March 31, 2010 | Politico

Obama’s Anti-Missile Defense Adviser

President Barack Obama has nominated an anti-missile defense adviser who may soon receive congressional approval — and put Americans in danger.

Russia and China, two countries with nuclear weapons and effective long range ballistic missiles, have helped Iran develop its missile program. Other countries that range from the hostile to the unreliable — for example, North Korea, Syria and Pakistan — also have ballistic missile programs.

The global picture grows incresingly bleak. The more ballistic missiles change hands between states, the more likely they are to fall — or be placed — into the hands of terrorists. This is hardly the time for Washington to scale back or eliminate our ballistic missile defense systems (BMDS) — the one means we have to shoot enemy missiles out of the sky.

If the president signs a side deal limiting U.S. missile defense in exchange for Russia’s signature on the START Treaty, it makes matters even worse. Mortgaging our missile defense in order to complete START would undermine what good there is in the treaty.

Enter Philip Coyle, the man Obama wants as his associate director of national security and international affairs in the Office of Science and Technology Policy. If confirmed, Coyle has indicated he would advise the administration to divest of BMDS.

In a 2008 congressional hearing, Coyle said that the ground-based midcourse defense (GMD) system that Washington planned for Europe — the one the administration recently scrapped — “has not demonstrated operational effectiveness to defend Europe or the United States. Americans have a tendency to over-rely on technology as the first best hope to solve our problems. With missile defense, the United States has been trying for 60 years without success.”

Yet a more complex version of GMD had completed a successful intercept test just months before. It is now the only system capable of defending the United States from long-range missiles.

In fact, Gen. Victor Renuart, the commander of Northern Command, said during a 2008 Congressional testimony, that GMD is, “standing ready to defend the United States' and its allies' infrastructure and population centers, if needed.”

Why would Coyle oppose such a critical national security initiative?

In his appearances before House panels, Coyle’s basic argument has been that Iran or North Korea would not launch a missile attack on the United States. If they do, he argues, they would use multiple missiles, or countermeasures to overwhelm our GMD system.

Coyle’s confidence in these two countries’ rationality is startling. His lack of confidence in our own military leaders and engineers is disconcerting.

America can develop a more robust defense, capable of defending against sophisticated threats — if we make up our minds to achieve it. Just because the system isn’t now capable of handling all future threats doesn’t mean it isn’t worth building or making operational while U.S. engineers improve it.

“In view of the threats we face,” Adm. Michael Mullen said, during his Senate confirmation hearing for chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “the United States should deploy components of the ballistic missile defense system as soon as they become available, even as we improve their operational effectiveness.”

If tests and the confidence of senior U.S. military officials aren’t enough, consider this: In 2008, U.S. missile defenses intercepted a dead satellite hurtling toward Earth.

During his Senate confirmation hearing in November of 2009, Coyle said that he “followed very closely the Navy’s successful shoot-down of the malfunctioning U.S. satellite last year.”

But, rather than seeing this system’s potential for defending America, he may seek to have it banned under a treaty known as the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space — or “PAROS.”

This treaty could ban space-based missile defense systems, as well as other elements of our national defense system, including sensors, lasers and even GMD.

Thus, Coyle may advise the administration to cancel some missile defense systems based on his belief that they don’t work; while arguing others should be banned by PAROS — because they do work.

Coyle’s nomination is a mistake. So are his ideas. Missile defense is a national security necessity. It’s one that, as a poll shows, 88 percent of Americans support.

So while reasonable people may disagree on the budget priorities of specific ballistic missile defense programs, only unreasonable people argue against the entire missile defense project.

One senator wary of Coyle’s opposition to missile defense has placed a hold on his nomination. This is wise. The advisory post should be held by a person marked by reason and objectivity, not dogmatism.

Much like the case for missile defense itself.

Rebeccah Heinrichs, who managed the bipartisan House Missile Defense Caucus, is an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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