Courtesy Reuters

Star Wars Retreats?

Rethinking U.S. Missile Defense in Europe

Last week, the Obama administration announced that it was canceling plans for the missile-defense network in Europe first proposed by the Bush administration in 2007. The program would have deployed a radar system in the Czech Republic linked to other radar stations on the continent and a base of ten interceptor missiles in Poland. Its purpose was to shield Western Europe and the United States from medium- and long-range missiles launched from Iran.

In the days since the decision was announced, a number of critics have suggested that the move reflects the new administration's lack of seriousness about the missile threat and perhaps a worrisome proclivity to try to please Russia, which had protested against the planned architecture.

This is not the first time the Obama administration has come under fire for its approach to missile defense. Last spring, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates reduced funding for the program by about $2 billion a year, leading some conservatives to argue that the United States was sending the wrong message to countries with potentially adversarial missile programs such as China, Iran, and North Korea.

As I first described in Foreign Affairs ten years ago, the debate over missile defense is often mired in ideology more than it is grounded in real fact. Today is no different -- and ultimately, the criticism over the Obama administration's latest move is not compelling. Take the budget for missile-defense programs: after reaching $12 billion a year during the Bush administration, the U.S. military now spends about $10 billion annually. Although some may see this figure as a sign of the United States' declining resolve to counter offensive-missile threats, it is 50 percent greater than what Ronald Reagan devoted to missile defense under the Strategic Defense Initiative, more popularly known as "Star Wars."

It is hard, therefore, to view President Barack Obama's cutback as seriously lessening the United States' commitment to the long-term goal of defending itself and its allies from missile attack. As a combined system, missile defense remains one

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