On May 30, after years of planning, the Department of Defense intercepted a mock intercontinental ballistic missile, the first successful test of its ground-based program against an ICBM-range target. Top Pentagon officials hailed the test, with Vice Adm. Jim Syring, the director of the Missile Defense Agency, calling it “an incredible accomplishment for the [Ground-based Midcourse Defense] system and a critical milestone for this program.”
An effective missile defense system could, in the short term, offer an extra layer of protection against North Korea. But the gradual buildup of the United States’ missile defense program could lead to something much more dangerous: a new arms race with Russia.
The truth is that successful arms control was built not just on controlling offensive weapons, but on restraining defense systems, as well. However, over the past 30 years we’ve seen the U.S.-Russian consensus on the importance of limiting missile defense dissolve — and though it gets less attention than nuclear weapons, this represents a destabilizing development that could hinder cooperation on arms reductions.