Former Representative Bob Barr’s (R–GA) criticism of the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) anti-aircraft and missile program is understandable but misplaced. Representative Barr, quite reasonably, points to the Obama Administration’s plan to continue spending money on this cooperative program with Germany and Italy despite an announcement early last year that it is moving to exit it. What he fails to appreciate is that the Administration’s earlier decision to exit the program was itself misguided.
MEADS is important and advantageous for several reasons. First, MEADS successfully completed its design review last August. Second, it had a successful flight test last November. Third, integration testing of the system continues to advance. Fourth, MEADS will very likely provide a much-improved capability over the Patriot system in fending off combined attacks by both cruise and ballistic missiles, while providing 360-degree coverage. Fifth, the alternatives to MEADS would hardly be cost-free and would start at less advanced positions in the acquisition process. Finally, the MEADS program is one of the few missile defense programs that is receiving direct development funding from U.S. allies.
The last of these facts deserves special consideration, because it is about more than the foreign contributions. The Obama Administration has stated that it is its policy to foster foreign cooperation in the broader missile defense program, but its actions indicate otherwise. First, it moved to pull the rug out from under the governments of the Czech Republic and Poland by canceling existing agreements to field a missile defense radar and interceptors on their respective territories. This system was being designed to provide protection toU.S.territory as well asEurope. The withdrawal was to appeaseRussiawhen it insisted that theU.S.and its allies inEuropebe left vulnerable to Russian missile attacks. Then the Administration announced its intention to exit the MEADS program, thereby pulling the rug out from underGermanyandItaly.
Most recently, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta stated in a letter to Senator John McCain (R–AZ) that he is likely to cancel the current missile defense program forEurope, called the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA)—which is supposedly the centerpiece of the Administration’s broader missile program—under the automatic defense cuts the Administration favors.
There is a pattern developing here: The Obama Administration makes commitments to U.S. allies regarding missile defense and then abandons those commitments in a way that does serious damage toU.S.relations with its allies and the missile defense program. It certainly appears that the President recognizes that the American people want to be protected against missile attacks, but he is not committed to that defense himself. The answer to this dilemma, apparently, is to advance certain missile defense programs for a while and then terminate them later. The American people, as well as U.S. friends and allies, deserve a serious and sustained missile defense effort.
This brings us back to the issue of money. The real source of waste in these instances is the President’s pursuing missile defense programs only to the extent that it leaves an impression in the mind of the public that he favors such a defense. If this is his strategy, he is undertaking an expensive public relations campaign.