Missile Defense as a Hedge

Frank A. Rose
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance
German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) Conference on Reviving Nuclear Disarmament
Berlin, Germany
June 16, 2016

Purposes of U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense

The United States views our missile defense programs as a hedge against the ballistic missile threats we face now and those threats that unfortunately will confront us, and our allies and partners, in the future. The 2010 Ballistic Missile Defense Review makes clear that U.S. missile defenses are focused on defending against limited missile threats to the U.S. homeland, and regional missile threats to our deployed forces, allies and partners throughout the world. The development of ballistic missiles by countries like Iran and North Korea, and the proliferation of these systems around the world, is what drives our threat assessment.

Missile defenses support a number of defense strategic goals. Ballistic missile defenses help support U.S. security commitments to allies and partners. They provide reassurance that the United States will stand by those commitments despite the growth in the military potential of regional adversaries. Missile defenses also aid the United States in maintaining military freedom of maneuver by helping to negate the coercive potential of regional actors’ intent on inhibiting and disrupting U.S. military access in their regions.

Missile defenses are an essential element of the U.S. commitment to strengthen regional deterrence architectures against states acquiring nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction in contravention of international norms, and in defiance of the international community.

It also is important not to view missile defense in isolation, but recognize that it is part of an overall set of U.S. and allied capacities for mutual defense in the face of coercion and aggression from states like Iran and North Korea. In sum, our deployment of missile defenses is focused on strengthening the twin U.S. goals of deterrence and assurance. In so doing, they also contribute to international peace and stability and reinforce our nonproliferation aims.

Regional Ballistic Missile Defenses

Our policy is to deploy ballistic missile defenses to address regional threats from the Middle East and North Korea, and to enhance our regional deterrence posture. To accomplish these goals, we cooperate with our allies and partners in deploying missile defense systems and architectures today.

Last month, I traveled to the Middle East where the United States and Gulf Cooperation Council, or GCC, member states have committed to develop a region-wide ballistic missile defense, or BMD, capability, including through the development of a Ballistic Missile Early Warning System. On this trip, we conducted a senior leader missile defense tabletop exercise to examine improved regional ballistic missile defense cooperation.

In Europe, we continue to make excellent progress implementing the European Phased Adaptive Approach, or EPAA, which will serve as the U.S. national contribution to NATO’s missile defense system. Starting in 2011 with Phase 1, we deployed a missile defense radar in Turkey and began the sustained deployment of Aegis BMD-capable ships in the Mediterranean. That radar system in Turkey transitioned to NATO operational control with NATO’s declaration of Interim Capability in 2012. Last month, we operationally certified the Aegis Ashore site in Romania as part of Phase 2 of the EPAA, and broke ground for the Aegis Ashore Phase 3 site in Poland that will become operational in the 2018 timeframe.

The site in Romania, combined with BMD-capable ships in the Mediterranean, will enhance coverage of NATO from short- and medium-range ballistic missiles launched from outside the Euro-Atlantic area. The site in Poland will be equipped with the new SM-3 Block IIA interceptor. This site, when combined with other EPAA assets, will be able to provide BMD coverage of all NATO European territory. These facilities are for defensive purposes only and are completely compliant with the INF Treaty.

NATO is also making progress on BMD. NATO continues to make improvements to its command and control system and operational arrangements, all agreed by the North Atlantic Council.

Other NATO Allies are also playing their part on capabilities. Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, France, and Italy have mobile theater BMD capabilities, while Poland and Turkey are planning on procuring such capabilities. The Netherlands, Germany, the UK, Spain, Norway, and Denmark are also developing sea-based radar capabilities.

In the Asia-Pacific, we are continuing missile defense cooperation through our bilateral alliances and key partnerships. In December 2014, we deployed a second AN/TPY-2 radar to Japan, which will enhance the defense of both the United States and Japan. We are also in discussions with our South Korean colleagues to determine the feasibility of deploying a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, system there.

Russia and Ballistic Missile Defense

At the same time, we have made clear both in our policy and in the capabilities we have deployed that our missile defense efforts are not intended to affect the strategic balance with Russia and China. As a practical matter, the U.S. experience with missile defense suggests that attempting to develop a comprehensive missile defense system to defend against ballistic missile attack from Russia and China would be extremely challenging – and costly – given the size and sophistication of Russia’s and China’s strategic missile forces, and the relatively limited number of missile defense interceptors that would be available to defend against such large forces.

Russia at the highest levels continues to claim that our missile defense systems undermine strategic stability. Both the United States and NATO have been clear that the system that NATO is building in Europe is not designed for or capable of undermining Russia’s strategic deterrent capabilities. U.S. and NATO missile defense systems are directed against ballistic missile threats from outside the Euro-Atlantic area. NATO and the United States have explained this to Russia many times over the years; we have explained this to the Russians in the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations.

And I think it’s also important to note that over the past 20 years, the United States and NATO have put forth numerous proposals for missile defense cooperation between the United States and Russia, as well as NATO and Russia, including the establishment of two NATO-Russia Missile Defense Centers. However, it was Russia that in 2013 unilaterally terminated this cooperative dialogue with NATO. Then, Russia’s illegal actions in Ukraine in 2014 led to the suspension of our bilateral dialogue on missile defense cooperation.

Russia argues that it made good faith proposals on missile defense. In reality, these were just demands for “legally binding” guarantees that Russia knew the United States would not be able to accept. Russia’s approach would have placed strict limitations on our missile defenses and undermined our ability to protect ourselves, our deployed forces, and our allies and friends against evolving and growing ballistic missile threats. There was never any spirit of compromise in these Russian proposals.


The 2010 Ballistic Missile Defense Review is quite clear on our policy: U.S. missile defenses are neither designed nor directed against Russia’s or China’s strategic nuclear forces. By the same token, we have also made it clear that we cannot and will not accept legally-binding or other constraints that would limit our ability to defend ourselves, our allies, and our partners.

The United States will continue to insist on having the flexibility to respond to evolving ballistic missile threats with the crucial hedge of missile defense. U.S. cooperation on missile defense is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Threats are diverse, and so must be our solutions. We tailor our unique sets of capabilities to fit with each regional security environment stretching from Europe to the Asia-Pacific.

As more actors develop sophisticated ballistic missile capabilities, it is incumbent upon us to take the appropriate steps to defend the U.S. homeland, our deployed forces, and our allies and partners. I can personally attest that our diplomatic engagements over the last seven years have made us, and our allies, better equipped to meet the threats of today, and nimble enough to respond to what threats may lay ahead.