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As prepared

Thank you, Dean Ayres, for that kind introduction and for the invitation to speak here today.

I also want to recognize the work of the Space Policy Institute and the RAND Corporation for organizing this important conference.

The Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance is the State Department lead on missile defense policy as well as national security-related outer space policy.  As we know, these issues are deeply intertwined, but what some may not know is how intertwined the origins of missile defense are with arms control as a whole.

To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), I have been asked to reflect on a few key highlights of the past and the present of U.S. missile defense policy.  But I greatly look forward to watching your panels today to dive into the meat of the past, present, and the future of missile defense policy.

Reflecting on “Past” U.S. Missile Defense Policy

On March 23, 1983, President Ronald Reagan concluded a televised address from the White House by posing the question:

“What if free people could live secure in the knowledge that their security did not rest upon the threat of instant U.S. retaliation to deter a Soviet attack, that we could intercept and destroy strategic ballistic missiles before they reached our own soil or that of our allies?”

President Reagan then challenged the scientific community to come up with the answer by researching capabilities to defend American lives rather than simply avenge them.  That challenge formed the basis of SDI.

In his interactions with Mikhail Gorbachev, Reagan offered to share the details of SDI as part of his pursuit of a blockbuster nuclear arms agreement that would reduce offensive strategic arms on both the US and Soviet sides—ultimately to zero.  In this regard, SDI was seen as critical to achieving a world without nuclear weapons.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the impending cuts to the U.S. defense budget, President George H.W. Bush authorized in 1991 a scaled-down Global Protection Against Limited Strikes, or GPALS, in an unrequited attempt to bring the Russian Federation to embrace strategic defenses—this time, against rogue regimes.

This re-focus was influenced by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear, and their means of delivery at increasingly greater ranges and precision.

The next significant milestone in the evolution of U.S. missile defense policy was President Clinton’s further emphasis on theater missile defense, and later to a “3-Plus-3” and then a “3-Plus-5” homeland BMD program with the signing of the bipartisan “National Missile Defense Act of 1999.”

At the turn of the century, the continued proliferation of WMD and long-range ballistic delivery systems led President George W. Bush to withdraw from the ABM Treaty in 2002, and to begin initial deployment of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system at Ft. Greely, Alaska and Vandenberg, California in 2004.

President Bush also signed legally binding agreements with Poland and the Czech Republic to deploy a so-called “Third Site” architecture in those host nations.

Subsequently, the Obama Administration’s 2009 European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) Policy replaced the “Third Site” agreements and led to, among other U.S NATO-based deployments, the U.S. Aegis Ashore sites in Romania and Poland.


Obviously, it’s impossible to do justice to the 40-year history of U.S. missile defense policy launched by the SDI in only a few minutes, but I hope this overview helps set the stage for some conversations today.

From my perspective, a key legacy of the Strategic Defense Initiative is that it did not aim to achieve a unilateral strategic advantage.

President Reagan hoped it would enhance strategic stability and reduce the risk of nuclear war, both with the Soviet Union and as a deterrent against a rogue regime or a madman who would seek nuclear capability.

U.S. missile defense policy was and remains a defensive proposition.

Indeed, from my days as an Attorney-Advisor at the State Department working on the EPAA basing agreements to my time at the NSC and at the Arms Control Bureau, there’s been remarkable consensus in Washington on U.S. missile defense policy and programs.

It is also important to recognize that despite early and enthusiastic disagreements, consensus on U.S. missile defense policy evolved, and today there’s mainly bipartisanship across both Democratic and Republication administrations, and across the aisle in Congress.

I believe this domestic bipartisanship, as well as international consensus and cooperation, on missile defense should not only continue but also be strengthened due to the increasingly challenging security environment.


In transitioning from the “past” to the “present,” we recognize that offensive missile capabilities continue to evolve in complexity, capability, and capacity.

For example, the PRC, Russia, the DPRK, and Iran are developing and deploying greater numbers of missiles with increasingly greater:

  • ranges,
  • accuracy,
  • velocity,
  • lethality,
  • reliability, and
  • sophistication, including countermeasures.

Furthermore, adversary threats are qualitatively challenging with the deployment of:

  • multiple re-entry vehicles,
  • warhead maneuverability for evasion,
  • depressed or lofted trajectories, and 
  • mobility for survivability.

The scope of today’s, as well as tomorrow’s, broader challenges specifically include advanced delivery vehicles such as hypersonic glide vehicles and potentially hypersonic cruise missiles, and threats that could be maneuverable enough to present a 360-degree threat.

Offensive missiles also remain a tool of coercion. During 2022 alone, the DPRK accelerated its ballistic missile flight-testing program by launching 69 ballistic missiles, including 8 ICBMs.

Thus far, in 2023, the DPRK has already flight-tested 17 ballistic missiles, including 3 ICBMs, the latest on April 13, which their state-controlled media reported as the initial launch of the Hwasong-18, a three-stage solid-propellant ICBM.

Turning to Iran, Tehran’s arsenal of ballistic and air-breathing systems threatens all of the Middle East, including Gulf Cooperation Council states and Israel, and their 2,000-kilometer medium-range ballistic missiles are currently capable of targeting southeastern Europe.

While Iran is not currently able to strike the U.S. homeland, progress in Iran’s space program could shorten a pathway to an ICBM because space launch vehicles use technologies identical to, and interchangeable with, ballistic missiles, including longer-range systems such as ICBMs.

The main takeaway from these developments is that the threat is growing and the need for integrated air and missile defenses remains strong.


That said, I want to emphasize that today’s U.S. homeland BMD system is designed only to address ICBMs from rogue states such as the DPRK, and potentially Iran.

Though the United States retains the right to defend ourselves from any source, Russia’s—as well as the PRC’s—numerically large and sophisticated strategic nuclear forces are capable of saturating, circumventing, deceiving, and ultimately penetrating the numerically limited U.S. homeland interceptor inventory.

Contrary to Moscow’s and Beijing’s claims, U.S. homeland and regional BMD deployments, such as Aegis Ashore in Romania or THAAD in the Republic of Korea, are not designed to be capable of undermining Russia’s or the PRC’s strategic nuclear deterrents.

Relatedly, the preamble of the New START Treaty recognizes the existence of the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms, and most importantly that “current strategic defensive arms do not undermine the viability and effectiveness of the strategic offensive arms of the Parties.”

The United States depends upon the survivability, effectiveness, and credibility of its strategic nuclear forces for deterring Russia and the PRC.

In this regard, I have no doubt the “future” will continue to resemble the “present.”


Another important legacy of the Strategic Defense Initiative, and a consistent element in all subsequent missile defense policy initiatives, is the recognition that international cooperation constitutes a force multiplier for regional stability.

With the State Department’s support, DOD programs of cooperation with allies and partners have been a vital element of U.S. regional security strategies in Europe, the Middle East, and the Indo-Pacific region.

The development and deployment of comprehensive, effective, and interoperable multi-layered Integrated Air and Missile Defense architectures with allies and partners remains a key objective of our missile defense policy.

The importance of our alliances and partnerships is an unwavering principle in the President’s National Security Strategy, DOD’s National Defense Strategy, as well as, of course, the Missile Defense Review.

To that end, the State Department’s plays a key role in working with our allies and partners in implementing the 2022 MDR by advancing missile defense cooperation efforts and in delaying, hampering, and/or denying the spread of ballistic and air-breathing systems, as well as WMD, prohibited by non-proliferation agreements and arrangements.

From the Biden-Harris Administration’s perspective, our network of alliances and partnerships—now and in the future—is essential for our national security and a critical element in our defense against intimidation, blackmail, coercion, and aggression.


Let me end on one more legacy of the SDI that remains particularly relevant to AVC’s work today.

In his SDI-initiating address on March 23, 1983, President Reagan noted his commitment to the mutual reduction in nuclear weapons.  He noted that his announcement could “pave the way for arms control measures to eliminate the weapons themselves.”

Since then, we have worked on the dual paths of deterrence and arms control, as Reagan described.

Only by combining our deterrent capabilities with the broad suite of arms control tools can we enhance our collective security and hope to achieve the long-term stability that we are all working towards.

Thank you!  I look forward to answering your questions.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future