Ten years ago tomorrow, the United States formally withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which has defined strategic thinking for about 30 years. On Wednesday, The Heritage Foundation will host an event commemorating the 10th anniversary of the withdrawal from the treaty.
The treaty banned the United States and the Soviet Union (and later Russia) from developing ballistic missile defense effective against long-range ballistic missile threats. As seen in Heritage’s movie 33 Minutes, President Reagan did not subscribe to the treaty’s logic and forced the Soviets to the negotiating table by vigorously pursuing the Strategic Defense Initiative, a comprehensive missile defense program for the protection of the United States.
President George W. Bush’s decision to abandon the treaty marked the ultimate recognition that the U.S. must not render itself vulnerable to a ballistic missile attack from Iran, North Korea, or other international threats. While Moscow kept referring to the treaty as a cornerstone of strategic stability, Russia’s reaction to the U.S. withdrawal was not nearly as condemning as its previous rhetoric indicated.
With the treaty gone, engineers and scientists could finally innovate and put their talents into the worthy task of turning President Reagan’s vision into reality. Since 2002, they have achieved significant advances in land- and sea-based defenses. The U.S. is no longer vulnerable to a limited long-range ballistic missile attack. Yet more needs to be done.
President Obama significantly has cut the missile defense budget since he took office and indicated his willingness to negotiate away U.S. missile defense program in the arms control process. The Administration ended the Multiple Kill Vehicle program, the Airborne Laser, and the Kinetic Energy Interceptor program—all critical capabilities for the effective protection of U.S. homeland and allies.
To catch up with the advancing ballistic missile threat, the U.S. should:
- Expand and continually improve the Navy’s proven sea-based Aegis missile defense system,
- Pursue and expand advanced integration of the various components of a layered missile defense system, including ground-based interceptors, and
- Develop and deploy space-based missile defenses, particularly space-based interceptors, to counter ballistic missile attacks.