The Biden administration has begun a review of US missile defense policy. The review is part of a broader effort to align defense strategy and posture with the president’s commitment to lead through diplomacy, repair alliances, and rebuild the American economy.
In 2019, Trump declared the “beginning of a new era” in America’s missile defense program. He envisioned an “unrivaled and unmatched” missile defense system with a “simple goal” to defend against “every type of missile attack against any American target.” This decision reversed longstanding US policy to build defenses against emerging nuclear missile threats from North Korea and Iran but not against established nuclear powers. While Trump’s ambitions did not produce immediate changes to US posture and capabilities, he made one of the biggest—and quietest—changes to US declaratory policy in the last two decades.
This quiet change is facing stormy waters. Moscow and Beijing have long claimed US global missile defense plans, including a NATO system in Europe and defenses in East Asia, will eventually target Russia and China, and thus threaten strategic stability. This year, over 60 American national security experts agreed: America’s missile defense system has “accelerated an arms race with Russia and China, leading both adversaries to expand their offensive nuclear weapons programs to counter US missile defenses.” In an open letter, they urged President Joe Biden to “walk us back from the brink now.”