On Tuesday the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security hosted its annual conference on missile defense. Experts from the United States, Europe, and Asia shared their knowledge and viewpoints on the progress of U.S. and allied missile defense programs across the globe. Of particular note was the attendance of Under Secretary of Defense for U.S. Policy James Miller, who provided the opening keynote address.
“Ballistic missile defense is, without question, one of the most important national security issues we face today,” Miller declared, citing the 2009-2010 Ballistic Missile Defense Review as evidence that the Obama Administration is committed to the nation’s missile defense programs. The Under Secretary listed homeland defense as the nation’s top priority, followed closely by regional defense of U.S. forces abroad and assisting allies in developing missile defense systems themselves.
On North Korea, Miller praised the recent UN Security Council sanctions as evidence of the world being “united in their condemnation of the regime’s behavior.” He especially welcomed China’s support. Miller cited North Korea’s continuing nuclear program and heightened rhetoric as proof that the United States must continue to take decisive steps to defend against North Korean ballistic missile development. Miller likewise called for continued observation of Iran, arguing that the nation’s recent space launch indicated possession of technology needed to one day develop an ICBM.
Miller went on to outline advances being made on the U.S. Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, the system responsible for defense of the U.S. homeland. He also noted an expanding hedge capability resulting from completion of Missile Field 2 and the upcoming completion of another missile field in Fort Greely, Alaska. Miller also announced that per the direction of Congress, the Department of Defense is beginning environmental impact studies exploring the possibility of additional missile fields on the east coast or interceptors in Alaska, though he clarified that this does not mean the U.S. government has decided to go forward with such efforts. “We are initiating studies at the direction of Congress in the event the threat progresses to the point where that makes sense in the future,” he stated.
Miller made it clear that U.S. policy is to prevent Iran and North Korea from acquiring nuclear-armed ICBMs and that the United States is capable of defending against any ballistic missile threat originating from either country. “If they develop ICBMs, they will not be able to threaten the United States. Our missile defenses will defeat them.”
Miller also emphasized ongoing bilateral efforts with allies in the Asia Pacific, the Middle East, and Europe, including PAC-3 deployment in South Korea and missile defense cooperation with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and NATO members. Moving forward, the U.S. will emphasize information-sharing among allies via sensor systems. Miller confirmed that the U.S. partnership with NATO on the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) is on track for Aegis BMD 4.01 and SM-3 Block IB system deployment in 2015, and will “evolve toward full capability” in phases 3 and 4 in 2018 and 2020 respectively.
When questioned on Russia’s objection to EPAA deployment, Miller informed the audience that nothing planned poses any threat to Russia’s strategic deterrence efforts. While confident that the EPAA was fully on track for phase 3 deployment, Miller made no explicit guarantee that phase 4 would be pursued, citing budgetary concerns. “We are continuing to look very hard at (phase 4 implementation)…our ability to deploy SM3 IIB has slipped at least two years to the right of what we previously had planned.”
Miller’s confidence about the future of U.S. missile defense may be premature, however. In an article in Arms Control Today, our Senior Science Fellow Phillip Coyle, citing a recent heavyweight report by the National Academy of Sciences, highlighted the technological impracticality of Phase 4 SM3 IIB deployment in Europe. While an East Coast battery might resolve some technical concerns and diplomatic issues with Russia, it could end up costing billions more than the Obama Administration had planned. The total cost of pursuing new regional systems in the Middle East and Asia has also not yet been calculated. Further, a lack of in-house scientific expertise in the Missile Defense Agency and key industrial players raises doubt over whether necessary research can be done on the advanced space-based sensors and detection systems that are essential to an effective missile defense.