s inauguration in 2009, Vice President Joe Biden traveled to the international security conference in Munich to deliver what would be the first major foreign policy address of the new administration. Relations with Russia had become increasingly strained in part because of the Bush administration’s plans for a missile defense Third Site in Europe. Only hours after Obama’s election victory in November, Russian president Dmitri Medvedev had warned that Moscow would deploy tactical Iskander ballistic missiles to Kaliningrad if such plans were carried out (Barry and Kishkovsky 2008). In Munich, Biden reaffirmed the new administration’s commitment to “proven and cost-effective” missile defenses, hinting at possible changes in policy without specifying any. Biden declared: “It is time to press the reset button and to revisit the many areas where we can

BMD and the Obama Administration


and should be working together with Russia” (Cooper and Kulish 2009). Since the deployment of missile defenses in Europe had been closely tied to the decline in US–Russian relations, it was widely anticipated that any “reset” of the relationship would include BMD issues. After a review of US missile defense policy and a new intelligence report in May 2009, which emphasized the rapid development of Iranian SRBM and MRBM capabilities and downplayed the threat of Iran’s long-range missile program, the Obama administration reformulated its approach to BMD in Europe. The most dramatic of these alterations to US policy was the cancellation of the planned installations in Poland and the Czech Republic. Unanticipated leaks to media outlets precipitated a hurried roll-out of the new plan on 17 September 2009, but with quite unfortunate timing and symbolism. The administration was forced to place late night telephone calls to each of the two countries informing them of the news about to break the following day. Obama reached the Czech prime minister Jan Fischer after midnight, but Polish prime minister Donald Tusk reportedly rejected telephone calls both from President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in order to “properly prepare for the discussion,” and the two leaders spoke the following day (Smith 2009). The decision to abandon the Third Site plan was immediately and widely viewed by many as a conciliatory gesture towards Russia as part of the effort to “reset” relations, and doing so at the cost of abandoning those European allies that had been willing to invest themselves politically in the plan.5 The political and strategic motivations of both Poland and the Czech Republic were linked to lingering concerns and mistrust over Russian intentions and signs that Moscow continued to view Eastern Europe as within its sphere of influence. The feeling of abandonment and the certain long-term US military presence in those countries that the Third Site plan entailed were accentuated by the timing of the announcement: 17 September 2009 marked the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland. The entire episode was marred by poor statecraft by the administration, irrespective of the new plan’s strategic merit. Other actors were quite pleased. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin praised the new plan as “correct and brave.” The British Guardian newspaper accurately summarized the feeling of relief in many European capitals, noting that “the decision was welcomed among NATO allies in western Europe, which had viewed the earlier project as an unnecessary provocation to the Russians” (MacAskill and Traynor 2009). In short order, the Poles were also placated as the administration promised to move ahead with the deployment of a Patriot battery to


US Missile Defense Strategy

Poland that guaranteed at least a temporary US military presence, along with the possibility of hosting a land-based SM-3 site in a later phase of the new plan. The EPAA moved the United States much closer to NATO’s stated position of addressing missile threats in a prioritized manner. NATO would benefit politically from the creation of an integrated missile defense system as it strengthened the alliance’s foundational Article Five commitment to collective territorial defense. Further, it reinforced a shared perception of threats and risks, further intertwining US and NATO security interests and deepening transatlantic security cooperation. NATO General Secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen argued in an October 2010 opinion piece in the International Herald Tribune that missile defenses signified a “clear demonstration of allied solidarity and burden-sharing in the face of a common threat” and offered “opportunities for genuine cooperation with Russia” (Rasmussen 2010). The announcement of an interim NATO missile defense capability was made with great fanfare at the 2012 Chicago summit. Missile Defense Tensions with Russia Relations between the United States and Russia during the Obama administration were strongly influenced by missile defense, with strongly worded criticisms of US BMD plans followed by limited cooperative efforts. One such diplomatic victory came in April 2010 as the leaders of the two countries signed an important arms control treaty, known as New START. Following Obama’s 2009 Prague speech on nuclear abolition, the arms control treaty was viewed as an important step for maintaining momentum towards that goal. As the previous START agreement expired at the end of 2009, the verification regime that allowed reciprocal inspections of nuclear forces also disappeared (Sheridan 2010). Negotiations were complicated by the Russian unease with US missile defense and Moscow’s demands to link reductions in strategic forces to the deployment of defensive systems. Ultimately, the treaty achieved what analysts judged to be modest reductions in strategic arms, and missile defenses appear most substantially in the treaty’s preamble, where it notes “the existence of the interrelationship of strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms, and this interrelationship will become more important as strategic nuclear arms are reduced, and that current strategic defensive arms do not undermine the viability and effectiveness of the strategic offensive arms of the party” (Fletcher and Pan 2009; Woolf 2012). The Russian unilateral statement issued the signing ceremony signaled their belief that the treaty is “viable only if the United States of America refrains

BMD and the Obama Administration


from developing its missile defenses quantitatively and qualitatively” (Woolf 2012). Both NATO and US officials repeatedly expressed their desire to involve Russia in any future missile defense architecture. Russians consistently responded to these overtures by requesting more information regarding this cooperative effort. The colorful Russian ambassador to NATO Dimity Rogozin complained in October 2010 that “when we ask, time and again, what the technical parameters of this system are, what the zone of its deployment is, who the enemy will be and why missile threats have not been assessed before deploying anything, we never get an answer” (NTI 2010b). Disagreements arose over the actual system architecture, as Russian leaders argued for an integrated system with a common command and control structure, while NATO envisioned separate NATO and Russian systems with a means of exchanging data to establish a joint “security roof” over Europe. During this time, Russia had been modernizing and professionalizing its conventional forces, but also emphasizing the role of nuclear forces in its national security strategy. Moscow outlined situations in which nuclear weapons might be used to complement conventional warfighting and explicitly acknowledged a “first use” doctrine as a possible response to tactical conventional defeat. Importantly, however, the role of tactical nuclear weapons in Russian strategic planning shrunk while emphasizing the ability to credibly threaten strategic (long range, large scale) nuclear strikes (Tyson 2007). Russia continued to modernize its missile forces and planned to deploy multiple independently targeted re-entry vehicles (MIRVs) on its Bulava SLBM and road mobile RS-24 ICBM, making missile defense intercepts more challenging. Even after the implementation of New START, Russia retained well over 300 deployed long range missiles. Russian leaders also threatened to initiate military action against US missile defense assets. In November 2011, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev threatened to deploy Iskander missiles to Kaliningrad near the Polish border where a US BMD installation was planned, and in southern Russia close to the location in Turkey where NATO had placed an AN/TPY-2 forward based radar. In his remarks, Medvedev announced that “The Russian Federation will deploy modern offensive weapon systems in the west and south of the country, ensuring our ability to take out any part of the US missile defense system in Europe” (Osborn 2011). These warnings were renewed in May 2012 by the Russian Chief of General Staff Nikolai Makarov (Loiko 2012). While highly unlikely, such threats illustrated the vulnerability of BMD sensors to pre-emptive strikes. In a 2009 report, the Congressional


US Missile Defense Strategy

Budget Office noted that radar installations such as the Thule UEWR would eventually be vulnerable to Iranian missile attacks and could not be protected by the GMD system. The report stated that “[GMD] will not be capable of defending those radar sites against Iranian missiles, which makes the system vulnerable to attacks in which multiple missiles first target the radars and then target the United States” (CBO 2009, p. 28). The CBO authors suggested deployment of local defenses in the form of Aegis BMD ships or THAAD batteries to protect these assets. Despite the implausibility of such threats actually being carried out either by Iran or Russia, they serve to illustrate the diplomatic tensions over the Obama administration’s ambitious plans for expanding ballistic missile defense into a global network of partner countries. Implementing the PAA in Asia and the Middle East The phased adaptive approach was never intended to be limited only to Europe. The Obama administration aimed to incorporate missile defenses into regional deterrence structures in the Middle East and Asia as well. The close developmental and operational cooperation with Japan continued during the first years of the new administration as work progressed on the new version of the SM-3 Block IIA interceptor. Japanese Aegis BMD ships also carried out successful intercepts of its SM-3 Block IA against separating MRBMs. In early 2010, South Korea considered the acquisition of a new integrating radar system in addition to its fielding of Aegis BMD ships with SM-2 interceptors and the Patriot PAC-2 system. Its leadership hinted in February that the country could reconsider its policy of remaining outside US efforts to create a broad regional BMD framework, a position that was reiterated in October 2010 (Sung-Ki 2009; NTI 2010c). By 2013, however, South Korea and the United States had formalized an agreement on BMD data sharing, but Seoul maintained an independent missile defense architecture. India also expressed interest in purchasing BMD systems, including the US Patriot system and the Israeli air defense system David’s Sling (Rahguvanshi 2010). Just as in the European theater, the influx of missile defense elements into the Asia-Pacific region caused tensions with the regional power. China continued to modernize its nuclear forces and long range ballistic missile capability, deploying over one thousand short and medium range missiles (ostensibly armed with conventional warheads) while continuing work on an anti-ship ballistic missile (OSD 2012). Apart from Russia’s objections to the US-NATO missile defense deployments, the Sino-American strategic relationship is the one most affected by BMD deployments. Perceived disturbances to the regional

BMD and the Obama Administration


military-strategic balance between the United States and China were exacerbated by the close security cooperation and varying degrees of bilateral efforts on missile defense between the United States and a number of Asian countries, including Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia and India. While US cooperation with Japan and South Korea is largely based on the threat posed by North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs, the growing regional influence of China has progressed in parallel to Washington’s intensified missile defense engagement in the region. The Chinese defense and foreign ministries strenuously objected and condemned the Obama administration’s 2009 decision to complete a Bush administration sale of Patriot systems to Taiwan. China announced in January 2010 that it had completed a successful initial test of a new land-based missile defense system, a claim unconfirmed by US authorities (Branigan and Harris 2010; Jacobs and Ansfield 2010). The timing of the test suggested its purpose might have been to demonstrate China’s displeasure with the actions of the US administration. Chinese defense analysts viewed the Patriot sale and other cooperative missile defense efforts in the region as part of a US strategy intent on forming a containment ring around the country stretching from South Korea, Japan and Taiwan to India in the south (NTI 2010d). The third prioritized region for a phased adaptive approach, the Middle East, is home to several key US allies and the other principle inspiration for missile defense efforts: Iran. The United States continued its close collaboration with Israel on the development of missile defense systems, funding a number of elements including David’s Sling for very short-range projectiles, Iron Dome for SRBMs and the Arrow systems for lower and upper tier intercept (O'Reilly 2009; O'Reilly 2010). A broad regional network of BMD assets was starting to form after the sale of US systems to states such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait, which were actively seeking such capabilities to counter the threat from Iran (Shanker 2012). If fully realized, the combined potential of these networked systems, combined with the regular deployment of US-controlled BMD elements in the region, would constitute a substantial missile defense capability. In all three regions, the political value of missile defense cooperation promises to be just as important as the military capability resulting from a combined regional BMD architecture. By providing a common framework for interoperability and consultation on regional defensive structures, the United States is creating a set of regional alliances that are firmly anchored in US participation. While this raises a number of complex and challenging command and control issues, the


US Missile Defense Strategy

potential for cooperative efforts in other areas is greatly enhanced by the existence of interconnected missile defense systems that require constant military to military interaction and dialogue in order to remain effective. As advancements in sensor and interceptor technology lead to increased range and expanded defended footprints, the regional BMD architectures in Europe, the Middle East and East Asia may eventually become a single interconnected global defensive network. This could have broad strategic and political implications that have not yet been fully appreciated. Summary: Obama Missile Defense Policy

Early indicators of Obama’s thinking on missile defenses – campaign positions emphasizing cost-effective and proven systems, the April 2009 Prague speech, and the decision to cancel the Bush administration’s plans for a European Third Site – led to an impression that the United States was on the verge of scaling back its BMD effort. However, the administration instead demonstrated a new approach to missile defense that ensured its place in US security policy for the foreseeable future. In a departure from the Bush administration, Obama integrated its European missile defense plans fully into a NATO framework. The administration’s policies shifted its focus from homeland defense, for which an initial capability was already deployed, to regional missile defense and deterrence architectures anchored by the Aegis BMD/SM-3, THAAD and Patriot systems. Although the administration incorporated missile defenses into its regional strategy, the Defense Department had yet to declare these systems operational. In fact, DOT&E expressed its concern that the testing and deployment schedule for the EPAA was highly aggressive and left little room for error. The risk of experiencing yet another “rush to failure” remained possible, even after the administration cancelled the SM-3 Block IIB interceptor due to be deployed as part of the final phase of the EPAA. A GAO report from March 2014 noted that the full implementation of Phase Two would be delayed two years, as would fielding the elements of Phase Three (Oswald 2014). The GMD program, with its repeated test failures, continued to lack convincing data showing its operational capabilities for ICBM intercept under realistic battle conditions. Despite these shortcomings, the Defense Department decided in 2013 to deploy an additional fourteen GBIs to Alaska. Although MDA planned to utilize simulations and modeling to reduce testing costs and build confidence in its systems, DOT&E repeatedly noted that validating such models depends on a

BMD and the Obama Administration


body of test data that had yet to be accumulated and would not likely be available for another five to seven years. The Obama administration, despite the diplomatic missteps in its 2009 rollout of the phased adaptive approach, secured NATO support and cooperation for an integrated European missile defense architecture. Prospects for Russian cooperation in this effort, which would constitute a significant political victory for the administration focused on “resetting” its relationship with Moscow, remained bleak after Russia’s incursions into Ukraine. The expansion of the phased adaptive approach to the Middle East and Asia presented the United States with an opportunity to establish a worldwide network of BMD assets. Even if they are not seamlessly linked together, this architecture provided significant political and strategic benefits with BMD-based cooperative security alliances in the most key regions for US interests. The GMD elements providing US homeland defenses and US regional BMD partnerships in Asia continued to strain relations with China, which may in the coming years emerge as the next major focus of missile defense planning. BMD and Grand Strategy during the Obama Administration

A general sense of anticipation surrounded the ascendency of Barack Obama to the presidency in 2009. The Bush administration had become deeply unpopular at home and abroad. Obama promised domestic renewal, a refurbishing of America’s reputation abroad and a downsizing of US military activities abroad. The administration’s tone seemed more distinctive from its predecessor than its actual policies even as Obama appeared to pursue a regionally based version of primacy. Obama’s grand strategy was generally consistent with Bush in its focus on global strategic access and force posture, albeit with a greater recognition of the limits to US power projection capabilities. The administration signaled an interest in building regional deterrence and security frameworks and engaged diplomatically with Russia, China and Iran to mixed results. Military Component The continued development and deployment of missile defenses during the Obama administration was quite consistent with a growing interest in countering anti-access/area-denial capabilities that might hinder or even deter the United States from regional military engagements. Most relevant in this context would be Iran’s ability to threaten US access to the Persian Gulf and China’s ability to counter US activities in the East


US Missile Defense Strategy

China Sea and between the so-called first and second “island chains.” For perhaps the first time in an official administration document, the 2010 BMDR expressly linked US missile defense capabilities to China’s ballistic missile program. The administration’s 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance announced a “rebalancing” toward the Asia-Pacific and the Middle East regions. Existing BMD cooperative efforts with US allies in these two regions were viewed by the administration as a foundation for the creation of broader regional security and deterrence frameworks that could serve US interests at a time when military resources are scarce. This shifting focus was evident in 2012 as tensions on the Korean peninsula led the United States to deploy the SBX radar, send a THAAD battery to Guam and announce afterwards that additional GBIs would be emplaced in Alaska. While largely consistent with an apparently burgeoning threat, the additional deployment of GBIs – a system that has exhibited serious technical deficiencies in testing and was identified for replacement by the National Academies study – made less sense from a military perspective and is understandable only as an effort to buttress the system’s perceived deterrence and reassurance roles. The cancellation the planned Third Site installations in Europe and implementation of a Phased Adaptive Approach utilizing smaller land and sea-based assets moved US BMD plans closer to those being contemplated by NATO and created an impression of an integrated multilateral alliance-based defensive network. The EPAA appeared consistent with Washington’s strategic desire to strengthen regional security structures and partner capacity. After a long period of active engagement in Afghanistan, many NATO members had begun to press for a renewed emphasis on the alliance’s original purpose of providing a collective territorial European defense, especially with an eye towards a resurgent Russia. Missile defense cooperation represented a useful political project that accomplishes the US goal of strengthening regional security while also satisfying European desires to emphasize territorial defense. These strategic goals are unaffected by the cancellation of some elements of the final phase of the EPAA. Economic Component President Obama clearly stated in his Prague speech that missile defenses would continue to be developed, but that deployment would come only after systems were thoroughly tested and cost effective. Soon afterwards, the administration presented the European Phased Adaptive Approach for missile defenses in Europe that relied heavily on less proven and in some cases undeveloped technologies, and followed what

BMD and the Obama Administration


the Pentagon’s own testing chief characterized as an ambitious deployment timetable. Despite severe domestic economic pressures and several rounds of budget cuts at the Pentagon, the Missile Defense Agency survived the belt-tightening with only relatively minor cuts reductions in the president’s budget request. During the Obama administration, a number of research programs were ended that had been initiated during the Bush years but had yet to demonstrate their potential. By eliminating funding for risky developmental efforts and consolidating MDA’s resources on existing systems, the administration demonstrated some commitment to fielding dependable BMD assets. The GMD program, on the other hand, did not fit this description but was expanded nonetheless. Even as the United States shifted resources from homeland to regional defenses in accordance with its overarching strategic posture, the GMD system remained the only system capable of homeland defense and was therefore difficult to neglect completely. Diplomatic Component This is closely related to another strategic goal shared by the United States and its European allies: the reduction of diplomatic tensions with Russia. After discarding Bush’s Third Site plans, the Obama administration was roundly criticized as having given up on BMD in Europe in order to placate Russia as part of the administration’s “reset” of relations with Moscow. While the strategic and operational justifications for the change appear solid enough, the Obama White House was at the same time seeking Russian assistance in isolating Iran as well as negotiating a new START treaty. The Obama administration argued that, due to these and other issues, the United States had a strategic interest in maintaining a cooperative relationship with Moscow. The impression of a quid pro quo arrangement with Russia over missile defenses was soon made less relevant as agreements were signed with Poland and Romania to host future land-based BMD sites. President Obama’s 2009 Prague speech announcing his commitment to work toward the abolition of nuclear weapons was greeted with fanfare by the non-proliferation community, but also seemed to be treated seriously within the policy planning community. Decisionmakers struggled to find a few tangible policy adjustments reflecting this new direction, including a new arms control treaty with Russia and the limited negative security assurances found in the 2010 NPR. The text of the BMDR also suggested that reliance on nuclear weapons might be reduced in some regions as more capable missile defenses were deployed. For US allies in Europe, the integration of the Phased


US Missile Defense Strategy

Adaptive Approach into NATO’s ALTBMD could eventually allow the removal of US tactical weapons under NATO control, although much hinged upon reducing the substantial numbers of Russian tactical nuclear weapons in the region. The cancellation of the SM-3 Block IIB could in some ways be interpreted as a conciliatory gesture to Russia – deployment of the planned interceptor in Europe concerned Moscow the most – but was most likely a technical decision, coming in the wake of several critical reports questioning the efficacy of the fourth phase of the EPAA for homeland defense. Whether reductions of US tactical weapons in Europe could induce disarmament remains uncertain, but the administration nevertheless appeared to view BMD as one possible mechanism for reaching a nuclear weapon free world. The administration regarded the proliferation of nuclear and missile technology as its primary security threat, but signs of the possible negative effects of BMD on proliferation were already visible in 2009–2010 as the administration moved forward with missile defense deployments. The ultimate effect of missile defense deployments with regard to proliferation may not be definitively determined for some time, either as a dissuasive force hindering missile acquisition or an accelerant to greater missile proliferation. Conclusion

The Obama administration appeared to have an overarching grand strategy during its two periods in office, but faced difficulties in its practical implementation. The United States sought to limit its overseas military commitments during this period, encourage regional defensive frameworks and attempt to consolidate its global posture. Regional ballistic missile threats in the Middle East and the Asia Pacific were prioritized as missile defense architectures in Europe, the Middle East and Asia served both military and diplomatic functions. Developments on the Korean peninsula caused the Obama administration to deploy BMD assets that ostensibly served important deterrence and reassurance signaling functions, while US deployments in Europe became a central pillar in NATO’s defense cooperation and a guarantee of continued US involvement in the region. The Obama administration continued the pattern of prioritizing these useful diplomatic and military-strategic functions despite lingering questions regarding the actual military efficacy of the systems. The ambitious deployment of ballistic missile defense continued to outpace its technical development.

BMD and the Obama Administration



Notes 1 Safe havens for terrorist groups may be one factor. Due to the wide range of destabilizing global trends predicted, the US may frequently be militarily engaged in the coming years if preventing regional instability and failed states is deemed a core US national interest. See Mayer (2007). 2 During Congressional hearings in 2011, Defense Secretary Robert Gates suggested another contributing factor to the new approach: “And let’s be blunt: The Third Site in Europe was not going to happen, because the Czech government wouldn’t approve the radar…and so if it was going to happen at all, it would’ve taken years longer and we still hadn’t negotiated the required agreements with the Poles in terms of the interceptors” (Gates 2011). 3 Administration critics suspected that the decision was a conciliatory gesture to Russia, which had opposed the EPAA in general but the ICBM intercept-capable Block IIB in particular. This suspicion stemmed in part from a private conversation between President Obama and Russian president Dmitry Medvedev during a summit meeting in South Korea in March 2012 that was picked up by microphones, in which Obama urged the outgoing Russian leader to give him space on missile defense negotiations and that Obama would have more “flexibility” after the presidential election. 4 Researchers George Lewis and Ted Postol have raised doubts about the SM-3 program, questioning whether its kill vehicle can identify the warhead ‘end’ of a unitary target. They claim a number of tests considered successes actually failed to impact the dummy warhead or simulated warhead end of the target missile, which would knock the warhead off course but not destroy it. See Broad and Sanger (2010). 5 See for example Rothkopf (2004).

7 The Strategic Utility of Missile Defense

The United States has consistently sought out technological solutions to its security needs, and efforts to construct a reliable missile defense system stretch back to the dawn of the missile age. This long history of BMD development that encompasses dissimilar international security environments and budgetary climates has led many to suggest that the driving force behind missile defense efforts lies in domestic politics rather than strategic necessity. Strangely, though, much of the recent writings on the subject take a dichotomous approach to understanding the root causes behind BMD programs: either defenses are obviously in the US strategic interest or the primary motivations are obviously rooted in domestic politics. A closer examination of the recent past from the strategic perspectives of the past three administrations suggests that the anticipated strategic benefits from the development and deployment of missile defenses can more than adequately account for BMD policy. Domestic factors appeared to affect the scope and timing of missile defense programs rather than their overall direction. Even so, there is reason to question the persistent strategic choice to develop and deploy ballistic missile defenses and, equally important, to critically evaluate the underlying expectations that drive the policy. Comparing Grand Strategy and Missile Defense Policies

Implemented BMD policies were generally consistent with US grand strategy during the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations. Similar evaluations of post-Cold War threats and overarching grand strategic goals among the three administrations are logically consistent with the expected strategic benefits of missile defenses. Broadly understood, missile defenses are intrinsically consistent with US strategy interests 183  


US Missile Defense Strategy

due to its ability to protect US territory, populations and deployed forces. Additionally, the deterrence, dissuasion and assurance elements of BMD policy contribute to a primacy-oriented grand strategy as these missions allow greater US influence within formal and ad hoc defensive alliances, while countering regional anti-access/area denial efforts that threaten US freedom of action. Each administration varied in its implementation of grand strategy, as would be expected, and these variations can in turn be compared with the implementation of BMD policy to establish the level of reactive consistency – that is, whether missile defense policies fluctuated in a similar manner to each administration’s grand strategic adjustments. Some deviations can be expected. The launching of the three plus three plan during the Clinton administration clearly seemed influenced by domestic factors given that it occurred prior to the reinvigorated North Korean threat, though its architecture reflected Clinton’s strategic priorities. The Bush administration pressed forward with the premature deployment of the GMD system, possibly in order to have a system in place prior to the 2004 presidential elections. The Obama administration, for its part, reacted to events on the Korean peninsula by deploying ineffective GBIs in greater numbers and risked exacerbating the strategic balance with China. Importantly, however, while domestic politics obviously play some role in the implementation of ballistic missile defense policy – just as domestic politics impacts the development and acquisition of nearly every military weapon system – the broad contours of BMD policy remain true to the overall strategic interests expressed by each of the three administrations. Policy Optimality

The most crucial question remains, however. Do these policies represent an optimal response, given the threats and goals encapsulated in US grand strategy and weighing the actual contribution of missile defenses to the achievement of the US strategic goals given the opportunity costs? Two sets of criteria are fundamental to this evaluation. The first consideration is the likelihood that the system will adequately perform the strategic missions assigned to it, and attempt to evaluate – in a balanced and empirically grounded manner – whether missile defenses will work as intended. The second optimality consideration includes a more comprehensive categorization of the incurred and potential costs of BMD deployment, so as to arrive at some type of cost-benefit calculation. Simply put, are ballistic missile defenses worth the investment?

The Strategic Utility of Missile Defense


While strategic defenses may in the future abruptly prove their value by defeating an incoming ballistic missile or fail to prove it by missing its target, it is difficult to judge their military value until that time. But even if the military and political benefits of missile defense to US interests have yet to be fully realized, signs of their costs are already becoming visible and are in some respects more quantifiable. In many cases, the costs are ‘front loaded’, as the United States appears to incur strategic, economic and diplomatic costs for missile defense long before the system’s operational effectiveness can be established. Some of these second order effects impact the military component of US grand strategy, such as the possible influence of missile defenses on proliferation. This is particularly relevant given patterns of missile development and rhetoric linking missile technology development efforts to the US missile defense program. One logical and not unexpected result of a promising BMD effort is the attempt by current or potential adversaries to develop methods to counter or circumvent defenses. A number of states with existing ballistic missile programs have either continued or even stepped up development and acquisition efforts after a decade (2004-2014) of widespread US missile defense deployments, including North Korea, Iran, Russia and China. The economic component of grand strategy is impacted by missile defense programs, which represent a significant and reoccurring budget post for R&D, acquisitions and operational costs within the Department of Defense. During the Clinton administration, growing BMD expenditures occurred during a period of falling defense budgets such that the relative economic sacrifice remained substantial. The Bush administration presided over a large expansion of the defense budget, but this coincided with an even greater escalation in operational expenses related to force deployments for Afghanistan, Iraq and other military activities related to the US war on terrorism. The increased pressure on personnel and equipment budgets for these operations also made each dollar spent on unrelated projects that much more noteworthy. As the Obama administration struggled with a crippled economy and ongoing operational costs, budget pressures reached new heights with the implementation of ambitious domestic spending initiatives. In this context, continued – albeit slightly lower – investments in BMD programs represent an investment that comes at the expense of other pressing budget needs. To be sure, missile defenses represent only a small portion of the overall defense budget and an even small slice of the total federal budget, but all three administrations devoted a


US Missile Defense Strategy

significant amount of national treasure to it even when domestic and international trends might have implied other prioritizations. The development of missile defenses has generated recurring political tensions that exact observable costs on the diplomatic component of grand strategy. Both Russia and China have expressed concern over the continued viability of their strategic deterrent forces and the effects of BMD on strategic stability, despite Washington’s repeated assurances that defenses have never been intended to handle long-range missile threats in such quantities. But just as the United States develops defenses based on the future capabilities of its adversaries rather than their declared intentions, Russia in particular appeared to base its opposition on the anticipated future technical capability of BMD rather than the reassurances of US policymakers’ intent. Russian opposition may have little practical effect on the further development of US missile defense, but Moscow’s objections have impacted the strategic calculations of NATO allies in Europe. Diplomatic tensions have hardly been limited to potential adversaries, however, as the United States and its European allies have experienced multiple political rifts over missile defense issues. These types of military, economic and diplomatic costs may be deemed acceptable to policymakers and missile defense policies may be considered optimal, but this is largely dependent on whether BMD assets will perform their strategic missions as intended. The perceived operational effectiveness of BMD provides the foundation upon which other more abstract strategic functions depends. Demonstrating the system’s technical ability to reliably and effectively defeat ballistic missile threats under realistic combat-like conditions provides the necessary credibility for the political-strategic missions of deterring a potential missile attack, dissuading other states from developing missile technology or reassuring allies of US security commitments. But while operational effectiveness is fundamental for the strategic utility of missile defenses, its efficacy need not be the decisive influencing factor. There is a significant psychological component that functions independently from the operational efficacy of the technology. A reasonably effective defensive system may have significant strategic impact in terms of assurance or dissuasion, just as a completely leakproof shield may not necessarily translate into an effective contribution to deterrence. The ultimate determinant of the system’s strategic effects rests not on the technology, but on the perceptions of potential adversaries and allies. Given this fact, how effectively might missile defense systems carry out the four strategic missions assigned to them?

The Strategic Utility of Missile Defense


Operational Effectiveness: Defeating Incoming Missiles Assessing the operational effectiveness of BMD is challenging and largely dependent upon the evaluation criteria, which have generally been linked to quantitative and qualitative characteristics of the threat or the degree to which defenses must be “leak-proof.” Here too, the past three administrations have expressed roughly comparable technical ambitions derived from a desire to defeat (a) a handful of ICBMs launched at the US homeland; (b) greater numbers of shorter-range missiles aimed at allies and deployed forces; (c) missiles that mostly lack penetration aids; and (d) recognizing that leak-proof defenses are less likely to be technologically achievable as the threat increases quantitatively.1 A satisfactorily operationally effective missile defense system – from a US perspective – should at the very least be expected to meet these basic requirements under realistic “battlefield” conditions. Curiously, competent scholars well versed in the technological details of BMD have disagreed profoundly over whether a truly functional missile defense system is even attainable, given the substantial technological challenges. The United States demonstrated the ability to intercept a warhead with another warhead in the 1980s, albeit under quite controlled circumstances. In other words, the concept itself is sound. Throughout the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations, flight testing continued with mixed results for longer-range intercepts but more positive results for shorter-range systems. The exoatmospheric discrimination challenges that some experts argue constitute an insurmountable hurdle for the system have yet to be resolved. Serious questions continued to linger well into the Obama administration regarding the operational status of the GMD program in particular. Despite rhetorical assurances by military officials of the system’s eventual reliability, it is difficult to avoid concluding from the GMD flight test record that exo-atmospheric ICBM intercept remains possible only under closely controlled circumstances that do not include penetration aids, large attack numbers or other unforeseen variables that present the interceptor’s kill vehicle with an unanticipated threat picture. Were North Korea to launch a small number of simplistic ICBMs at the US homeland, decisionmakers might reasonably expect the GMD system to intercept most, if not all, of the incoming missiles. This might be accomplished simply by launching multiple interceptors at each target. If more than a handful of missiles are launched, or if incoming missiles are equipped with rudimentary penetration aids, however, the likelihood of completely defeating an attack falls precipitously.


US Missile Defense Strategy

The potential for an accidental Russian launch in response to a US missile defense engagement is also a strategic risk, given the apparent inability of Russian early warning sensors to identify missile launches. Scholar and Obama administration official Elaine Bunn warned in a 2004 article that even though a US-Russian BMD notification system appeared unnecessary, given that Russia should be able to differentiate between GBIs launched from Alaska and ICBMs launched from North Dakota or Montana, “this line of reasoning places unwarranted confidence in the Russian early warning system of radars and satellites, which has deteriorated drastically over the last decade” (Bunn 2004a). A 2003 report from the RAND Corporation noted that “analyses conducted by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and several US and Russian analysts over the past several years suggest that Russia’s early warning system is in decay, particularly its space-based launch detection system. This trend shows no signs of halting” (Mosher et al. 2003). Indeed, some observers have suggested that Russian satellites and early warning radars were unable to track North Korean missile test launches in 2006 and again in 2009. In the event of a North Korean missile attack resulting in US missile defense interceptor launches, Russian sensors may only be able to detect inbound US interceptors on a ballistic trajectory towards their territory. The NMD/GMD program was always considered to be the most technically challenging project – the “long pole in the tent” – but also the one having the greatest strategic impact. Prioritizing the construction of a long-range capability was viewed as necessary to address long-term threats and provide a support network for the less challenging shortrange effort. The shorter-range systems have matured more rapidly and have generally fared better in testing, partially due to the less challenging lower intercept velocities.2 In general, systems such as Aegis BMD, THAAD and PAC-3 appear reasonably capable of intercepting a limited attack consisting of a handful of incoming ballistic missiles on US allies or deployed forces. Unlike the GMD system protecting the US homeland, these regional systems can complement each other in a layered manner to present a “shoot look shoot” scenario. This “thicker” defensive architecture increases the likelihood of defeating the entire attack, provided the defensive systems are effectively coordinated and available in sufficient numbers. Testing that incorporates these types of scenarios has been very limited. Much of the debate regarding the potential efficacy of the various missile defense systems stems from disagreements over what level of capability is necessary, rather than what is actually sought by department officials. Over the past 15 years, Defense Department

The Strategic Utility of Missile Defense


officials have laid out fairly limited ambitions regarding the system’s eventual defensive capability. Repelling a massive Russian nuclear strike, for example, has never been an objective of the US missile defense effort. Similarly, despite the existence of a limited research program specifically focused on defeating countermeasures and other penetration aids, the BMD effort apparently has not incorporated such technologies in its testing effort since 2002 and discontinued much of the research effort into solving this problem. Defensive systems have since been designed and tested with the goal of handling only simple “first generation” missile threats. The stated primary foci of BMD efforts have clearly been North Korea and Iran, both of which have well-developed short-range ballistic missiles and are pursuing longer-range systems, but are also states that may not have the financial or scientific wherewithal to invest heavily in penetration aid technologies. Critics argue that any state capable of developing a long-range ballistic missile can surely include simple countermeasures to confuse the defenses. Administration officials counter by arguing that developing reliable countermeasures is a more challenging proposition than commonly understood. Ultimately, the adequacy of missile defense capabilities hinges upon qualitative assumptions regarding the threat. But will the level of capability actually being developed by MDA be sufficient for the other strategic missions where BMD is expected to contribute? Deterrence If a seemingly simple technical evaluation of the efficacy of BMD (i.e. “will it work?”) requires a number of caveats to provide just a partial answer, it is even more challenging to gauge how and how much missile defense is adequate to influence the behavior of other states. The most challenging strategic effect of this type to measure is the “value added” by missile defense to existing US deterrent capability. Officials during the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations argued that BMD would not only deter an actor irresponsible enough to attack the United States with a ballistic missile (denial deterrence), but also that defenses might prevent a regional actor from attempting to wield such a weapon for coercive purposes (counter-deterrence). These two types of deterrence objectives may involve unique political and strategic dynamics, and a particular level of BMD capability may contribute unevenly to each of these two deterrent effects. In broad terms, missile defenses have several advantages over the offensive systems traditionally responsible for deterrence missions. First, the deployment and active use of BMD assets is a highly credible


US Missile Defense Strategy

threat. While legitimate doubts exist as to whether the United States would actually make good on its extended nuclear deterrent threats and detonate a nuclear weapon for the first time since 1945, no such uncertainties exist regarding the activation of missile defense capabilities. Second, BMD assets are a highly visible signaling tool for deterrence operations, a quality that recent adjustments to the US missile defense architecture emphasizing mobile assets have only served to increase. The ability to surge additional defensive assets into a crisis may signal US determination and provide an additional non-offensive rung on the escalatory ladder. The growing reliance on mobile assets should increase their survivability as well, which also increases the credibility of missile defenses. On the other hand, their mobility may be a disadvantage. Permanent BMD facilities might signal a lasting, dependable commitment that enhances their deterrent effect. Finally, deployed missile defense assets force an adversary to launch first, and with a greater uncertainty that the attack will be successful. Without defenses, an adversary might be able to threaten missile launch with more confidence and credibility. Denial Deterrence Judging the deterrent effect of any weapon system is difficult if not impossible task. Not only is it methodologically challenging to prove a negative – that is, arguing that something caused an attack not to happen – but it must also be conclusively demonstrated that missile defense was the principle motivating factor out of a number of possible explanations for the non-event. Fortunately, there is a complete lack of empirical data on strategic deterrence – no ICBMs have ever been launched in anger. Instead, the academic and professional military literature has employed more abstract methods to calculate the deterrent effect of weapons systems such as rational choice and game theory or pure mathematics. These rely on a set of broadly accepted assumptions that, while logically sound and intellectually rigorous, still cannot conclusively demonstrate exactly how offensive capabilities in the missile age have prevented ICBM attacks. Still, the absence of a single long-range missile attack since the deployment of ICBMs by the United States and the USSR in the 1950s bears witness to an incredibly strong correlation. While this long period of “non-events” cannot positively establish a causal connection, it is at the same time too persistent to dismiss. On the other hand, the 1991 and 2003 Iraq conflicts are examples – albeit imperfect ones – in which short-range theater missile defenses did not appear to deter the use of ballistic missiles by an adversary. Despite the deployment of Patriot batteries by coalition forces in each of these

The Strategic Utility of Missile Defense


conflicts, Iraqi forces still launched substantial numbers of short-range ballistic missiles. The Patriots were relatively new in 1991 and their effectiveness unknown to the Iraqi leadership, but the continued use of the missiles in the 2003 conflict suggests that the presence of defenses did not serve a deterrence function. During the latter conflict, Iraq fired at least 17 al-Samud and Ababil-100 missiles, a newly developed SRBM with a range of 150–200 kilometers, at Coalition forces, eight of which were considered threats and duly intercepted by Patriot batteries (Feickert 2004). The widespread belief that missile defense will deter a missile attack therefore cannot find support in the Iraqi example. The Iraqi leadership was likely aware of the US capability in 1991 and certainly aware of it by the 2003 Iraq War. Yet they chose to ignore the Patriots and launch SRBMs anyway, directly contradicting the tenets of deterrence by denial. This empirical example is far from perfect, given that the missiles were launched in the context of an invasion whose stated purpose was the overthrow of the regime. Due to the fact that a military conflict was already underway, the role of the Iraqi SRBMs changed from being a tool of strategic coercion to that of a tactical weapon. However, in the quite plausible event that a conventional conflict breaks out between the United States and a regional actor with a ballistic missile arsenal – but one in which those missiles have not been launched – missile defenses arguably play an important strategic role in limiting the potential of an adversary to credibly threaten escalation. The knowledge that BMD could deny an adversary’s tactical use of its ballistic missiles would itself have strategic implications, and may affect the adversary’s strategic calculations prior to the conflict. Given the current ballistic missile capabilities of potential adversaries, the relevance of the denial deterrence mission can only apply to shorterrange missiles, the use of which would then be confined to tactical use due to range limitations. In sum, therefore, the Iraqi examples may be quite relevant. US policymakers are not only relying on defenses to contribute to traditional deterrent capabilities, however, they seem to envision BMD as having almost independent deterrent function as well. The 2010 BMDR even alludes to a possible reduction of nuclear weapons performing a deterrent role in regions where defenses are deployed. For missile defenses to have a quasi-independent deterrent role and truly convince an adversary of the futility of a ballistic missile attack, defense reliability would have to be proven without a doubt. During a schoolyard fight in which youngsters are throwing rocks at each other, the rock-throwers would likely not be inclined to target opponents


US Missile Defense Strategy

hiding behind a solid brick wall – even if those opponents had no means of counterattack. The effort needed to throw the rocks would be wasted as the projectiles would simply bounce off the brick wall. But were those same opponents hiding behind a split rail fence through which a well-placed shot might find its target, rock-throwers may understandably try their luck. Missile defenses, were they to deter an attack independently, would need to resemble the brick wall. Even then, a desperate adversary may still launch missiles just as desperate protesters sometimes throw rocks at armored vehicles. To date, the implementation of US missile defenses has resulted in systems resembling a split rail fence. The pressures to quickly deploy an initial GMD capability, which resulted in repetitive flight testing that has not consistently demonstrated increasingly capable and reliable interceptors, have raised doubts as to the system’s efficacy. While shorter-range systems such as Aegis BMD and THAAD have enjoyed greater testing success, they too have yet to be proven under realistic conditions that include penetration aids and salvo launches. Political pressure to adhere to the demanding developmental timelines for implementation of the European Phased Adaptive Approach may preclude a comprehensive testing regime aimed at substantiating its reliability beyond question. The United States and its NATO allies might then resemble a participant in a rock-throwing fight who, armed with large rocks and an accurate arm, takes cover behind the split rail fence. The combination of fence and rocks may well act as a deterrent, but (a) the ‘added value’ of the fence to the threat of reprisal is difficult to quantify, and (b) it may be difficult to see how such a fence alone would act as an independent deterrent. Counter-deterrence Logically, the United States ought to be more easily deterred in the second nuclear age. Absent the overarching Cold War bipolarity that infused even minor regional conflicts with much greater strategic import than they otherwise deserved, the stakes in most regional conflicts are now lower for the United States than for its adversaries. As Richard Betts concluded in 1995, “for countries with the ability to package and deliver nuclear and biological materials, it should also take little to deter us where the stakes for the United States are limited. This means a small arsenal of weapons of mass destruction could have great value” (Betts 1995, p. 78). Betts also argued that American decisionmakers do not always behave rationally “when emotions, feelings about national honor, or domestic political sensitivities become engaged,” and the United States

The Strategic Utility of Missile Defense


often accepts higher risks than a rational cost-benefit calculation might suggest (Betts 1995, p. 70). Defenses have been viewed as a means by which such risks can be reduced in these low-stakes conflicts, increasing the credibility of US threats and perhaps even avoiding coercion tactics. Much depends on the perceived efficacy of missile defense systems – both for the potential adversary and for US leaders that must weigh the risks and determine if they will be susceptible to coercion and be selfdeterred, or if confidence in BMD is strong enough to risk a missile attack. There are a number of scenarios that have US policymakers worried, and for which BMD is seen as a possible remedy. At some point in the future, Iran could acquire an operational nuclear capability which, combined with the successful development of an IRBM, would allow it to credibly threaten the destruction of one or several European cities. During a regional dispute resulting in escalating political tensions, Iran could attempt to pressure one of its neighbors or block the Straits of Hormuz, confident that its newly developed nuclear capability would make the United States and its European allies reluctant to intervene. However, were Europe protected by a territorial missile defense, Iran’s nuclear leverage might be seen as less threatening and give the United States and its allies greater freedom of action. Based on this, administration officials have expressed a belief that missile defenses might convince states to refrain from undertaking such regional adventurism or engaging in nuclear coercion. While this should be quantitatively possible given Iranian capabilities and missile defense assets included in the EPAA, it is unclear how the Iranian leadership would respond. Given US grand strategy, the most pressing regional anti-access concerns and coercive threats will emanate from China. US allies in the region – including Japan, South Korea and Taiwan – are to varying degrees reliant on US extended deterrence to maintain their territorial integrity and sovereign independence. It has been widely speculated that Japan’s continued status as a non-nuclear power relies primarily on the credibility of Washington’s security commitments. Aware of US conventional military dominance, the Chinese have emphasized the development of a set of asymmetric capabilities designed to disrupt and defeat the advanced technologies used by the American military. One of the primary tools for accomplishing this task is the Chinese reliance on ballistic missiles that target both land and sea-based assets to provide a credible deterrent threat, attempt to effect political concessions through military pressure, and deny high value capabilities such as a US aircraft carrier group operational access, thereby rendering it ineffective.


US Missile Defense Strategy

The sheer number of short-range missiles fielded by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) presents a serious quantitative challenge to missile defense efficacy. Missile defense cooperation between the United States, Japan and Taiwan has resulted in perhaps the world’s most extensive, advanced and capable regional defensive architecture, but its ability to protect against repeated salvos of Chinese missiles remains limited. There exists something of a conscious intellectual disconnect between the intense EPAA deployment activity based upon a questionable Iranian coercive threat, and the ballistic missile threat from China looming over the ability of the United States to retain strategic maritime access in East Asia. The tactical balance between China’s regional ballistic missile capability and US missile defenses may have significant strategic consequences for other actors in the region. Planned improvements to the SM-3 interceptor may eventually pose a threat to China’s strategic deterrent if Pacific-based Aegis BMD ships were positioned close to the US mainland. Similar to the Iranian case, it remains unclear exactly how missile defense assets might affect Beijing’s strategic calculations and whether US freedom of action in the region will in fact be preserved by the further deployment of BMD capabilities. During the development of a national missile defense throughout the Clinton and Bush administrations, analysts expressed their concerns about the possible effects on China of a robust territorial missile defense protecting the United States. One scholar, Bradley Roberts, who held the post of Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear and Missile Defense Policy in the Obama administration, wrote in 2001 that “tolerating a MAD relationship means accommodating a substantial buildup of Chinese forces” which will likely “work against the interests of the United States,” but that “to deny China a credible deterrent means to accept a competitive strategic relationship with the PRC” (Roberts 2001, p. 204). Roberts warned Americans not to “underestimate the depth of the Chinese commitment to escape a world where they are left to be the victims of coercion by Washington” (Roberts 2001, p. 205). Dean Wilkening concluded in 2000 that if a national missile defense were to be deployed, it should be deployed slowly and in a way that minimized the “impact on China’s future strategic nuclear forces” (Wilkening 2000, p. 72). During the Bush administration, it appeared as if the United States remained sensitive to this concern. By limiting the number of deployed GBIs to thirty and incorporating a concept of operations that entailed launching several interceptors at each threat due to the questionable reliability of the interceptors, it posed very little threat to China’s

The Strategic Utility of Missile Defense


strategic deterrent force. The Obama administration, however, responded to a perceived expansion of North Korea’s missile forces by announcing in 2013 that an additional fourteen GBIs would be deployed in Alaska. This increase, while still constituting a relatively limited capability that would almost certainly not present a real challenge to China’s long range missiles, further aggravates the uneasy strategic balance between Washington and Beijing. Dissuasion US policymakers have envisioned missile defenses as engendering an uncertainty among potential adversaries regarding the efficacy of their ballistic missile inventories, dissuading aspiring states from acquiring missile capabilities and discouraging states with existing capabilities from further development. Similar to deterrence, the success of such dissuasive effects rests on beliefs about BMD system effectiveness and the specific defensive architectures fielded. A dissuasive effect might also be established through a convincing pattern of development and deployment that communicates a sense of inevitability regarding the fielding of increasingly capable systems. Evaluating the dissuasive effects of missile defenses has one major advantage over the other three strategic functions discussed here: the availability of quantifiable empirical data. If, as administration officials have suggested, the deployment of missile defenses can affect missile development or acquisition patterns, then trends in such behavior among current and potential adversaries might be visible since the first comprehensive deployments of BMD during the Bush administration. How have states reacted to these deployments over the past decade? While such comparisons establish at best no more than a rough correlation – especially given the early stages of BMD deployment – they offer more empirical evidence than any other BMD mission. And the preliminary results are not promising. The Pentagon’s 2010 Ballistic Missile Defense Review argued that the GMD system is intended in part to “dissuade such states [North Korea or Iran] from developing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capability” (Gates 2010a, p. 11). But the report earlier observed that the missile threat had increased both quantitatively and qualitatively, noting that regional actors such as Iran and North Korea continued to develop ICBMs that could threaten the United States, and that the shorter-range missile threat in key regions is “growing at a particularly rapid pace” (Gates 2010a, p. iii). This seeming contradiction suggests that decision makers do not acknowledge the failure of current


US Missile Defense Strategy

missile defense deployments to have the desired effect on the strategic calculations of its adversaries. In a more recent example, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Frank Rose, in a September 2011 keynote address at a missile defense conference in Copenhagen, outlined the growing threat from ballistic missiles by noting with concern how “many states are increasing their inventories, and making their ballistic missile more accurate, reliable, mobile and survivable. Trends in ballistic missiles show increased ranges, more advanced propellant systems, better protection from prelaunch attack, and the ability to counter BMD systems” (Rose 2011). Only a few paragraphs later, however, Rose then argued that allied cooperation on missile defenses would “eliminate an adversary’s confidence in the effectiveness of missile attacks and thereby devalue the development, acquisition, deployment and use of ballistic missiles by proliferators” (Rose 2011). Each year, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) submits a report to Congress drafted by the Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation and Arms Control Center and coordinated with the National Intelligence Council, outlining international developments regarding weapons of mass destruction. The reports show not only a clear trend of continued development and acquisition of ballistic missile technology by states such as Iran, North Korea and China, but also the recognition that missile defenses are an additional technical challenge to overcome. While other factors most certainly played a role in each of these cases, the evidence seems to support a preliminary conclusion that BMD deployment has so far failed to demonstrate any dissuasive effects on those countries about which the United States is most concerned, including China. It should perhaps not come as a surprise to US policymakers that missile defenses have not had the desired dissuasive effects, however. When the Soviet Union deployed an anti-ballistic missile system around Moscow in the late 1960s, the United States responded by adjusting its nuclear targeting schemes to overwhelm the defenses, developing missiles with multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles and other penetration aids.3 These measures were taken even though the effectiveness of the Soviet defenses could not be verified. Administration officials who point to the potential dissuasive effects of BMD – even if the intent is to dissuade countries that have yet to develop or acquire ballistic missile technologies rather than established ballistic missile states – appear to be basing such expectations on rationales for which there is no empirical foundation. On the contrary,

The Strategic Utility of Missile Defense


the historical record suggests that an arms build-up is the more likely response. Assurance Even if the United States manages to deter an attack on the homeland or avoid a situation where policymakers in Washington are coerced by the threat of nuclear attack, the country’s international influence and freedom of action may still be hampered by a lack of political support resulting from fears of a missile attack. Defenses are a means by which these concerns can be addressed in order to maintain the support of the domestic population and allies abroad in the face of ballistic missile threats. For assurance purposes, the operational and strategic functions of missile defenses must be separated from the political and symbolic role of these capabilities. The Bush and Obama administrations both offered plans for the defense of Europe to alleviate allied worries of strategic “decoupling” and US concerns that the threat of a missile attack on a European ally might deter the United States from intervening in the event of a regional crisis in the Middle East. Providing a defensive capability could reassure European leaders who then might become less concerned about the likelihood of an attack and more confident that damage from any eventual attack would be minimized. The United States is counting on this European feeling of safety to gain the support of its allies if military action ever became necessary against a nuclear-capable regional threat such as Iran. Even in the absence of such a scenario, missile defenses reassure allies that US security guarantees are solid and serve a counterproliferation function by reducing the desire of some allies to develop an independent nuclear deterrent capability. Experiences from the wars with Iraq (1991 and 2003), while raising doubts about the value of missile defense in performing a denial deterrence mission, may lend support to the notion that BMD provides an assurance function. During both conflicts, American and Israeli political leaders could point to the deployment of Patriot batteries as a means of reassuring Israeli citizens that ‘something’ was being done, thereby relieving the domestic political pressure to become involved in the conflict. The deployment of NATO missile defense assets to Turkey in 2013 as the Syrian conflict intensified appeared to serve a similar role: the actual threat to Turkey from Syrian missiles was low, but the political symbolism emphasizing alliance unity was important. A similar dynamic might occur in other regions where the deployment of missile defenses provides domestic political cover for allies to cooperate with the United States despite a potentially heightened risk of missile attack.


US Missile Defense Strategy

Deployed BMD systems may also reassure US decisionmakers during a potential conflict, allowing for more time to weigh various responses. The presence of an initial GMD capability may, for example, have allowed the Bush administration to more easily resist calls for a preemptive strike on North Korea prior to its 2006 ballistic missile tests. The Bush administration’s plans to deploy a limited number of GBIs in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic – the so-called Third Site – provided redundant coverage for the United States and a limited defensive capability for Europe. For both of these Eastern European states, the security assurances obtained by hosting US BMD facilities may have been far more valuable than any possible protection from an Iranian missile. With a strategic outlook based on a Cold War past not so easily forgotten, the support for BMD from Poland and the Czech Republic was less about Iranian threats than Russian ones. The cancellation of the Bush plan by President Obama in 2009 caused only temporary consternation in Eastern Europe as it soon became apparent that the new plan included the placement of facilities in Poland and Romania. The withdrawal of most US conventional forces from Europe has heightened the symbolic value placed on the EPAA plans, as they constitute a means by which European allies ensure continued US involvement in the region. Missile defenses therefore contribute to reassuring allies in ways independent from their primary strategic mission of defending against ballistic missile attack. The risk of missile attack is more poignant in East Asia, where the threat from North Korea – and the unstated threat from China – has driven the deployment of missile defense assets in Japan, where such deployments mitigate their desire to develop nuclear weapons. While not yet an official partner in the US-led regional BMD architecture, South Korea receives constant reaffirmation of the US commitment to its defense beyond the stationing of troops on South Korean soil through an active American presence elsewhere in the region. Just as the EPAA is a tangible expression of US security commitments in Eastern Europe that ease concerns over possible Russian aggression, a similarly unstated yet obvious dynamic also exists in Asia. Even though the current BMD regional architecture has not been constructed for – and is certainly not quantitatively capable of – countering a Chinese attack, cooperative missile defense efforts nevertheless serve an assurance function in the region independent of that threat. This point illustrates a broad truth about the reassuring effects of fielding US missile defenses. The cooperative relationships developed during the Bush administration and expanded under Obama have significant political and strategic effects that are almost completely

The Strategic Utility of Missile Defense


unrelated to the operational military utility of defending against a missile attack. The level of tactical coordination required to organize, develop and maintain a joint BMD architecture encourages such close collaboration between militaries that alliance relations become inherently strengthened. The Obama administration’s repeated emphasis on regional deterrent structures and its prioritization of such joint efforts in Asia, the Middle East and Europe may represent the beginning of a new type of global defensive alliance. Strangely, the success of these political and strategic relationships appears unaffected by the actual operational characteristics and effectiveness of the missile defense assets themselves. Missile defense may not actually need to function perfectly in order to have significant political and strategic value. Optimal Policies: Beyond Efficacy

It is far from obvious that the United States has pursued an optimal missile defense policy, even if the system were certain to cause the desired strategic effects for which it has been developed. One characteristic of a suboptimal policy is the certainty that the expected utility of another option (or set of options) is clearly greater. Just as the future effects and benefits of missile defense are difficult to predict, so too are the benefits of alternatives to a BMD system. A comparison of potential alternatives – which might include comprehensive arms control, cooperative threat reduction efforts, diplomatic initiatives and preemptive strikes – is beyond the scope of this book. It may well be the case that none of the alternatives offer policymakers an optimal choice, and that missile defenses represent the best choice among a set of suboptimal policy options. Even so, this can only be the case if missile defense can reasonably be expected to serve US grand strategic goals, an expectation for which this study has found inconclusive evidence. The threats for which missile defenses have been designed also raise questions of optimality. Throughout the development of missile defenses since the 1990s, the system has been developed with two main adversaries in mind: Iran and North Korea. While there are risks associated with each of these states, the elaborate global defensive system being constructed to counter the missile capabilities of these two diplomatically isolated and economically weak actors suggests the possibility of a response disproportionate to the threat. If the missile defense system as implemented is to constitute an appropriate response to the challenges posed by these regimes, two suppositions must be believed. First, each of these states will continue to successfully develop their ballistic missile programs to the point where they can field a


US Missile Defense Strategy

reliable ICBM capable of targeting the continental United States; a possible but not entirely certain outcome. Second, either of these states must realistically consider launching a preemptive first strike at either at the United States or its allies in the Middle East, Asia or Europe. An unwillingness to strike preemptively would imply that traditional deterrent threats are sufficient. It is not immediately obvious why US policymakers have invested so heavily in the development of the highly complex, highly costly and at times highly controversial global missile defense architecture in order to counter the threat from a North Korean or Iranian missile attack. While scenario-based planning is an important exercise, it sometimes appears that the debate surrounding European missile defense assumes that an Iranian attack “out of the blue” is a reasonable and realistic assumption. It is not obvious why the Iranian leadership would be less susceptible to reprisal deterrence than their Russian or Chinese counterparts. Even as North Korea and Iran continue to refine their ballistic missile technologies, it remains unclear why policymakers in the United States seem to automatically assume that an attack from these two countries is imminent. If this is indeed the case, then missile defenses have an intrinsic military value. There appears, however, to be little evidence to support the belief that either of these countries are oblivious to deterrent threats and might consider launching missiles either at the United States or its allies. Even more curious is the set of irreconcilable beliefs that (a) Iran may irrationally launch an attack on Europe despite the certain counterstrike by the United States and its allies, but (b) is expected to rationally calculate that BMD renders further missile development futile (dissuasion) or that BMD would hinder the regime from coercing the United States if it were able to develop nuclear weapons (counterdeterrence). A number of missile defense proponents appear to calculate that such regimes are both highly rational and highly irrational at the same time, although most administration officials appear to assume rationality. One might recall Secretary of Defense William Cohen’s Congressional testimony in which he argued that while neither of these countries would be irrational enough to attack the United States, they might attempt to coerce the United States with such weapons. The desire to avoid nuclear coercion or an adversary’s regional adventurism by using the threat of nuclear strike as cover is understandable, but the utility of missile defenses to prevent such situations is extremely uncertain. This assumption reduces the importance of a purely operational military functionality for BMD and relegates its strategic value to that of adding several additional layers of

The Strategic Utility of Missile Defense


complexity to existing deterrence and assurance structures. How exactly would these regimes attempt regional adventurism and coercion with nuclear armed ballistic missiles? In the case of North Korea, for which a massive BMD infrastructure has been built, this line of thought assumes that Pyongyang is willing and capable of undertaking a land invasion of South Korea, which constitutes the only “regional adventurism” option available to the regime. In this scenario, then, the North Korean regime would perfect its nuclear warhead and ballistic missile capability, and then contemplate an attack across the DMZ while hoping that its nuclear deterrent would keep the United States and Japan from attacking it. The United States, through its deployment of BMD assets, would then convince the North Koreans that the regime’s nuclear threat would not be credible and its invasion plans would be thwarted. Again, the North Koreans are expected to be irrational enough to consider attacking the South in the first place, but rational enough to be deterred by missile defenses. In broad terms, concerns that the United States would be susceptible to nuclear coercion from the likes of Iran or North Korea if they were to successfully develop a credible long-range nuclear capability are grounded in an odd strategic logic. First, as Robert Jervis pointed out, the bargaining position of these states is greatly enhanced because the United States considers them to be potentially irrational: “by claiming that rogues are so dangerous because they do not fear retaliation, the United States makes it easier for them to adopt Schelling’s ‘rationality of irrationality’ strategy” (Jervis 2009, p. 147). Even more curious, argued Jervis, is the “odd claim” that “the enormous American nuclear arsenal and conventional military establishment cannot produce the coercion that the Bush administration thinks is needed but that the rogues can exert great influence if they have even a few nuclear weapons” (Jervis 2009, p. 148). Given the seeming logical inconsistency surrounding these aspects of the strategic utility of missile defenses, it is hardly surprising that both China and Russia are skeptical of US statements about the motivation behind its BMD efforts. While Moscow currently has little cause for concern – given the size and quality of its nuclear arsenal in comparison to planned US and NATO BMD deployments – Beijing may understandably have more difficulty believing that the United States has invested so substantially in countering North Korean missiles. Given its perceived threats and strategic goals, the nation instead should logically be much more concerned with the largest regional actor in Asia. China’s expanding nuclear arsenal represents a much greater military threat to the United States, and its potential to engage in


US Missile Defense Strategy

military actions around the region is more likely, as is its ability to credibly threaten the United States and its allies with nuclear attack. Were the United States to openly declare that its missile defense efforts are designed to counter Chinese ballistic missiles and reinforce regional deterrence structures in Asia, it would not be inconsistent with US grand strategy. The Chinese appear to have reached this conclusion some time ago; one Chinese scholar summed it up by remarking that “it is untenable that the US would spend more than ten billion dollars on a system which only has rogue states in mind” (Roberts 2001, p. 192). US diplomatic efforts regarding missile defense have often been remarkably Russia-centric during the period examined here. Such a focus was understandable during the Clinton administration due to the fact that BMD efforts at the time were limited and defined by the ABM Treaty. But the Bush and Obama administrations devoted significant resources to negotiations and discussions designed to reassure the Russian government of US intentions, with rhetoric sometimes at odds with its implemented policy. Invitations to cooperate with Russia on missile defense were offset by refusals to entertain proposals entailing a truly integrated cooperative effort – such as Russian-leased radars in the Caucasus – and refusals to allow Russian participation within NATO’s command and control center. None of this is particularly surprising, but the fact remains that missile defense assets have been placed in Eastern Europe with the knowledge that they are viewed by Russia as geopolitically threatening. Further development of the SM-3 missile and its eventual deployment in Northern Europe has been perceived by Russia as a threat to its strategic deterrent, regardless of what the United States claims as its “intent.” The United States–NATO–Russian trinity is an uneasy relationship, to put it mildly, where relations between two of the partners affects each of the other relationships. Missile defense has been a persistent source of tension within this trinity, and an objective cost-benefit analysis might call into question the benefits of missile defenses given these diplomatic costs. This Russia-centric diplomatic policy on missile defense may soon be forced to follow the already visible US shift toward Asia and a rising China. As Roberts and Wilkening argued prior to the deployment of the GMD system, the Chinese reaction to missile defense should be as much, if not more, of a concern than Russia. Due to the complex and interconnected aspects of nuclear deterrence in Asia, Chinese reactions to US missile defense efforts could cause ripple effects throughout Asia and “reduce US security in the long term” (Wilkening 2000, p. 22). Brad Roberts argued in 2001 that the United States had neglected Chinese

The Strategic Utility of Missile Defense


concerns regarding missile defense and warned against a cyclical pattern whereby Each Chinese deployment of new, longer-range systems will add fuel to the fire of debate in Washington about whether China is America’s next great enemy. Each new US deployment of a ballistic missile defense capability will add fuel to the fire in Beijing about whether the United Sates is bent on global hegemony and containment of China (Roberts 2001, p. 207).

As attention shifted to great power politics during the Obama administration, driven by the administration’s rebalancing to Asia and a resurgent Russia in Europe, missile defense deployments intended to deter, dissuade and protect against regional actors have clearly influenced great power relationships in a negative way. The strategic benefits of BMD must be evaluated with these consequences in mind. Final Thoughts

In general, it is premature to judge the strategic effects of ballistic missile defenses and their impact on US strategic policy: the technology continues to evolve and BMD assets are being continuously deployed. Comparing the anticipated roles envisioned for missile defenses with the grand strategies of the past three administrations offers a more precise – and favorable – evaluation. But military systems do not exist just on paper, nor are national security strategies limited to documents. Strategies and systems must also be evaluated according to their tangible impacts on the security environment. In this analysis, missile defenses may eventually fulfill the strategic roles for which they are designed, but they have yet to conclusively demonstrate their value. When comparing implemented BMD policies to the notional missions they are expected to fulfill, serious questions remain. Technical progress has been achieved over the past two decades, but significant gaps remain between planned capabilities and those which have been demonstrated through successful testing. Short to medium-range systems such as Patriot, Aegis BMD and THAAD appear reasonably capable of handling limited numbers of fairly simple ballistic missile threats, and longer-range systems seem somewhat capable of defeating a smaller number of simple threats. The deterrence roles envisioned for missile defenses – both denial deterrence and counter-deterrence – have yet to be demonstrated and may never be. The dissuasive effects of BMD also have yet to be demonstrated – trends in the initial years of


US Missile Defense Strategy

deployment show signs of quantitative and qualitative growth in ballistic missile production. The brightest segment of missile defense policy appears to be its assurance role, as bilateral partnerships and broader international cooperative efforts grounded in BMD programs have created a framework for lasting multilateral security structures. In general, strategic considerations appear to have driven the direction of BMD policy, while domestic factors determined the scope and pace of policy implementation. Even as the strategic roles for missile defense have yet to be fully realized from the policies implemented by the past three administrations, the missions for which they are being constructed appear fairly congruent with both notional and implemented US grand strategies of the past three administrations. The Clinton administration had concerns over new threats emerging from the unpredictable post-Cold War security environment, but sought to develop missile defenses within the framework of existing international treaties. The Bush administration, both before and after the 9/11 attacks, shunned the ABM Treaty and urgently expanded BMD efforts in keeping with its perceptions of immanent threats. The Obama administration generally shared this threat analysis but sought a more limited and sustainable conventional military force posture; new regional security structures constructed in part on BMD cooperation were therefore advantageous. In the final analysis, it is striking how closely the notional BMD missions are aligned with a grand strategy of primacy. Missile defense policies appear to be closely calibrated with an active and interventionist global posture for which continued strategic freedom of action is a precondition. Because the United States has been pursuing this strategy in one form or another since the end of the Cold War, the strategic value of BMD has remained relevant. The unmistakable strategic assumption underpinning the thinking of these three administrations is not simply that acquisition of nuclear-armed ballistic missiles by rogue states may deter the United States from initiating military action to secure its interests in key regions, but that the United States will almost certainly be required to engage its military overseas to protect its interests in the first place. A critical evaluation of this assumption may lead to different conclusions regarding the usefulness of missile defense. If the United States gradually scaled back its global presence and reduced its overseas commitments, it may likely prove more economically, politically and militarily sustainable over the long term to rely on central deterrence (that is, deterrence against attacks on the homeland), for which threats are much easier to make credible.

The Strategic Utility of Missile Defense


Despite a general alignment of missile defense functionality and grand strategic direction over the past twenty years, there remains a serious disconnect between the assumed strategic efficacy of defensive assets and what has been empirically demonstrated. Missile defenses may eventually contribute to non-proliferation efforts or strengthen deterrence, but no evidence exists in support of these optimistic expectations. The economic and diplomatic costs, on the other hand, are more readily documented. Even if the BMD program is in line with US grand strategy, are missile defenses making the United States more secure, or are the burdens associated with these systems hindering the United States in achieving its strategic goals? This remains the challenge of ballistic missile defense, because the empirical record to date offers more conclusive evidence of the system’s costs than of its benefit.                                                                                                                        

Notes 1 One apparent exception to this might be the Bush administration’s efforts to establish a Third Site in Europe that consisted of only ten GBIs, replaced by President Obama with a significantly larger number of shorter-range interceptors. However, the long-term plans of the Bush administration also included this type of capability. The distinction between the two approaches then becomes one of timing rather than technical ambition. 2 Another explanation for the troubling test record for GMD compared with Aegis and THAAD may be the acquisitions procedures for these programs, whereby more stringent quality control standards were maintained for the latter two. A number of the GMD test failures resulted from quality control issues, and the system may perform more consistently if these issues are resolved. 3 See, for example, Kristensen et al. ( 2004).




Airborne Infrared Airborne Laser Anti-Ballistic Missile Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense, combining earlier programs: o NAD—Navy Area Defense lower tier program o NTW—Navy Theater Wide upper tier Army/Navy Transportable Radar Surveillance, Type 2 Anti-Satellite Ballistic Missile Defense Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (defunct) Ballistic Missile Defense Review Boost Phase Intercept Command and Control, Battle Management and Communications Concept of Operations Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Developmental Test & Evaluation (DT&E) Department of Defense Deterrence Operations, Joint Operating Concept Defense Support Program (satellites) Exo-atmospheric Kill Vehicle Ground Based Interceptor Guidance Enhanced Missile Ground based Midcourse Defense Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System Intercontinental Ballistic Missile 207  


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In-Flight Integrated Communication System Integrated Flight Test Integrated Ground Test Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile Joint Functional Component Command Integrated Missile Defense Joint Requirements Oversight Council Kinetic Energy Interceptor Mutually Assured Destruction Missile Defense Agency Medium Extended Air Defense System Multiple Independently Targeted Re-entry Vehicle Multiple Kill Vehicle Medium Range Ballistic Missile Missile Segment Enhancement Network Centric Airborne Defense Element Near Field Infrared Experiment National Intelligence Estimate National Missile Defense North American Aerospace Defense Command Nuclear Posture Review Non-proliferation Treaty National Reconnaissance Org. National Security Council National Security Policy Directive National Security Strategy Operational Requirements Documents Office of the Secretary of Defense Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA – European PAA) Patriot Advanced Capability Precision Tracking Space System Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review Quadrennial Defense Review Russian American Observation Satellite Space Based Infrared System Sea-based X-band radar Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile Standard Missile



Short Range Ballistic Missile Single Shot Probability of Kill Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties United States Strategic Command Space Tracking and Surveillance System Terminal (formerly Theater) High Altitude Area Defense Theater Missile Defense Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Upgraded Early Warning Radar Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Vice Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Vertical Launch System Weapon of Mass Destruction



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Index A2/AD; see anti-access threats ABL; see Airborne Laser ABM Treaty; see Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty Active Layered Theater Ballistic Missile Defense; 120; 135; 164; 180 Aegis Ashore; 55; 158 Aegis BMD: 53; 54; 55; 58; 74; as part of EPAA 37; 54-55; 157; 162-164; 194; deployment status as of 2013; 54; 143n; development and deployment during the Bush administration 113; 116; 119; 120; 121; 128; 129; development and deployment during the Obama administration 157; 162; 163; 164; 165; 166; 170; 174; 176; Airborne Laser (ABL); 52; 74; 78; 95; 121; 129; 156; 167 AirSea Battle concept and grand strategy; 149 ALTBMD; see Active Layered Theater Ballistic Missile Defense Altwegg, David; 156; 166; 168 AN/TPY-2 ; 50; 55; 157; 165; 166; 169; 173 Anti-access threats: in grand strategy 27; 107; 149; 193; mitigation with missile defense 145;177; 184 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty: abrogation during the Bush administration 112; 113; 115; 132; 133; 134; 138; 141; during the Clinton administration 70; 8390; 92; 96; 98; theater defenses and strategic stability 43; 44 Aspin, Les; 72; 91; 98 Assurance: operational effectiveness 197-199; strategic mission of missile defense 34-38; 97; 184; 159;

Ball, Charles; 90 Ballistic Missile Defense Review; 9; 10; 14; 27; 33; 36; 37; 158-160; 162-163; 178-179; 191; 195 Ballistic missile; 1;3; 13-14; 19; 2627; 72; 76; 149; 160; proliferation of; see proliferation threat from; stages of flight; 42 Bell, Robert; 88 Betts, Richard; 18; 26; 39n; 192 Biden, Joe; 170 BMDR: see Ballistic Missile Defense Review Brimley, Shawn; 149 Brooks, Linton; 35 Bunn, Elaine; 21; 33; 188 Burnt Frost mission; 55; 143n Bush, George H.W.; 62; 67 Bush, George W.: abrogration of the ABM Treaty; 115; 132-134; administration grand strategy 102-112; administration plans for European missile defense, see Third Site plan for Europe; early support for missile defense; 112; grand strategy and democracy promotion; 103; 109; 111; relations with Russia; 103; 113; 132-136 Carter, Ashton;11; 39; 68; 158 Cartwright, James;55; 120; 158 Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS); 34-35 China; 90; 92; 93; 95; 99; 136; 143n; 154; 165; 184;; 200; 201-203; as focus of US missile defense efforts; 12-13; 193-195; 198; Chinese missile defense/antisatellite development; 55; in US grand strategy; 64; 69; 70; 72; 103; 108; 109; 110; 146; 148; 149; 177-178; missile threat from; 12; 160;; reactions to US missile defense; 136; 185; 186; 229  



196; regarding ABM Treaty 83; 88-89; 132-134; 139; 174-175; strategic stability with the US; 25; 33; 43; 49; 52; 53; 95; 96-97 Cirincione, Joseph; 2 Clinton, Bill; 38; 46; 53; 101; 103; 104; 106; 108; 110; 111; 112; 114; 116; 117; 124; 126; 130; 132; 134; 140; 141; 148; 154; 162; 171; 183; 184; 185; 187; 189; 194; 202; 204; ABM Treaty and missile defense; 44; administration development and testing programs; 78-83; administration grand strategy; 6172; decision not to deploy national missile defense; 92; missile defense policies; 43-44; strategic roles for missile defense; 9; 14; 15; 26; 72-99; “three plus three” plan; 75-76; 79; 80-82; 87; 94; 184 Clinton, Hillary; 154; 171 Cobra Dane radar; 50; 114; 118; 123124 Cohen, Eliot; 67 Cohen, William; 14; 26-27; 64; 66; 77-79; 81; 87; 88; 91; 114; Compellence; 29 Consistency hierarchy; 6-7; 184 Countermeasures; see penetration aids Coyle, Phillip; 82-83; 128-129 Crouch, J.D.; 1; 116 Cruise missiles; 56; 67; 77-78; 166 Czech Republic and missile defense; 116; 119; 135; 137; 141; 156; 171; 181; 198 DeBiaso, Peppi; 27; 36 Decoys: see penetration aids Defense Science Board; 142n; 162163 Defense Support Program satellites; 51; 121 Democracy promotion and grand strategy; 62-64; 69-71; 93; 103; 111; 146; 153 Desch, Michael; 17 Deterrence: counter-deterrence; 2427; 29; 189; 192; credible

threat;16; definition;15; denial deterrence;24; extended deterrence;3; 19; 34; 35; 36; 37; 90; 193; levels of;16; manipulating risk;18; perception of stakes;19; rationality;18; 19; regional deterrence;22; 27; 28; 35; 37; 149; 159; 174; 177; 202; tailored deterrence;20-21 Dissuasion; 9; 30-34; 39; 184; 186; definition;30 Dueck, Colin; 5; 99n Ellis, James;121 Endo-atmospheric intercept; 43-44; 48 European Phased Adaptive Approach; 50; 54; 157; 162-165; 167; 172; 176; 178; 180-181; 192-194; 198; see also Phased Adaptive Approach Exo-atmospheric intercept; 44; 48; 53; 95; 124; 167; 187 Extended deterrence; see Deterrence, extended F-35 aircraft: role in missile defense; 51; 219 Feith, Douglas; 1; 132 Fetter, Steve;29 Fischer, Jan; 171 Flournoy, Michèle; 149; 158 Gansler, Jacques; 77; 214 Gates, Robert; 52; 120; 135-136; 148-149; 156-157 Gelb, Leslie; 68 Germany and missile defense; 56; 90; 96; 137; 164 Gilmore, J. Michael; 165; 167-168 Glaser, Charles; 29 Graham, Bradley; 10; 89 Grand strategy: definition; 5; ; in the Bush administration; 101-112; in the Clinton administration 61-72; in the Obama administration; 145-155 Gray, Colin; 13; 19; 134 Green, Brian; 119 Gronlund, Lisbeth; 85 Ground Based Interceptor; 48; 53-54; 57; 76; 117-118; 120; 121; 125-

Index 231

127; 156-158; 162; 164-165; 17-; 176; 178; 184; 188; 194; 195; 198 Ground Based Midcourse Defense (GMD); 33; 53-54; 58; 116; 117; 118; 184; 187; 188; 192; 195; 198; deployment and testing during the Bush administration 123-128; 129; 130; 131; 138; 140; 141; 142; development during the Obama administration; 155; 157; 161; 162; 165; 166; 167; 168; 169; 170; 174; 176; 177; 179 Gulf War (1991); 23; 36; 45; 56; 72; 74; 93; 117; 190-191; 197 Hagel, Chuck; 54; 151; 161; 165 Hamre, John; 87 Henry, Ryan; 30; 106 Hildreth, Steve; 59n;128 Hit to kill technology: see Kinetic energy intercept Holum, John; 86; 88-90; 99 Iklé, Fred; 17 Independent Review Team; 125-127; 129 India: in US grand strategy; 146; 148-149; missile defense;37; 110; 174; 175 Iran: ballistic missile threat from;2; 13; 14; 30; 33; 49; 59; 76; 93; 105; 118; 151; 153; 154; 157; 171; 177; 179; 185; 189; 193; 195; 196; 197; 199; missile defense against;59n 94-95; 119120; 131; 140; 156; 158; 160; 174-175; response to US missile defense; 185; 195; 200 Iraq; 23; 30; 49; 56; 59; 67; 74; 93; 95; 105; 106; 108; 110; 111; 145; 146; 148; 151; 153; 154; 185; 190; 191; missile defense operations against; 45; 56; 113; 117; 128; 136; 197 Israel and missile defense; 28; 37; 90; 92; 96; 120; 121; 137; 139; 169; 175 Japan and missile defense; 3; 34; 36; 37; 44; 57; 70; 92; 96; 110; 118; 119; 120; 121; 132; 137; 139;

153; 164; 165; 169; 174; 175; 193; 194; 198; 201 Jervis, Robert; 201 Jintao, Hu; 136, 154 Joint Operating Concept for Deterrence Operations; 15; 20; 22; 107 Jones, James; 107 Kadish, Ronald; 83; 91; 99; 114; 116; 118; 122-125; 127 Kaminski, Paul; 73; 75 Kartchner, Kerry; 24 Kinetic energy intercept; 53; 54; 5556; 95; 128 Kennedy, Paul; 5 Kinetic Energy Interceptor; 121; 129; 156; 167 Klare, Michael; 108 Knorr, Klaus; 20 Krepinevich, Andrew; 30-32; 107 Kwajalein atoll; 83; 114 Lake, Anthony; 62-64; 102 Lantis, Jeffrey; 20 Laser: in missile defense; 52; 167; see also Airborne Laser (ABL) Layne, Christopher; 5 Lewis, George; 181n Lieber, Keir; 12 Lindsay, James; 42; 43; 45-46 Lyles, Lester; 77-78; 81; 82; 114 Lynn, William; 165 Martinage, Robert; 30;32 MEADS; see Medium Extended Air Defense System Medium Extended Air Defense System; 56; 74; 77; 80; 91; 121; 137; 164 Medvedev, Dmitri; 136; 170; 173; 181n Miller, Frank; 34; 91 MIRV: see multiple independently targeted reentry vehicles Missile defense: development and testing; 78-83; 122-131; 165-170; missile defense funding; 79-80; 130; 169-170; components of US system; 49-58; gauging effectiveness of; 47-49; operational experience; 55; 117; 143n;191; as a deterrent; 24-30;



189-195; political reassurance value of; 36-38; boost phase intercept; 51-53; 58; 74; 77; 95; 97; 113; 130; 156; 167; midcourse phase intercept; 35; 44; 47-50; 56; 57; 58; 62; 103; 105; 124-127; 130; 142; 143; 148; 172; 178; 183; 185; 187; 246; target discrimination; 47; 48; 50; 52; 53; 54; 58; 62; 82; 135; 139; 184; 185; 188; 205; terminal phase intercept; 45; 47; 48; 56; 59; 62; 105; 124; 127; 172; 183 Mitchell, Gordon; 85 Morgan, Patrick; 20 Moscow Treaty; 110; 133; 134 Multiple Independently Targeted Reentry Vehicles;13; 33; 42; 45; as response to missile defense; 49; 173 Multiple Kill Vehicle; 129; 156 Murdock, Clark; 34; 35; 36 National Academies report (2012); 162; 167; 178 National Intelligence Estimate (1995); 76; 93; 94 National Missile Defense Act of 1999; 87; 115 National Security Presidential Directive (NSDP 23); 15; 21; 115-116; 124 Netherlands and missile defense; 90; 137; 164 New triad; 13; 108 Non-Proliferation Treaty; 34; 71; 155 North Atlantic Treaty Organization; 37; 67; 92; 96; 110; 131; 137; 139; 141; 150; 151; 153; 160; 176; 177; 178; 180; 186; 192; 197; 201; 202; alliance missile defense development; 91; 119120; 163-164; missile defense cooperation with US; 91; 135136; 155; 157-158; 163; 171-174; role in US grand strategy; 69-71; 35; skepticism to US national missile defense; 89-91; 96 North Korea: ballistic missile threat from; 2; 10; 13; 14; 28; 30; 70; 76; 90; 94; 95; 105; 118; 123;

137; 150; 156; 159-161; 175; 185; 189; 198; 199; 200; missile defenses against; 52; 57; 59; 76; 92; 94-95; 118-119; 123; 131; 137; 164-165; 187; possible response to missile defense; 33; 49; 195-196; 201 Nuclear blackmail; 3; 26-27; 32; 102; 112 Nuclear Posture Review; 9-10; 13; 32; 36; 107; 139; 158; 159 Nunn, Sam; 4 O’Hanlon, Michael; 45 O’Reilly, Patrick; 142n; 156-157; 160; 162; 167-168 Obama, Barack: 7; 9; 14; 23; 27; 33; 36; 37; 38; 54; 62; 121; 142; 178181; 183; 184; 185; 187-189; 194; 195; 197-199; 202-205; administration grand strategy; 145-155; administration missile defense development and testing policies; 165-169; administration missile defense policies; 155-177; cancellation of Third Site plan; 157; Defense Strategic Guidance; 146; 178; Nobel acceptance speech; 150; “leading from behind”;150; pivot to Asia;148; 153; Prague speech on nuclear weapons; 155; relations with Russia; 170-173 Obering, Henry “Trey”; 118-120; 125; 127; 138 Panetta, Leon; 146; 147; 148; 151; 221 Patriot system; 37; 55-56; operational experience in combat 56; 59-60n; 117; 128; 142n; 190-191; Patriot Advanced Capability 2 system (PAC-2);56; 60; 117; 128; 137; 174; Patriot Advanced Capability 3 system (PAC-3);56; 58; 60; 74; 79; 116; 117; 120; 121; 128; 129; 137; 188 Payne, Keith; 13; 33 Penetration aids; 13; 42; 44; 45; 4749; 51; 59; 76; 83; 123-124; 128; 156; 159; 162; 187; 189; 192; 196 Perry, William; 74; 75; 222

Index 233

Phased Adaptive Approach; 163; 174-175; 177; see also European Phased Adaptive Approach Poland and missile defense; 37; 116; 119; 120; 135; 137; 141; 157; 164; 171; 172; 179; 198; 221 Postol, Ted; 181n Powell, Robert; 28 Press, Daryl; 12 Primacy: as grand strategy; 93; 155; 177; 184; 204; nuclear primacy; 12 Proliferation; 97; 98; 105; 136; 140; 141; 146; 147; 149; 160; 179; 180; 185; 205; as rationale for missile defense; 1-3; 13; 15; 27; 38; 70; 112; missile defense impact on; 33; 77; 90; 136; 196; Proliferation Security Initative; 110 Putin, Vladimir; 97; 133; 135; 136; 141; 171 Quadrennial Defense Review; 31; 32; in identifying grand strategy; 5; 1997 QDR; 64-66; 79; 81; 2001 QDR; 9; 104-107; 142n; 2006 QDR; 105; 107; 2010 QDR; 148; 153; 158 Reagan, Ronald; 4; 23; 72; 91; 95 Rice, Condoleezza; 1-2; 111; 133 Roberts, Bradley; 194; 202-203 Rogozin, Dmitry; 164; 173 Rogue states; 1; 3; 26; 28; 33; 61; 64; 72; 74; 80; 97; 102; 104-105; 111; 112; 133; 140; 156; 157; 201; 202; 204 Romania and missile defense; 37; 164; 179; 198 Rose, Frank; 33; 196 Rosner, Jeremey; 62 Rumsfeld, Donald; 31-32; 76; 94; 106; 113-116; 123; 131-132 “Rush to failure”: original Welch commission report during the Clinton administration; 81-82; regarding the GMD program during Bush administration; 113; 126; regarding the EPAA during the Obama administration; 176 Russell, Richard; 28

Russia; 10; 23; 25; 33; 43; 50; 72; 93; 95-97; 112; 123; 138; 146; 160; 177; 181n; 185; 201; 202; 203; as rationale for missile defenses; 1213; dispute over European missile defense; 134-137; 141; 170-174; 178-179; 186; in US grand strategy; 70-71; 103; potential for accidental missile launch due to weak Russian sensors; 188; Russia and ABM Treaty; 44; 8488; 113; 115; 132-133; 141; strategic relationship with US; 52; 83-84; 110; 149; 153 Sagan, Scott; 33-34 Sanders, Patricia; 123 SBX: see Sea-based X-band radar Schelling, Thomas; 16; 19; 28 Sea-based X-band radar; 50; 118; 121; 124; 162; 166; 169; 178 Second nuclear age; 13; 15; 17; 19; 192 Shalikashvili, John; 73 Slocombe, Walter; 9; 26; 76-77; 94 Sloss, Leon; 9; 11; 15; 20; 22 South Korea and missile defense; 37; 44; 70; 153; 174-175; 181n; 193; 198; 201 Spain and missile defense; 37; 137; 157 Spinardi, Graham; 127 Spiral development; 47; 99n; 122; 123; 125; 129 Standard Missile; 54; 73; Standard Missile 2 (SM-2); 54; 59n; 166; 174; Standard Missile 3 (SM-3); 54-5; 116; 118; 119; 121; 128; 129; 137; 157-158; 163-164; 172; 176; 194; 202; Standard Missile 3 (Block IA); 54; 157; 166; 170; 174; Standard Missile 3 (Block IB); 54; 157; 166; Standard Missile 3 (Block IIA); 54; 158; 166; 174; Standard Missile 3 (Block IIB); 54; 158; 162; 165; 168; 176; 180; 181n START agreements; 71; 84; 133; 149; 155; 172-173; 179 Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI);4; 72; 74; 91; 92



Strategic stability; 11; 17; 25; 43; 52; 84; 86; 90; 186 Talbott, Strobe; 88-89 Tauscher, Ellen; 120; 142; 164 Terminal High Altitude Area Defense; 55; 56; 58; 74; 79; 85; 95; 113; 117; 120; 121; 129; 130; 140; 155; 157; 162; 165; 166; 168; 169; 170; 174; 176; 178; 188; 192; 203 Terrorism: as a threat; 1-3; 31; 101106; 108; 139; 140; 141; 146; 148; 153; 185; relating to grand strategy; 63; 64; 65; 101-106; 149; relating to missile defense; 14; 38; 139; 160 THAAD; see Terminal High Altitude Area Defense Theater missile defense; 34; 41; 73; 74; 77; 78; 79; 81; 84; 85; 90; 92; 94; 129; 130; 162; 190; Clinton administration prioritization of theater defenses; 78-79; technical distinction between theater and national defenses; 43-44; 48; 78; theater defenses and the ABM Treaty; 86-87

Third Site plan for Europe; 99n; 119120; 131; 135; 141; 142n; 156; 157; 158; 164; 170; 171; 176; 178; 179; 181; 198; 205n Thranert, Oliver; 36; 37 Turkey and missile defense; 3; 34; 36; 91; 136; 157; 164; 173; 197 Tusk, Donald; 171 UEWR: see Upgraded Early Warning Radar United Nations: 110; 147; 150; 151; 153; objection to US national missile defense; 89-90; US participation in; 66; 67; 69; 70 Upgraded Early Warning Radar (UEWR); 50; 75-77; 121; 135; 174 Watman, Kenneth; 23; 24; 29; 35 Welch, Larry; 81-82 Wilkening, Dean; 23; 24; 29; 35; 44; 194; 202 Wolfowitz, Paul; 114-115; 124; 132 Woolsey, James; 3; 13 X-band radar; 50; 76; 88; 91; 94; 115; 116; 118; 119; 120; 121; 124; 135; 138; 157; 162; 164; 165 Yeltsin,Boris; 70; 86; 97 Yost, David; 34

About the Book

Why has the United States continued to develop ballistic missile defenses in an era of irregular warfare and asymmetric terrorist threats? How does missile defense contribute to US global strategy? Can the BMD system achieve the goals that lay behind its creation? Michael Mayer addresses these questions in his balanced approach to the contentious debate over the strategic value of missile defense. Mayer surveys the grand strategies of the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations, methodically comparing them with each president's missile defense policies. He also demystifies the fundamentals of the BMD system. Seeking to change the terms of the debate, he cogently challenges much of the conventional wisdom touted by both supporters and detractors of ballistic missile defense. Michael Mayer is senior research fellow at the Norwegian Institute for Defense Studies.