Real opportunities exist for great power cooperation on missile defence

If nuclear disarmament progress is to stand a chance, it is essential that the major nuclear powers find ways of defusing their dispute over missile defence. – Ernie Regehr

In his timely Simons Foundation briefing paper,  BMD: Cooperative Protection or Strategic Instability, Ernie Regehr concludes that current western BMD deployments, whether NATO or USA, and encompassing the full range of systems from short-range to the U.S. strategic–range ballistic missile defence, are fueling strategic instability while bolstering Russia–China cooperation in air and missile defence.

And the more the Americans try to perfect their still faltering BMD technologies, the more their adversaries are inclined to fear missile defence as credible (if not yet, then possibly in the future), inclining them to retain and potentially expand their offensive arsenals.  It is an obsession/suspicion dynamic that is decidedly not conducive to mutual nuclear arms reductions.

Avoiding this “defence/offence arms race” requires reviving earlier once-promising efforts to promote cooperation, not competition, between great powers. Regehr cites a key recommendation of a 2016 Brookings Institution study which urges the USA to:

work with China and Russia to ensure that development of a strategic missile defense system does not interfere with progress on strategic issues important to all three countries.

The paper also reviews the manifest technical failings of missile defence:

The doubts about the [U.S.] mid-course [strategic] BMD system extend across the whole gamut of missile defence manifestations…. [e]ven the most successful element of BMD, the Patriot short-range terminal defence system

Other issues canvassed include:

  • How economic considerations, in a word — jobs — keep money flowing to flawed defence projects, like BMD;
  • Setting the record straight on the elusive NORAD–BMD linkage;
  • The fact that Alaska-based missile intercept attempts by the USA to protect the central or eastern USA will have to take place in outer space over Russian territory; and
  • An illuminating review of past efforts at US–NATO–Russian cooperation on ballistic missile defence.

For the full article, click: BMD: Cooperative Protection or Strategic Instability (Ernie Regehr, Canadian Defence Policy Briefing Paper, Simons Foundation, January 2018).

Photo credit: Simons Foundation

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