JOSEPH: Obama chooses vulnerability

President’s quest for ‘nuclear zero’ would endanger the homeland

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In contrast, it was easier to get acceptance from Moscow than from the die-hard adherents at home and in allied countries. Perhaps this was because the Russians never bought into the myths and, once it concluded we were serious about deploying defenses, they accepted it.

Many of the same myths that accompanied the ABM Treaty have resurfaced in the debate over the use of space in the U.S. missile-defense architecture.

Advocates, both foreign and domestic, of an agreement banning the “militarization of space” often seem less interested in the growing anti-space capabilities of China, Russia and others, than in prohibiting the United States from deploying interceptors in space on the grounds that such a capability would be destabilizing, unaffordable or unachievable technically - all familiar assertions from the past.

The third lesson of the ABM Treaty experience is the need to overcome the bureaucracy, which irrespective of administration exerts a powerful influence over national security policy and is generally resistant to fundamental change.

For the ABM Treaty, this included not just the State Department and our embassies abroad which, whenever asked, reflected the arguments of those who favored the treaty. After fighting for missile defense in the 1960s, the uniformed military, up the hierarchy to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also adopted the civilian-led commitment to vulnerability.

If the new administration was to succeed, it had to move quickly - before the opponents asserted themselves. And that is exactly what we did. In his first month in office, President Bush signed out presidential guidance, entitled “Transforming Deterrence,” providing a new security framework in which defense of the homeland against small-scale missile attack was central. At the more operational level, and within days of assuming office, new talking points were sent by the White House to all departments and embassies. No longer would the ABM Treaty be the cornerstone of U.S. strategic policy. Instead, it was seen as a relic of the Cold War.

Today, while there are no vocal advocates of reinstituting the ABM Treaty, the Obama administration is taking us back to the era of vulnerability, to the defenseless posture of the past.

There are growing indications of a willingness to negotiate a “demarcation” arrangement with Russia to define the technical boundaries between strategic and theater defenses. This proposal, which was tried and failed in the Clinton administration, would impede the development of all U.S. missile-defense programs that require an integrated layered defense to protect the United States and our allies.

Moreover, the Obama administration continues to underfund homeland defense while favoring theater capabilities that are seen as less offensive to Russia. The imbalance is pronounced, with about four of every five dollars going toward theater defenses and with the cancellation of most programs intended to provide capabilities against future longer-range threats. Funding for the currently deployed ground-based system has been dramatically reduced, and the test program artificially constrained. While more silos are being dug, there is no money for interceptors to fill them.

Finally, the president’s “off mic” comments to Russia’s Dmitri Medvedev in March that he would be “more flexible” on missile defenses following the U.S. presidential election provides yet another indication of the administration’s intent to trade away homeland defense in pursuit of its quixotic quest for nuclear zero.

We have been through all this before. We cannot afford to go back.

Robert Joseph was special assistant to President George W. Bush and former undersecretary of state for arms control and international security.

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