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Limiting U.S. Missile Defense

Despite huge investments, U.S. missile defense systems are fundamentally ineffective and may harm national security.

An expensive false promise

The United States currently operates two missile defense sites—one in Alaska, one in California—and is considering an additional site on the east coast. The system is intended to defend against long-range ballistic missiles—but it doesn’t work.

In fact, the U.S. missile defense system may actually undermine national security by impeding deep cuts in nuclear weapons, complicating important international relationships, and engendering a false sense of security among policymakers.

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U.S. missile defense doesn't work

The U.S. missile defense system has routinely failed test interceptions of missiles since testing began in 1999. These tests are highly scripted and don’t represent potential real-world situations—yet our system regularly fails them.

Even if the United States fixed the basic technology and upgraded its sensor technologies, straightforward countermeasures like decoys could render the system totally ineffective under real world conditions.

Despite these technical realities, proponents still make unsubstantiated claims about missile defense effectivness. This may create a false sense of security in policymakers, who may act in ways that increase the likelihood of conflict.

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U.S. missile defense undermines national security

Ironically, U.S. missile defense—built to defend the United States—may ultimately harm U.S. and global security.

By pursuing missile defense, the U.S. may block deep cuts in nuclear arsenals, and provide political justifications to Russia and China for modernizing their own nuclear arsenals. By complicating these relationships, the system may also impede cooperation on important issues relating to nonproliferation, nuclear terrorism, and other security issues.

Limiting the extent of missile defense programs, requiring rigorous, realistic testing before deployment, and insisting on accountability and Congressional oversight will improve national security.

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What about Iran and North Korea?

Iran and North Korea have some long-distance missile capabilities, though both have significant limitations.

Accurate information about those limitations is essential for assessing U.S. missile defense and pursuing more effective security strategies.

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Images (top; middle; bottom): Flickr, U.S. Missile Defense Agency; Flickr, U.S. Army; Flickr, Devin Ford
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