According to press reports, the House Armed Services Committee has preserved a provision in its draft of annual defense legislation that would place ballistic missile defense interceptors on the East Coast to defend U.S. territory more effectively against ballistic missile attacks, including short-range missiles carrying electromagnetic pulse (EMP) warheads that could be launched from ships.
This is a wise step, because ballistic missile technology is proliferating, as made evident by ongoing missile development programs in Iran and North Korea. In a recent study, The Heritage Foundation made a similar recommendation. The Heritage proposal looks at a variety of options to meet this need for a more robust territorial missile defense capability. Specifically, we looked at fielding some combination of Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) interceptors on land and Navy Standard missile interceptors both on ships that transit the East Coast and on land. Ultimately, Heritage recommends putting missile defense interceptors in space that provide a global missile defense capability, including for U.S. territory.
Members of the House Armed Services Committee who wanted to strip this provision out of the bill are complaining that it is intended to raise questions about their commitment to defend the U.S. Whether that was the intention or not, it is necessary to recognize that the Obama Administration’s missile defense policy and programs raise questions about its commitment. First, the Administration is proposing a missile defense budget for fiscal year 2013 and beyond that is too low. Second, this inadequate overall missile defense budget is strongly tilted in favor of funding missile defenses for regions outside the U.S. Third, the Administration moved to scale back the number of GMD interceptors for the defense of the U.S., located in Alaska and California and to be located in Europe, in 2009. More recently and most disturbingly, President Obama told Russian President Dmitri Medvedev that he would be more “flexible” after the election regarding the missile defense program—while the Russians are objecting to even modest U.S. plans for fielding missile defenses.
The U.S. needs a more robust and better balanced missile defense capability than what is being proposed by the Obama Administration. The provision in the defense legislation to explore an East Coast site for missile defenses is designed to provide this capability. If those currently objecting to this provision are concerned about the perception that they are not fully committed to defending the U.S. against missile attacks, they need to recognize that they are only reinforcing this perception by seeking to remove it from the bill.