Russian actions toward Ukraine have injected new urgency, and partisan vitriol, into the debate over U.S. plans to deploy ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems in Europe. Missile defense has been a locus of intense ideological divisions since the announcement of Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative in 1983. Although the issue has receded somewhat in recent years, statements from some GOP lawmakers indicate it may once again become a prominent source of partisan tension.
But beneath the surface, many of the most fundamental issues relating to U.S. missile defense plans appear to have become politically uncontroversial, even as technical experts continue to question whether U.S. systems will actually perform as designed. The Obama administration has embraced positions that enjoy a high level of bipartisan support, such as greater reliance on sea-based systems, the decision to set up regional missile defense systems in cooperation with allies and the stated refusal to accept international agreements that limit U.S. deployments.
Although substantive disagreements persist on issues like the need for an East Coast homeland missile defense site, the extent of those differences has narrowed significantly compared to previous decades.