Missile Defense: Defending America or Building Empire?

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The rationale for missile defense put forwardby its advocates is often a "doom andgloom" picture: America and its citizens aredefenseless against the threat of ballisticmissiles, and missile defense is supposed toprotect the American people. The administration'svision of missile defense is not justa global system that protects the UnitedStates against long-range missiles but aglobal system capable of engaging all classesof ballistic missiles to protect U.S. forcesdeployed worldwide, U.S. allies, and otherfriendly countries. Thus, the purpose ofmissile defense is extended well beyond protectingAmerica and Americans.

Ultimately, the real rationale for missiledefense is to protect U.S. forces so they canengage in military intervention throughoutthe world to enforce a Pax Americana--astrategy of empire by another name. Butsuch a strategy is simply the old Cold Warstrategy run amok and without a Sovietenemy. And it ignores the obvious: theresult will be increased resentment of andanimosity toward what is perceived by therest of the world as an imperialist America.

A better alternative--especially given thepost-September 11, 2001, realities of the al-Qaedaterrorist threat--is for the United Statesto adopt a more restrained foreign policy. Amore prudent security strategy would recognizethat U.S. security would be better served by notengaging in unnecessary military deploymentsand interventions that fuel the flames of vehementanti-American sentiment.

Given such a strategy, a limited land-basedballistic missile defense systemdesigned to protect the U.S. homelandmakes sense. After all, that is the primaryresponsibility of the federal government.

Charles V. Peña

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