Morning Bell: Moving Forward With Missile Defense

Conn Carroll /

Sometime today a missile will be fired from Kodiak, Alaska. As it sails over the Pacific, it will be followed by four target-tracking sensors that will help guide a long-range interceptor fired from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The missile from Kodiak will be representative of the type we would expect from a country such as North Korea or Iran. It will be similar in terms of distance involved, trajectory, speed and flight time (33 minutes). A successful test today would join a growing body of evidence that missile defense technology can protect America. To date, the core ground-based defense system has destroyed its target in six of nine attempts, and overall, there have been 36 intercepts in 46 tries across all elements of the evolving shield.

President-elect Barack Obama’s “Blueprint for Change” states: “In a world with nuclear weapons, America must continue efforts to defend against the mass destruction of its citizens and our allies.” A national survey reveals 87% of Americans think the U.S. should have a missile defense system capable of protecting America against missiles that may contain weapons of mass destruction warheads. Yet the Obama blueprint also says his administration will support missile defense that is “pragmatic and cost-effective” and “does not divert resources from other national security priorities until we are positive the technology will protect the American public.” These statements imply that ballistic missile defense technology is not proven. As the growing body of evidence mentioned above demonstrates, this is not true.

It is important, therefore, that Obama clear up ambiguities in his position on missile defense. Allies like Poland are watching and will need to be sure of our commitment to them. At the same time, Russia will try to take advantage of any uncertainty. It is critical that Obama move ahead quickly on his promise to “spare no effort to protect Americans from the threats posed by nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.”

In order to fulfill the fundamental commitment to protect and defend the people, territory, institutions and infrastructure of the U.S. and its allies, Obama will need to propose a defense program that includes a dedicated and robust ballistic missile defense enterprise. In order to realize this vision, Heritage’s memo to Obama recommends:

The requirements of today’s world demand a strategy to protect and defend the U.S. and its allies. The Cold War strategy of retaliation-based deterrence is insufficient. Ballistic missile defenses are an essential component of a protect-and-defend strategy for the 21st century.

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