Misconceptions of Missile Defense: “BMD Costs Too Much”


In this series of articles, the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance will address and dispel the most popular myths regarding missile defense. In this edition, we will explore the misconception that missile defense costs too much.

Misconception #2: Missile Defense Costs Too Much

In an age of fiscal austerity, our leaders must ensure that every dollar the American Government spends is met with scrutiny to ensure proper stewardship of taxpayer funds. With a proposed budget of $7.5 billion in FY15, missile defense programs have been a frequent source of criticisms given the trouble the systems have faced. Many have cited the high cost of each test of the national missile defense system, and their subsequent failures, as sufficient cause to cease investments in the program.

Some in Congress have voiced their concern about the costs of U.S. missile defense. In an op-ed, Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, criticized the cost of missile defense saying, “we can no longer afford costly investments that are wasteful or unnecessary.” In a Bloomberg report, Steven Weinberg, a University of Texas professor who won the 1979 Nobel Prize in physics offered a harsh criticism of missile defense saying “our missile defense program is an expensive, ineffective defense against an implausible threat.”

However as previously discussed, the argument that missile defense simply doesn’t work is a misconception. Missile defense systems are capable of protecting against incoming ballistic missiles if given the proper investments in resources and engineering. It’s important to note that the costs associated with missile defense are modest compared to the devastating consequences of a nuclear attack on the United States.

Modest Budgets

While $7.5 billion is a significant sum of money, it is important to put that amount in context of the overall defense budget. Since FY00, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) budget has hovered at an average of $7.5 billion, which has rarely ever exceeded 2% of the entire defense appropriation. Since 1985, MDA has spent a total of $164.7 billion on missile defense programs. Comparatively, according to a report published by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, “the United States will likely spend over $1 trillion during the next three decades to maintain its current nuclear arsenal and purchase their replacement systems.”

While investments in nuclear capabilities are an important aspect of U.S. defense policy, this figure clearly demonstrates that missile defense spending is minimal in comparison other critical programs. Given the proliferation of ballistic missiles and the increasing threat they pose, MDA budgets are a small price to pay for the protection the system will provide.

A Cost Too High to Bear

The terrorist Attacks of September 11th caused an unprecedented amount of destruction to the American homeland. Besides the approximately three thousand American citizens whose lives were lost on that day, there was also significant damage done to infrastructure. According to a New York Times estimate, the terrorist attack resulted in $55 billion infrastructure damage and $123 billion in economic damage, which includes disruption of business following the attack. Combined with increased military and homeland security spending as a direct response to the attacks, costs associated with September 11th range up to $3.3 trillion.

Notably, the terrorist attacks of September 11th also exposed another weakness in homeland defense. From the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks on the United States Report: “The details of what happened on the morning of September 11 are complex, but they play out a simple theme. North American Aerospace Defense Command and the Federal Aviation Administration were unprepared for the type of attacks launched against the United States on September 11, 2001.They struggled, under difficult circumstances, to improvise a homeland defense against an unprecedented challenge they had never before encountered and had never trained to meet.” Clearly, a lack of air defense capabilities was to protect against an incoming threat was certainly a contributing factor to the devastation incurred on the homeland.

Extrapolating, one can see the devastating potential consequences of a nuclear attack on the American homeland, along with a lack of proper air defense. The impact of a rogue or accidental nuclear launch against the United States would result in hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of lives as well as billions, if not trillions, of dollars in damages to infrastructure. Such an unthinkable event can be avoided. The United States must continue to invest in making missile defense against the ballistic missile threat a reality. The modest investment in missile defense is a small price to pay compared to the enormous cost of even one nuclear attack on the United States. The consequences of such an attack are simply too high a cost to bear.

Abel Romero is the Director of Government Relations at the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance and one of two William Van Cleave Missile Defense Scholars. Follow him on twitter by clicking here.

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