Obama, Congress Should Push NATO Missile Defense Program off 'Fiscal Cliff'

By Butt, Yousaf | The Christian Science Monitor, November 15, 2012 | Go to article overview
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Obama, Congress Should Push NATO Missile Defense Program off 'Fiscal Cliff'

Butt, Yousaf, The Christian Science Monitor

Unless President Obama and Congress reach an agreement over the next few weeks, deep automatic cuts on defense spending to the tune of $55 billion next year alone will kick in starting in early 2013. One expensive Pentagon boondoggle that should be canceled in these times of tight budgets is the NATO missile defense program.

Not only would canceling this program save billions, it would be strategically sensible, bring about greater international cooperation on security issues, and free up more than 30 Navy ships to address actual military threats around the globe.

According to the current missile-defense plan, the United States, working with NATO, would ramp up the deployment of a mix of increasingly sophisticated sea- and land-based missile interceptors around Europe in an attempt to guard against any possible future Iranian nuclear missiles. That sounds good, but the problem is that an enemy bent on delivering a nuclear payload could easily defeat the system by using decoy warheads, thereby swamping the radars and other sensors with fake signals.

In fact, two recent government-sponsored scientific studies have shown that the missile defense system being planned to protect the US and Europe is fundamentally flawed and will not work under real combat conditions. As Philip Coyle, who stepped down as associate director for national security and international affairs in the Obama administrations Office of Science and Technology Policy recently put it, the program is chasing scientific dead ends, unworkable concepts and a flawed overall architecture.

Besides saving about $8 billion per year, there would be numerous other collateral benefits to canceling this flawed program. Missile defense has been the main irritant in recent US-Russia relations. Shelving it could bring about greater Russian cooperation on a host of important global security issues like Syria, Iran, space and nuclear security, the American strategic pivot to the Pacific, and the emerging issues over the future of the Arctic.

Russian perceptions of the missile defense system's future ability to upset the balance of nuclear arms agreed to in the New START treaty may also be a roadblock to further nuclear arms reductions. And if the US had to preserve a larger nuclear deterrent just to keep up with Russian numbers this would be another large waste of money brought about by the flawed missile defense plan.

And as the missile defense program undergoes mission creep beyond just Europe, into the Pacific and Middle East, it is raising tensions in those geopolitical spheres also. Indeed, the bipartisan Strategic Posture Commission has pointed out that China may already be increasing the size of its ICBM [Intercontinental Ballistic Missile] force in response to its assessment of the U.S. missile defense program.

Such stockpile increases will likely compel India and, in turn, Pakistan to also ramp up their nuclear weapon numbers. Any US policy that adds nuclear tinder to South Asia will certainly come back to haunt Washington down the road.

Of course, Washington shouldn't cancel missile defense just to please Russia or China. It should be canceled because the system is fundamentally flawed and ridiculously expensive. Shutting it down would be in Americas fiscal and security interests.

Doing so would also free up the more than 30 Navy ships that are slated to become floating launchpads for missile defense interceptors.

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