Cato Foreign Policy Briefing No. 77 May 28, 2003

Foreign Policy Briefing

Missile Defense:
Defending America or Building Empire?

by Charles V. Peña

Charles V. Peña is director of defense policy studies at the Cato Institute.


Executive Summary

The rationale for missile defense put forward by its advocates is often a "doom and gloom" picture: America and its citizens are defenseless against the threat of ballistic missiles, and missile defense is supposed to protect the American people. The administration's vision of missile defense is not just a global system that protects the United States against long-range missiles but a global system capable of engaging all classes of ballistic missiles to protect U.S. forces deployed worldwide, U.S. allies, and other friendly countries. Thus, the purpose of missile defense is extended well beyond protecting America and Americans.

Ultimately, the real rationale for missile defense is to protect U.S. forces so they can engage in military intervention throughout the world to enforce a Pax Americana—a strategy of empire by another name. But such a strategy is simply the old Cold War strategy run amok and without a Soviet enemy. And it ignores the obvious: the result will be increased resentment of and animosity toward what is perceived by the rest of the world as an imperialist America.

A better alternative—especially given the post–September 11, 2001, realities of the al-Qaeda terrorist threat—is for the United States to adopt a more restrained foreign policy. A more prudent security strategy would recognize that U.S. security would be better served by not engaging in unnecessary military deployments and interventions that fuel the flames of vehement anti-American sentiment.

Given such a strategy, a limited land-based ballistic missile defense system designed to protect the U.S. homeland makes sense. After all, that is the primary responsibility of the federal government.

Full Text of Foreign Policy Brief No. 77 (PDF, 14 pgs, 103 Kb)

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