Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta recently sent a letter urging Senator Daniel Inouye (D–HI), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, to conclude a test phase of the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) in fiscal year (FY) 2013.

MEADS is a trilateral anti-aircraft and missile program with Germany and Italy. It is appropriate that Panetta seeks support for funding for this program. It is also appropriate to recognize, however, that the Obama Administrating is facing congressional reluctance to fund this important program because of its earlier decision not to procure the system.

The decision not to procure MEADS and complete only the limited integration of the system is wrong-headed.

First, MEADS offers unique capabilities not found in the aging Patriot and Nike Hercules systems (which will have to be replaced eventually anyway), such as 360-degree radar coverage or lower transportation requirements.

Second, MEADS is one of the few missile defense programs to which allies actually make financial contributions (the United States is required to pay 58 percent of total development costs).

Third, MEADS completed its design review last August and was successfully tested in November, and its integration continues to advance.

A decision to defund MEADS would undermine U.S. and allied interests. According to Panetta, if the U.S. pulls out of the program now, it would “negatively affect allied willingness to join future cooperative endeavors.” This is also correct—even more so given that it would not be the first time the Obama Administration burned allies on missile defense cooperation.

In 2009, President Obama decided to cancel the third site, a ballistic missile defense plan for the protection of the U.S. and allies, citing new intelligence that the ballistic missile threat from Iran is not as eminent as analysts previously expected. This decision left the governments of Poland and the Czech Republic—which were supposed to host an interceptor and a radar site, respectively—surprised and embarrassed, as they invested significant political capital domestically and internationally to counter Russia’s opposition to the plan.

To add insult to injury, in 2011, the Administration proposed to curtail funding for the MEADS program after FY 2013.

In November, Panetta stated that he could be forced to cancel the entire European Phased Adaptive Approach—President Obama’s plan for protection of Europe and the U.S. in its later phases—if the sequestration process goes through. It is President Obama’s policy to support sequestration: During a White House appearance in November 2011, he stated: “I will veto any effort to get rid of those automatic spending cuts to domestic and defense spending.”

The U.S. and NATO cannot afford to let MEADS atrophy while regimes such as those in Iran and North Korea seek to join the nuclear club and expand and improve their ballistic missile arsenals.