The New York Times recently published an editorial arguing that the United States shouldn’t invest heavily in its missile defense program.
The editorial board seems to believe that in an era of unprecedented missile threats to the U.S. homeland from rogue regimes such as Iran and North Korea, the U.S. government should decrease investment in one of the best defensive tools. This opinion is misguided and reckless, particularly in regard to Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD)—the only system that can protect the U.S. homeland.
While it is true that missile defense does not offer fool-proof protection, this is not a reasonable argument for failing to invest in the technology. Missile defense is a difficult engineering challenge but it is not beyond the capacity of a country that landed a man on the moon, sends satellites outside our solar system, and develops cutting-edge vaccines. The list of incredibly challenging engineering hurdles that American innovation has cleared would boggle the mind.
We have seen many successful missile tests that demonstrate the effectiveness of GMD over the past few years. This and other missile defense programs have improved to the point that when Sen. Deb Fischer recently asked Head of North American Aerospace Defense Command Lori Robinson about the Times editorial in the context of North Korea, she responded, “I am 100 percent confident in my ability to defend the United States of America.” Failed tests are part of the process and do not mean that we should give-up.
Moreover, the recent increase in missile defense spending approved by Congress and the president, while substantial, is negligible compared to the loss of life and economic destruction that could emanate from a missile attack on a major American city.
So it is particularly strange that the New York Times suggests that even if the United States were able to improve the technology, it would create a perverse incentive to take unnecessary risks or behave aggressively because the missile-defense system would reduce the costs of retaliation. This argument does not take into account the dynamics of our military. All nations throughout the history of warfare have sought to develop the most sophisticated fighting systems, both offensive and defensive. The belief that an American president would unjustly risk the lives of civilians because we had an effective GMD system is the height of cynicism and does not show a realistic understanding of presidential decision-making. I wonder if the New York Times was against submarine hunters during WWI or anti-aircraft missiles protecting the White House.
Finally, the editorial creates a false dichotomy between those who support missile defense and those who want to achieve diplomatic victories and keep military action as a last resort. Not only does this logic ascribe unreasonable motives to advocates of missile defense—a majority in Congress—it ignores the fact that missile defense can actually enhance U.S. deterrence, and thus, increase the likelihood of non-military instruments succeeding.
Driven perhaps by an irrational distrust of those in government, The New York Times editorial board is recommending cuts to the missile defense that would ultimately endanger the homeland.