Jeffrey LewisNew Triad 3: Obering On Missile Defense

MDA Director Trey Obering offered two thinly veiled “hypothetical” scenarios that illustrated his case for missile defense.

  • Scenario 1: North Korea tests a nuclear weapon and a ballistic missile capable of carrying the weapon to the United States. North Korea demands the United States remove all its forces from the Korean peninsula or lose Los Angeles.
  • Scenario 2: Radical fundamentalists seize control of an Iran (hello!) with nuclear weapons and ballistic missile capable of reaching Europe. They demand we remove all our forces from the Middle East or they waste London.

He seemed really worried by these cases.

I don’t get it.

Would you accede to that demand? Would Trey Obering, as US president, really pull US troops out of South Korea or the Middle East if faced with such a threat? I am so glad Trey wasn’t POTUS during the Berlin Crisis.

Assuming Trey went wobbly and was leaning toward capitulating, how confident would he have to be about the missile defense system to change his mind?

And why didn’t the Soviet Union or China under Mao issue a similar declaration with regard to Western Germany or Taiwan?

It seems to me that Obering dramatically underestimates the role of offensive deterrent capabilities and how frequently states issue unreasonable demands. (Give up your grain subsidies or we rain nuclear destruction upon you!)

Missile defenses might add to deterrence at the margin, but it is hard for me to believe it would be decisive in either of these cases.


One odd thing: General Obering showed a video of an earlier Aegis missile defense test, but not the most recent test because that footage is “classified.” Which is weird, because it is on-line.

Maybe I missed exactly what he said. Anybody else?

Update: MDA says the website video shows the launch of the SM-3 and the target, and an IR view of the intercept from a chase plane but not the SM-3 seeker as it approaches the target.


  1. moonbiter (History)

    I’m just a casual reader, but I don’t get it either. I mean, I guess it would be satisfying and relaxing if we had a working missile defense system to say “Ha ha, you can’t touch us with your missiles! Go ahead and try it.” But I fail to see how such a system is any more of a lever than “You do that and we’ll turn your entire nation into a glass parking lot. We’ve got enough nukes to spare a few on you.”

    But then our whole national defense policy is apparently being redefined to take on crazy foreigners with inscrutable ways. Deterrence is no longer an option.