Russian President Vladimir Putin has threatened to withdraw from the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty. According to Putin, “[NATO countries] are...building up military bases on our borders and, more than that, they are also planning to station elements of anti–missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic.” The principal accomplishment of the CFE Treaty has been the large–scale reduction or destruction of conventional military equipment to ensure a military balance of conventional forces between East and West from the Atlantic to the Urals. As such, it is intended to provide an unprecedented basis for lasting European security and stability.

According to the Bush administration, missile defense is intended to protect against the threat of so–called rogue states—none of which currently have the long–range ballistic missile capability to attack the United States (although some might be able to reach parts of Europe). But if missile defense is not needed to defend against rogue states who do not have the capability to attack America, is missile defense primarily about defending the U.S. homeland, or is it intended to support U.S. interventionist policy using military force—including preventive war—throughout the world?

The rationale for missile defense put forward by its advocates is often a “doom and gloom” picture: America and its citizens are defenseless against the threat of ballistic missiles, and missile defense is supposed to protect the American people. Yet the administration’s vision of missile defense is more than a system that protects the United States against long–range missiles, but a global system capable of engaging all classes of ballistic missiles to protect U.S. forces deployed worldwide, U.S. allies, and other friendly countries. That rationale extends the purpose of missile defense well beyond protecting America and Americans, and bolsters the administration’s case for placing some components of a missile defense system in Europe.

Pursuing such an expansive global missile defense to support a strategy of empire would be not only expensive and technically difficult and complex—indeed, building any missile defense system will be the most technically complex and challenging weapon system ever—but downright dangerous.

Ultimately, the real rationale for missile defense is to protect U.S. forces so they can engage in military intervention throughout the world to enforce a Pax Americana—a strategy of empire by another name. But such a strategy ignores the obvious: the result will be increased resentment of and animosity toward what is perceived by the rest of the world as an imperialist America.

To the extent that a missile defense is technically feasible, proven to be operationally effective (via realistic testing, including against decoys and countermeasures), and affordable (none of which has been adequately demonstrated), a limited land–based ballistic missile defense system designed to protect the U.S. homeland makes sense as an insurance policy against the low likelihood of an accidental or unauthorized launch by a nuclear power, or if deterrence were to fail against a rogue state which eventually acquires long–range ballistic missile capability.

But it is not the responsibility of the United States to protect friends and allies, especially when many of them are wealthy enough to pay for their own missile defense if they think it’s important for their own security. And a missile system to defend against rogue states that do not directly threaten the United States is certainly not worth unnecessarily antagonizing the Russian bear and jeopardizing European security.

Finally, any missile defense, no matter how effective, will not protect Americans from terrorists using easier and cheaper means to inflict mass casualties—witness 9/11. And not building a missile defense for directly supporting and promoting a U.S. interventionist policy would demonstrate the recognition that, since terrorist attacks are virtually impossible to deter, prevent, or mitigate, U.S. security would be better served by avoiding unnecessary military deployments and interventions that fuel the flames of vehement anti–American sentiment.