Index

FACT SHEET
Bureau of Arms Control
Washington, DC
September 1, 2001

Missile Defense and Deterrence

Deterrence must and will remain a critical component of our security posture. Yet, many of the conditions and assumptions that long guided the way we thought about deterrence and its supporting strategic force posture have changed fundamentally. Deterrence can involve more than just the threat to retaliate in the event of an attack. It can also be based on the ability to prevent potential adversaries from achieving their objectives thereby deterring them from pursuing such objectives in the first place. The United States is developing a forward-looking strategy that takes into account the changing nature of the threats we face, as well as the full range of capabilities that we can marshal to protect our nation and its vital interests, as well as meet our commitments to friends and allies.

Deterrence Is Our Highest Priority

Maintaining a reliable deterrent against attacks on the U.S. and our allies is a critical objective of our national security strategy. Our nation always prefers peaceful means to maintain its own security and prosperity, and that of its friends and allies, but maintains the military capabilities needed to deter and defend against the threat or potential use of force by prospective adversaries.

Our deterrence strategy to date has largely relied on our ability to respond to attack with a variety of options, ranging from a devastating retaliation through more selective strikes, and our offensive nuclear forces are and will remain a key component of that capability. No group or nation should doubt that the U.S. will continue to depend on the certainty of a devastating response to any attack on the U.S. or its allies to deter attacks by ballistic missiles or other weapons.

Emerging Threats and the Need to Diversify our Approach to Deterrence

However, given the new threats we all face -- especially from weapons of mass destruction and increasingly sophisticated ballistic missiles in the hands of rogue states -- our deterrence posture can no longer rely exclusively on the threat of retaliation. We now need a strategy based on an appropriate mix of offensive and defensive capabilities to deny potential adversaries the opportunities and benefits they might hope to realize from the threat or use of weapons of mass destruction against our homeland and forces deployed abroad, as well as those of our allies and friends.

Today, we are confronted with a more diverse, less predictable, and less risk-averse group of hostile states that are aggressively seeking to develop or acquire weapons of mass destruction and longer-range missiles as a means of their delivery. They see such weapons both as operational weapons of war and as coercive tools of diplomacy to preclude us and our partners from assisting friends and allies in regions of vital interest. For such threats, deterrence must take advantage of the contribution of both offensive and defensive forces, working together.

Ballistic missile defenses enhance the traditional deterrence of offensive capabilities by denying rogue states the ability to reliably and predictably inflict mass destruction on other nations. By complicating his calculation of success, these defenses add to a potential aggressor's uncertainty and weaken his confidence. Effective missile defenses may also serve to undercut the value potential aggressor's place on missiles as a means of delivery, thereby advancing our non-proliferation goals. With these considerations in mind, missile defenses can be a force for stability and security.

Moreover, some potential threats, such as accidental or unauthorized launches of ballistic missiles, cannot be deterred by their very nature. They can only be defended against. To counter such contingencies, missile defenses provide an element of insurance that supplements and enhances their deterrent value.

A New Relationship with Russia

We are committed to creating a new strategic and diplomatic relationship with Russia, one founded not on common vulnerabilities, but on common interests and shared objectives. As Secretary of State Colin L. Powell has said: "It is time to change the nuclear equation of mutual assured destruction to a more sensible strategic arrangement." While we seek to persuade Russia to join us in further reducing our nuclear arsenals, we are also prepared to lead by example. Therefore, we are committed to ensuring that this new strategic framework with Russia is characterized by efforts to achieve the lowest levels of nuclear weapons consistent with our present and future national security needs. Our missile defenses will not threaten Russia's deterrent forces.

Missile Defense and China

Our missile defenses will be designed to deter and defend against small-scale attacks from rogue states, as well as from accidental or unauthorized attacks from any source. As a force for stability and security in both the Asian region and the world at large, defense and deterrence working together advance goals of regional peace and stability which we share with China. Missile defense is not intended as a threat to China’s deterrent forces.

Summary

Finally, it is worth emphasizing that missile defenses are only one tool among many in maintaining peace, security, and stability, and must be considered within the context of our entire strategic framework. This framework includes offensive nuclear arms as well as our broader diplomatic and security activities, including arms control and non-proliferation efforts. This diversified approach to deterrence is appropriate for the complex and less predictable world in which we live. 


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