Catherine McArdle Kelleher, Peter Dombrowski, eds. Regional Missile Defense from a Global Perspective. Stanford Security Studies Series. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2015. 328 pp. $29.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8047-9635-4; $95.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8047-9064-2.
Reviewed by Jeremiah Burgess (Air University, Air War College)
Published on H-War (January, 2019)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey (Air University)
Missile Defense: Continuity and Consensus
Catherine McCardle Kelleher and Peter Dombrowski’s book Regional Missile Defense from a Global Perspective discusses issues related to missile defense. The editors offer a detailed survey of missile defense policy within the United States and other countries. Despite being written at the end of the Obama administration, the contributors’ themes and trends are still relevant to understanding current missile defense. The book’s takeaway is that there is growing domestic and international consensus that missile defense, particularly concerning regional threats, is a necessary component in a state’s security infrastructure.
The editors begin with a brief introduction followed by three parts with fourteen chapters discussing various aspects of missile defense. Part 1 discusses missile defense evolution in the United States since the 1980s. Part 2 examines regional dynamics, reviewing missile defense initiatives in several countries and regions. Part 3 concludes with contributors assessing the impact of missile defense on US security strategy. There is repetitiveness among the various chapters, which can get tiresome if reading in one sitting. However, the repetition also allows readers to skip chapters to focus on topics they are most interested in. Whether one reads one chapter or the entire book, readers will get the most current data available promoting understanding of missile defense.
Susan Kock opens part 1 with a review of missile defense programs under Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush, while James Acton’s later chapter details Barack Obama’s program. Kock identifies continuity in missile defense programs between administrations that supports her contention that many of the original controversies of missile defense have faded. Kock observes that as administrations shift between Democratic and Republican control, missile defense continues to remain a goal, with the major difference being the level of emphasis on theater missile defense (TMD) versus national missile defense (NMD). She concludes that in the US apolitical consensus exists for TMD while differences remain over NMD due to policy and technical capabilities. Acton details Obama’s TMD focus on countering regional threats. Acton is confident that Obama’s strategy was mostly effective in reassuring Russia and China that the US TMD posture would not affect their nuclear capabilities. Nancy Gallagher’s chapter, echoing Kock’s and Acton’s views of political continuity, writes that Congress plays a large role in shaping missile defense programs and often moderates or refocuses the president’s program depending on political orientation. Despite the cost and technical challenges, both the executive and legislative branches have reached political consensus that TMD is a desired capability.
Next Amy Woolf differentiates between TMD and NMD and describes the potential integration into a global missile defense architecture. She observes that global integration is limited by policy, military service rivalry, and alliance integration. The policy disagreement aligns with Kock’s discussion about the political emphasis on TMD versus NMD. Dual-use capabilities, such as the Aegis cruiser, highlight military service rivalry. Finally, the different technical and political relationships that the US has with its partners limit global integration within TMD agreements. In conclusion, because of the impact on nuclear deterrence, Woolf argues that any global system will face the ire of China and Russia.
George Lewis describes missile defense technology. His analysis is limited due to the classification of information related to missile defense. Thus, based on limited public information, he can only estimate missile defense capabilities and probable countermeasures. He offers a pessimistic view on missile defense, assessing that only a portion of the US missile defense system works and is likely only effective against a limited regional attack. Lewis’s chapter provides the best reality check on US capabilities, questioning the utility of investing resources into a capability that may not work when required.
Part 2 addresses regional TMD systems and highlights other nations’ systems. Chapters 6, 7, and 9 discuss efforts to counter Iranian missiles. Gustav Lindstrom writes on European integration with the US, discussing tensions over a forward-deployed ground intercept site within Europe showing how even strong allies disagree on TMD. Vladimir Dvorkin offers opportunities for potential coordination with Russia, arguing that a relationship with Russia can help reassure that TMD is not a threat to Russia’s nuclear capabilities. Finally, Michael Elleman and Wafa Alsayed discuss Arab efforts, including the US role in fostering an Arab-based TMD. The theme among chapters is that despite common concern with the Iranian missile threat, geopolitics prevents a coherent and integrated TMD program to counter Iran.
Additional lessons are found in the chapters on Israel and South Asia. Ariel Levite and Shlomo Brom provide a review of Israel’s mostly successful TMD program. They emphasize that the success of Israel’s system has second-order effects, such as Israelis feeling over-secure, which negatively affects other areas of defense. Andrew Winner’s chapter highlights the paradox of how the Indian and Pakistani missile defense programs can enhance security, while also increasing the probability of a nuclear exchange. Winner’s lessons are important as the US continues to advance its capabilities, highlighting the consequence of a robust TMD on Russian and Chinese perceptions on their respective nuclear security.
Part 3 concludes with a discussion on whether missile defense is a good strategic idea. As discussed above, the US has emphasized TMD over NMD because of politics and technological challenges and to alleviate Russian and Chinese security concerns. Brad Roberts argues that the US TMD program can exist without threatening China or Russia, but he cautions that a robust NMD system may decrease US security over time since it may derail nuclear deterrence among nuclear powers. Kelleher and Dombrowski concur with Roberts, cautioning policymakers that they must properly assess the environment before expanding missile defense beyond a regional focus.
The book provides an excellent review of missile defense that should be required reading for policymakers grappling with nuclear deterrence, proliferation, and missile defense. A policymaker should take the analysis in the book to shape policy countering regional threats, while also keeping capabilities below a threshold that does not drastically reduce nuclear deterrence.
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Jeremiah Burgess. Review of Kelleher, Catherine McArdle; Dombrowski, Peter, eds., Regional Missile Defense from a Global Perspective.
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