U.S. Missile Defense in a Proliferating World: Threats and Challenges in the New Missile Age



U.S. Missile Defense in a Proliferating World:

Threats and Challenges in the New Missile Age


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

6:00 – 8:00 PM

Foundation for Defense of Democracies

1726 M Street, NW, Suite 700, Washington, DC


Featuring a screening of the documentary

33 Minutes: Protecting America in the New Missile Age

Followed by remarks from:

 James Carafano

Senior Research Fellow & Deputy Director, Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, The Heritage Foundation

 Cliff May

President, Foundation for Defense of Democracies

 Jamie Fly

 Executive Director, The Foreign Policy Initiative 


About 33 Minutes: Protecting America in the New Missile Age

33 Minutes: Protecting America in the New Missile Age is a 30 minute documentary produced by The Heritage Foundation that tells the story of the very real threat foreign enemies pose to every one of us. No matter where on Earth a missile is launched from it would take 33 Minutes or less to hit the U.S. target it was programmed to destroy. Featuring rare footage and in-depth interviews with leading experts in the field, 33 Minutes is the definitive documentary exposing the untold vulnerability we all face and the action plan necessary to revive a strategic missile defense system that America uniquely can develop, maintain, and employ for its own defense and the peace-loving world's security.


Discussion Summary

Following a screening of the documentary, 33 Minutes: Protecting America in the New Missile Age, FPI Executive Director Jamie Fly moderated a discussion with the Heritage Foundation’s James Carafano.

Carafano opened by outlining three critical threats associated with the lack of a complete missile defense system: First, the U.S. could be “held hostage” by hostile nations, unable to take the required steps to advance our interests while subject to a nuclear ballistic missile threat.  Second, without missile defense, rogue regimes are able to achieve major propaganda victories by more aggressively standing up to America.  Third, eliminating or reducing missile defense removes a key element of deterrence from the U.S. arsenal.  Carafano argued that other nations would have little interest in pursuing ballistic missile technology if a fully functional missile defense system were in place.  An undefended America, however, provides Iran and North Korea with an incentive to build nuclear weapons and long-range delivery vehicles.  This, in turn, will lead to further proliferation as nations like Saudi Arabia acquire nuclear weapons for deterrence, no longer fully confident in America’s ability to defend its allies.

Carafano then addressed the problems with the Obama Administration’s approach to missile defense.  The current administration’s budget cuts have stunted an already underfunded program, he argued.  Most seriously, cutting certain technologies today may lead to a long-term loss of industry capabilities, which have taken years to develop.  Once eliminated, these technologies cannot simply be produced on demand at a later date, but require sustained investment and development.  Moreover, an incomplete missile defense system may be the worst alternative, as hostile powers are driven to improve their technologies while America remains unprotected.

In response to questions from moderator Jamie Fly, Carafano noted that the Obama Administration’s missile defense plan was both less cost effective and less proven than the Bush Adminstration’s.  In addition, Obama’s plan will not be ready until 2020, according to Administration statements, an eight year delay over the Bush plan.  However, according to Carafano, given that the science needed for the new plan is still unproven, it is unlikely that the Obama program will become operational within the stated timeframe.

Responding to questions from the audience, Carafano acknowledged that a ballistic missile threat is certainly not the only serious threat facing the nation, but argued that the U.S. must guard against all threats.  Missile defense is a critical component in defending the American people and in containing proliferation.  Furthermore, America must not rely on the “rationality” of its enemies in preventing catastrophes.  Quoting President Reagan, Carafano argued that it would be immoral to rely on mutually assured destruction when it was possible to defend the nation against attacks.  In closing, Carafano urged attendees to work to address the lack of information about missile defense, stressing that better education about the issue is needed both in Washington and among the general public.

Mission Statement

The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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