Congress’ Call to Expand National Missile Defense Marks the Height of Irresponsibility


Removing longstanding U.S. policy on “limited” national missile defense is financially reckless, exceptionally destabilizing, and detrimental to U.S. national security. President Obama should consider vetoing the latest National Defense Authorization bill based on this provision alone.


Hazel Correa
202.546.0795 x2115

Washington, DC – Since 1997, Congress has mandated that the policy of the United States is to pursue a “limited” national missile defense system, one that is capable of intercepting a small-scale attack from a rogue nation. Yet despite $40 billion spent on the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) national missile defense system, it has proven to be unreliable. Just nine of 17 GMD tests have been successful.

Nonetheless, the latest conferenced National Defense Authorization bill calls for removing the word “limited” from U.S. policy and instead calling for “an effective, robust layered missile defense system capable of defending the territory of the United States.”

Senior Pentagon officials have questioned this approach, including former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who called* expanding national missile defense, “enormously destabilizing, not to mention unbelievably expensive.”

John F. Tierney, Executive Director of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation and a former nine-term Member of Congress who chaired extensive congressional hearings into the failures of the GMD system, commented:

“Calling for the expansion of national missile defense marks the height of congressional irresponsibility. A layered system would cost hundreds of billions of dollars at a minimum and would almost certainly cause a new nuclear arms race as adversaries work to overcome any new capabilities. We went through this before and the results were clear: It is dangerous, enormously expensive, and the chances of success are next to none.”

Philip E. Coyle III, the Center’s Senior Science Fellow who served as Director, Operational Test and Evaluation at the Department of Defense and is widely considered a leading expert on missile defense, said:

“The success rate of the national missile defense system in flight intercept tests has been dismal, getting worse over time when it ought to be getting better. Since 1999, nine of 17 flight intercept tests have failed. But since 2004, six of nine tests have failed; and since 2010, three of four have failed. In 2015, the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation summarized that more than fifteen years of national missile defense testing has been “insufficient to demonstrate that an operationally useful defense capability exists.” There’s an old adage in defense policy: “Fly before you buy,” and Congress must follow it.”

John F. Tierney added, “Throwing good money after bad toward this program will not improve its effectiveness. This provision alone should cause the White House to consider vetoing the entire bill.”


*See 02:26:40 of video

**Further Notes: The 1999 law (PL 106-38) reads: “It is the policy of the United States to deploy as soon as is technologically possible an effective National Missile Defense system capable of defending the territory of the United States against limited ballistic missile attack (whether accidental, unauthorized, or deliberate).”

The new law would replace the old one entirely as follows: “It is the policy of the United States to maintain and improve an effective, robust layered missile defense system capable of defending the territory of the United States, allies, deployed forces, and capabilities against the developing and increasingly complex ballistic missile threat with funding subject to the annual authorization of appropriations and the annual appropriation of funds for National Missile Defense.”

*** In 2014, then Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Jonathan Greenert, and then-Army Chief of Staff, General Raymond Odierno, signed a joint memo calling the current limited missile defense strategy “unsustainable” and calling for a reassessment of the program.

Congressman John F. Tierney and Philip E. Coyle III are available for further comment and broadcast bookings by contacting Hazel Correa at 202.546.0795 X 2115 or

The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation is a national non-partisan, non-profit dedicated to enhancing peace and security through expert policy analysis and thought-provoking research. Since 1980, the Center’s expertise on reducing the threats of war and nuclear weapons has been sought by the media and policymakers – supported by the tax-deductible contributions of foundations and individuals.