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Opinion

Obama, Congress should push NATO missile defense program off 'fiscal cliff'

As the automatic defense spending cuts loom, President Obama and Congress should cancel the flawed, expensive NATO missile-defense program. Ending the program would encourage greater international cooperation on security issues and free up Navy ships to address actual threats.

By Yousaf Butt / November 15, 2012

A US soldier stands next to a Patriot surface-to-air missile battery at an army base in Morag, Poland, May 26, 2010. Op-ed contributor Yousaf Butt writes: 'It would be far better for the NATO nations to cooperate on other militarily useful missions instead of on a defense system that does not work,' with 'inherent architectural flaws.'

Peter Andrews/Reuters/File

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Monterey, Calif.

Unless President Obama and Congress reach an agreement over the next few weeks, deep automatic cuts on defense spending – to the tune of $55 billion next year alone – will kick in starting in early 2013. One expensive Pentagon boondoggle that should be canceled in these times of tight budgets is the NATO missile defense program.

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Not only would canceling this program save billions, it would be strategically sensible, bring about greater international cooperation on security issues, and free up more than 30 Navy ships to address actual military threats around the globe.

According to the current missile-defense plan, the United States, working with NATO, would ramp up the deployment of a mix of increasingly sophisticated sea- and land-based missile interceptors around Europe in an attempt to guard against any possible future Iranian nuclear missiles. That sounds good, but the problem is that an enemy bent on delivering a nuclear payload could easily defeat the system by using decoy warheads, thereby swamping the radars and other sensors with fake signals.

In fact, two recent government-sponsored scientific studies have shown that the missile defense system being planned to protect the US and Europe is fundamentally flawed and will not work under real combat conditions. As Philip Coyle, who stepped down as associate director for national security and international affairs in the Obama administration’s Office of Science and Technology Policy recently put it, the program is “chasing scientific dead ends, unworkable concepts and a flawed overall architecture.”

Besides saving about $8 billion per year, there would be numerous other collateral benefits to canceling this flawed program. Missile defense has been the main irritant in recent US-Russia relations. Shelving it could bring about greater Russian cooperation on a host of important global security issues like Syria, Iran, space and nuclear security, the American strategic pivot to the Pacific, and the emerging issues over the future of the Arctic.

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