Last Thursday, experts on ballistic missile defense gathered to discuss this issue at The Heritage Foundation’s conference “Rethinking Comprehensive Missile Defense.” It is clear that the United States needs capable ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems to protect the U.S. citizens, its homeland, and allies in Europe and the Pacific from the growing ballistic missile threat. The missile defense industry needs a clear guidance and sustained support from the leadership in the government in order to meet these tasks.

Lieutenant General Henry Obering emphasized that missile defense and arms control are complimentary and further reductions in nuclear weapons will be possible only if the United States deploys BMD systems capable of destroying both short- and long-range ballistic missiles. Ambassador Robert Joseph illustrated that, whereas the current Administration has claimed its support of missile defense systems, any tangible increase in their capabilities remains to be seen. Rebeccah Heinrichs, an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, stated that President Obama’s beliefs about missile defense are “ideologically driven” by the notion that one does not need ballistic missile defense for deterrence to be more credible or to prevent countries from obtaining and delivering missiles.

The United States also needs to promote stronger cooperative relations with countries in the Pacific, especially Japan and South Korea, against the threats of North Korea and China. According to General Burwell Bell, former commander of U.N. Command/Combined Forces Command/U.S. Forces Korea, and Admiral Timothy Keating, former commander of U.S. Pacific Command, America needs to exercise leadership and promote cooperation between Japan and South Korea despite the historical distrust between the two countries. Both generals agreed that the U.S. presence in the region is both desired and welcomed by U.S. allies.

Uzi Rubin, former head of the Israeli Missile Defense Organization, illustrated the qualitative and quantitative threat of Iranian missiles and how important it is for the United States to protect its allies in Europe and the Middle East. To be able to meet all the tasks above, the contracting companies will need to restructure to be more effective, according to Steven Cortese from the Alliance Techsystems, Inc. In addition, Thomas Donnelly from the American Enterprise Institute suggested that the U.S. taxpayers’ dollars must be invested only in prospective and useful missile defense programs.

Billie Tucker, the founder of the Tea Party in Florida, presented a grassroots perspective of the U.S. missile defense systems. She concluded that even if some of the American people do not understand the complexities of the ballistic missile threat, it is clear that the only constitutionally mandated obligation of the government is to provide for the common defense, and it is unacceptable to leave the U.S. citizens vulnerable to ballistic missile threat.

Co-authored by Haley Parks. Parks is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: