International threats renew debate on missile defense

International threats renew debate on missile defense
International threats renew debate on missile defense
Associated Press

As tensions rise on the Korean peninsula, conservatives are eager to talk about a national security issue that’s long been near and dear to their hearts: missile defense.

[Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol] said that there has been a “very haphazard follow through” on Ronald Reagan’s contention that the U.S. needs to defend itself from nuclear weapons. Kristol warned that in the decades to come, North Korea could have “many more missiles and many more nuclear weapons.” As such, Kristol argued that the Obama administration needs to “get serious” on beefing up missile defense systems.

[Republican political strategist Ed Gillespie] argued that “we need missile defense, and we need for our friends to have it as well.”

This comes on the heels of congressional Republican seeking more ground-based-missile-defense interceptors on the East coast of the U.S., not because of North Korea, but out of fear of Iran. Politico noted the GOP efforts are “tied up as much with the conservative mantle of Ronald Reagan as it is with national security or the influence of the defense industry.”

Because making defense decisions based on the dreams of a former president you happen to like is always a responsible approach to national security policy in a time with evolving global threats.

I can certainly understand the general appeal of the technology, at least on a conceptual level. Indeed, it’d be quite reassuring to think U.S. officials are investing wisely in a defense system that can simply shoot down missiles while they’re still in the sky, before they can do any damage on the ground.

But there are some problems with the idea. For one thing, missteps and technological failures have plagued missile-defense systems for as long as missile-defense systems have existed. It’s a drawback that proponents generally prefer to ignore.

For another, we aren’t investing wisely.

Dana Liebelson had a good report last week on Congress intervening to rescue a missile-defense program the Pentagon doesn’t want.

Conservatives are throwing a hissy fit about a few hundred thousand dollars spent on a scientific study about duck sex, but over at the Pentagon, Congress is spending $380 million on a missile program that has no funding authorization, doesn’t work, and the Department of Defense doesn’t plan on buying. So why are we still paying for it? Because Germany and Italy are making the US feel awkward, and when you back out of a defense contract, you have to sell your first-born child. Also, jobs. 

The Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS), contracted to Lockheed Martin, is a joint project with Italy and Germany intended to produce a weapon that will intercept ballistic missiles. If you read Lockheed Martin’s website, MEADS sounds really cool. This “hit-to-kill” missile will “defeat tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles and aircraft, [and provide] full 360-degree engagement.” Woah! (Shhh, forget about the fact that Lockheed Martin’s program is basically a duplicate of the “Patriot” missile program that the US is already paying for. This one sounds cooler, okay?) 

Unfortunately, according to the Office of Secretary of Defense, MEADS has had serious technical, management, schedule, and cost problems since it was introduced in the mid-1990’s” and has been unable to “meet schedule and cost targets.” The Department of Defense decided in 2011 it didn’t want the system because it couldn’t afford to pay for two missile programs, and it was not helping US national security.

Congress is funding it anyway, directing $380 million to the program in the stop-gap spending bill that will fund the government through the end of the fiscal year.

Missile Defense

International threats renew debate on missile defense