The 2018 National Defense Strategy calls renewed strategic competition with major powers the central challenge of our time. The 2019 Missile Defense Review (MDR) represents the Trump administration’s attempt to adapt US missile defense policy, posture, and programs to this challenge. Upon the document’s public release in January 2019, President Trump stated that it marked “a new era” for missile defense. Unfortunately, actions within the review fall short of meeting both current and emerging threats, particularly with respect to layering and integration. Much remains to be done before that new era of missile defense can begin.
Countering missile threats from major powers like Russia and China is no small undertaking. In the words of Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, “the scale and urgency of change required to renew our conventional and missile defense overmatch must not be underestimated.” Indeed, reorienting US missile defenses to contend with renewed great power competition is a comparatively greater task than that facing the field of nuclear deterrence. Although the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review differs from its predecessor in describing Russian and Chinese capabilities and intent, in the end it recommends only two modest supplements to the inherited program of record. The relative conservatism of such changes reflects that US nuclear forces have always been tailored not only to major powers like Russia and China but also to past policies as a hedge against geopolitical change.
Read the full article in the Strategic Studies Quarterly.