The book Ballistic Missile Defense: Its Past and Future by Jacques Gansler is yet another contribution to the ongoing debate on the role of ballistic missile defense (BMD) in the U.S. strategic posture. Unfortunately, a middle path to ballistic missile defense proposed in the book stems from incorrect premises about the effects of BMD systems and their role in the protection of the U.S. homeland.
The author argues that it is necessary to negotiate a new Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty that would allow only limited defenses against rogue states but would bar the United States and Russia from threatening one another’s nuclear deterrents. This proposition is inherently illogical, because any “limited” ballistic missile defense system will unavoidably have the potential to threaten Russia’s nuclear weapons. As with the ABM Treaty, Moscow would not hesitate to use all possible tools to retard the development of a U.S. BMD system while preserving its own ability to protect its population, infrastructure, and institutions.
The author goes as far as to propose that the U.S.’s limited BMD system should not threaten China’s deterrent forces. However, the efficiency of the Chinese deterrence will be challenged even sooner, given that China has fewer ballistic missiles than the Russian Federation.
If the United States limits its BMD system in any way, the country would leave itself vulnerable to the rising threats of Iran and North Korea. Iran could have a nuclear weapon in as little as one to two years and an ICBM capable of threatening the U.S. by 2015 or sooner. North Korea has 600 SCUD short-range ballistic missiles that threaten Japan and 100 No-Dong intermediate-range ballistic missiles that could hit U.S. bases in Okinawa and Guam. Pyongyang already has the capability to reach Hawaii and parts of Alaska.
In addition, it is essential not to defer space-based kill systems. Space-based missile defense systems are the most capable and efficient alternative to the costly and vulnerable sea- and ground-based systems the United States currently deploys.
The U.S. strategic posture in the future should be based on the “protect and defend” approach, which means that the United States would field missile defenses and maintain a modernized, credible nuclear deterrent. According to research done by experts at The Heritage Foundation and elsewhere, this approach appears to be the best option for pursuing arms control and nonproliferation policy while limiting the potential for conflict in a multi-proliferated setting. There is no substantive reason to constrain U.S. BMD systems.