When Barack Obama campaigned for president in 2008, he promised to “cut investments in unproven missile defense systems.” The word “unproven,” folks worried, could be used against every defense system that hasn’t intercepted a missile in combat. And, indeed, Obama did cut missile defense programs.
The Obama administration sacrificed homeland ballistic missile defense while supporting regional defense of Europe. This lack of enthusiasm for homeland, or “strategic,” missile defense seems to come from a concern of upsetting the “balance of power,” and the Obama administration has traded away homeland defense in order to “reset” relations with Russia.
First, the Obama administration scrapped the plan to place a third ground based midcourse defense site in Europe due to Russian opposition. The Bush administration had been working with the Czech and Polish governments to place radar and 10 interceptors in these countries to provide added protection of the U.S. homeland and some protection of Europe. Both countries’ leaders agreed to work with the U.S., despite strong Russian objections. In 2008, Czech president Vaclav Klaus told the Washington Times that “having experienced decades of Soviet domination during the Cold War,” Czechs are “extremely sensitive to any patronizing from that part of the world.”
Russian officials argued, erroneously, that the site could be used to weaken the Russian nuclear arsenal. The missile defense site was intended to provide added protection of the U.S. homeland from missiles launched from Iran and headed toward U.S. territory. But even this could not stop the Obama administration from scrapping the site for the instant gratification of Russian thanks and for an agreement from the Russians to wrap up negotiations on the follow-on nuclear arms reduction treaty called New START. Suspicious of this agreement, six members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee sent a letter to the administration on May 6, 2010 asking for the treaty’s negotiating records. The senators never received it.
Second, the new plan, called the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA), prioritizes “regional” defense of Europe at the expense of the defense of the U.S. homeland.
The pretext Obama officials gave for the switch is that there is currently a greater quantity of short and medium range ballistic missiles, and although the Iranians are working on a long-range missile, they probably won’t have one until 2015. As a result, the administration implemented a Europe First plan. The plan also called for the development of an entirely new missile—the SM-3 Block IIB (which could easily be called “unproven”) to provide protection of the U.S. New programs require support and commitment from the White House if they stand a chance of surviving scrutiny of a Congress under pressure to find budget cuts. In the case of the SM-3 IIB, President Obama will be out of office at least 4 years before the missile is scheduled for deployment in 2020 (five years after Iran is expected to have an ICBM), and in September of this year, the Senate Appropriations Committee eliminated all funds for the program, explaining, “in its current form, the SM–3 Block IIB missile is of limited mission value due to technical constraints.”
Over the next four years, the Obama administration plans on cutting a billion dollars from the homeland defense budget, a quarter of overall missile defense cuts. It also plans on spending almost five times as much on regional defense than on defense of the homeland. The Bush administration was excoriated for its inability to persuade NATO allies to contribute more substantially to the cost of the previous missile defense plan. The new plan, which more specifically aims to protect Europe, is entirely subsidized by the American taxpayer. To add insult to injury, while the European Union’s collective economy is greater than the U.S. economy, EU states have recklessly slashed their defense budgets and now expect the Americans to foot the bill for their security.
Last, the administration compromised missile defense by signing New START. As Robert M. Gates, then defense secretary, said before a Senate panel in June 2010: "There is no meeting of the minds on missile defense. The Russians hate it. They've hated it since the late 1960s."
When President Bush withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty the year after the 9/11 attacks, he wisely broke the decades long link between arms control and missile defense. The Obama administration reversed the Bush administration’s policy by linking missile defense with arms control in New START. Obama administration officials repeatedly argued that New START would not affect their plans for missile defense. That may be true, but only because the administration doesn’t have plans for strengthening homeland missile defense.
Now, Ellen Tauscher, the undersecretary of state famous for her love of arms control and hostility toward comprehensive U.S. missile defense, is leading negotiations with Moscow over an agreement exclusively focused on allaying Russian concerns about U.S. missile defense. Reports indicate the Russians are seeking legally binding assurances that the U.S. missile defense system could not be used against Russian missiles. The U.S. system could eventually provide comprehensive protection of the homeland from attack, regardless of the kind and quantity of enemy missile, and from where it is launched. It would be a disaster and an utter abdication of its primary responsibility of providing for the common defense if the U.S. government agreed to Russian demands, thereby purposefully exposing the American people to Russian nuclear weapons.
Sacrificing missile defense until the Russians are satisfied will not end well for the American people or the future of U.S. security. The Obama administration's efforts to achieve Russian “reset,” which were recently rewarded by the return of former KGB member Vladimir Putin to officially lead the country again, will undoubtedly do little to persuade Russia to assist in the strengthening of U.S. security—and will do much to hurt it.
Rebeccah Heinrichs is an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the former manager of the House of Representatives Bipartisan Missile Defense Caucus.