It Can Get You into Trouble, but It Can’t Get You Out: Missile Defense and the Future of Nuclear Stability

February 2020 No Comments

It Can Get You into Trouble, but It Can’t Get You Out: Missile Defense and the Future of Nuclear Stability

Speaker: Gomez, E. (Cato Institute)

Date: 5 February 2020

Speaker Session Preview

SMA hosted a speaker session presented by Dr. Eric Gomez (Cato Institute) as a part of its SMA STRATCOM Academic Alliance Speaker Series. Dr. Gomez began by discussing the present state and future of US missile defense. He explained that the US has both a homeland missile defense system, which protects the continental US from intercontinental ballistic missiles, and a regional missile defense system, which protects relatively small areas from shorter-range threats. Its regional missile defense system currently has more reliable testing records than does its homeland defense system. He then stated that the 2019 Missile Defense Review (MDR) reveals a wholesale expansion of the US’s missile defense architecture, in addition to greater integration of homeland and regional missile defense assets. Dr. Gomez then highlighted the implications of US missile defense on adversary threat perceptions. Russia and China do not view missile defense as a unique or siloed program; instead, they both see it as a component of broader US military strategy. Being cognizant of this can help US decision makers understand threat perceptions and the action/reaction cycles that are generated or accelerated by missile defense, according to Dr. Gomez. Moreover, missile defense is a component of great power competition, and adversary threat perceptions can become reality; thus, it is important for the US to understand Russian and Chinese threat perceptions. Next, Dr. Gomez explained that missile defense is neither inherently stabilizing nor inherently destabilizing. Its implications for nuclear stability flow from two factors: 1) how missile defense factors into a state’s broader approach to nuclear deterrence and 2) the strategies that other countries adopt to counteract the threat posed by growing missile defenses arrayed against them. He then stated that steady expansion of US missile defense architecture fosters destabilizing counter strategies by great power rivals without providing the ability to protect the US from the consequences of that spiral. Furthermore, the 2019 MDR plan may not accelerate the slide into nuclear instability, but it definitely won’t stop it. Consequently, missile defense and nuclear stability can get the US into trouble, but it can’t get it out. To conclude, Dr. Gomez spoke about how the US can balance missile defense and stability, highlighting that restraining US homeland missile defense capabilities should reduce great power adversaries’ “use or lose” pressure while making it harder for them to initiate limited, regional conflicts.

Speaker Session Audio Recording

Download Dr. Gomez’s Biography, One-Pager, Relevant Book Chapter, and Slides


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