Regional Missile Defense from a Global Perspective

  • Published

Regional Missile Defense from a Global Perspective edited by Catherine McArdle Kelleher and Peter Dombrowski. Stanford Security Studies, 2015, 313 pp.


While missile defense has ebbed and flowed over the past 40 years, it is currently experiencing modest growth and is increasingly relevant to national security. With the 12 May 2016 announcement from the US Navy and Missile Defense Agency (MDA) that the first Aegis Ashore facility is active in Romania, missile defense has again entered public debate. The announcement was soon followed by protests from near-peer US competitors; Russian and, to a lesser extent, Chinese officials denounced the activation as a threat to global stability. The United States continues to counter that the missile defense site is only effective against Iranian or other limited threats.

In this context, Regional Missile Defense from a Global Perspective offers a unique look at the history and impact of American missile defense initiatives around the globe. It describes the influence of US missile defense initiatives on the United States and its allies, as well as their adversaries. It takes the reader from the origins of missile defense programs in the United States up to the time of publishing. Although it is necessarily broad, this book allows the reader to better understand the global implications of programs like Aegis Ashore and contextualize US and international responses. As Russia increasingly reasserts itself in European and global affairs, China seeks to expand its influence, and Iran and North Korea edge closer to possessing nuclear-capable ballistic weapons, it is important for US policy makers and war fighters to understand where missile defense started, how it evolved into its current state, and where missile defense sits in relation to other US defense programs.

The book has three main sections: “US Policies and Programs,” “Regional Dynamics,” and “Critical Global Analyses.” The editors provide introductory and concluding chapters. Each intervening chapter was written by a different expert or group of experts in their area, providing an in-depth look at the specific regional situation the United States and its allies are responding to with different missile defense programs. The authors are experts who typically have worked in their field for significant amounts of time, in some cases since the Reagan administration. Many of them created or steered policy for American and allied missile defense and thus have first-hand knowledge of the topic.

Most of the chapters follow a typical pattern; they begin with a brief historical overview of missile defense in the given region (or perspective, for the first section covering US domestic missile defense development), describe its state up to the time of writing (usually 2014), and give a short conclusion on what the activities mean for regional and even global international relations. The authors generally avoid prescribing a particular course of action, instead limiting themselves to descriptions and analysis. The chapter on Arabian Gulf missile defense activities (chapter 9: “Ballistic Missile Defense Cooperation in the Arabian Gulf”) and that on Japanese missile defense development (chapter 12: “Japan’s Ballistic Missile Defense and ‘Proactive Pacifism’ ”) are notable for recommending specific policy decisions. Despite their partisan nature, even those chapters succinctly represent the state of US and allied missile defense activities in those regions.

A recurrent theme in Regional Missile Defense is the fitful nature of missile defense development in the United States. As the contributors describe, US missile defense programs have been in various stages of development since the late 1960s. This theme is particularly important to consider in light of today’s uncertain budget realities. War fighters, leaders, and policy makers need to be aware of the history behind missile defense so they may avoid making the same mistakes as previous eras.  

If there is a shortcoming in this work, it is the lack of operational perspective. Only two of the contributors note military service in their biographies. The remaining 17 made their way through government and academia. This lack of perspective is apparent in the strategic perspective of most articles; there is very little discussion of how to implement any of the ideas or technologies discussed. While this is appropriate for the level of this book, it would have helped if the authors had actually been involved with the work they are describing, rather than studying or funding it.

Regional Missile Defense is an important work for anyone involved in missile defense, national policy, or international cooperation. With the sensitivities by near-peer adversaries of the United States to any developments and the political nature of ballistic missile defense, it is useful for military personnel and leadership to understand how missile defense has developed and how it is likely to proceed. The Obama administration expanded missile defense programs, establishing new sites in Europe, and developed new weapons. Whatever future administrations choose to do, missile defense will continue to play a role in American security policies. This book will remain a snapshot in time of how US missile defense looked at the beginning of a new era.  


Capt J. Alexander Ippoliti

Air National Guard

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."