Congress Shakes Up U.S. Nuclear-Defense Doctrine With One Change to Legislation
Author: David Willman, Los Angeles Times
A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense interceptor is launched during a successful intercept test, in this undated handout photo. (U.S. Department of Defense, Missile Defense Agency/Handout via Reuters file)
WASHINGTON — By removing a single word from legislation governing the military, Congress has laid the groundwork for both a major shift in U.S. nuclear-defense doctrine and a costly effort to field space-based weaponry.
Experts say the changes, approved by overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate, could aggravate tensions with Russia and China, and prompt a renewed nuclear arms race. The bill awaits action by President Barack Obama. The White House has not said what he will do.
For decades, America’s defense against nuclear attack has rested on two objectives: The nation’s homeland missile defense system is designed to thwart a small-scale, or “limited,” attack by the likes of North Korea or Iran. As for the threat of a large-scale strike by China or Russia, the prospect of U.S. retaliation is supposed to deter both from launching missiles.
Central to this strategy was a one-word qualifier — “limited” — used to define the mission of the homeland defense system. The language was carefully crafted to avoid reigniting an arms race among the superpowers.