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Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility (AP/Iranian President's Office)

A certain threat

Foreign Policy | As Iran becomes more defiant, President Obama steps up missile defense funding

Iran's stepping up of its uranium enrichment program has prompted the United States and its allies to call for stronger, quicker UN sanctions to prevent the defiant country from developing a viable nuclear program. According to a spokesperson for U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the sanctions should come in "weeks, not months."

But there's another development on the defense front that responds to a growing threat. While President Barack Obama's first defense budget last year cut $1.4 billion from missile defense programs, his budget this year restores over half of those cuts-a move that missile defense advocates say is a response to the growing threats represented by Iran and North Korea.

In his statement last Wednesday to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Secretary Gates said that he is requesting $9.9 billion total for missile defense-almost $700 million more than the department received last year. Riki Ellison, chairman of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, said that the administration understands that it needs a strong missile defense to negotiate with unstable nations.

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The Defense Department's Ballistic Missile Defense Review Report, released last week, warns what is by now common knowledge: The threat from ballistic missiles will increase over the next decade as missiles become "more flexible, mobile, survivable, reliable, and accurate while also increasing in range." More states are building more missiles and better ones, according to the report. It goes on to add that unless something changes, by the end of the next decade, North Korea will be able to put a nuclear warhead on an accurate delivery system.

"It is difficult to predict precisely how the threat to the U.S. homeland will evolve," the report states, "but it is certain that it will do so."

In 2009, the Defense Department reversed its decision to leave unfinished a second field of ground-based interceptor silos at Fort Greely, Alaska. And this year, the report promises that the administration will complete the second field of 14 silos. Obama's budget allocates $350 million in development funding for Ground Based Interceptors (GBIs) and increases its request from 30 silos last year to 38 silos this year, and from 44 GBIs in 2009 to 56 in 2010. The administration, however, is shifting from GBIs in Europe to land-based and sea-based systems-part of a new approach called the Phased Adaptive Approach.

Richard Lehner, spokesperson for the Missile Defense Agency, said the increased funding does not reflect a change in the administration's policy regarding missile defense.

Ellison said, "It is a very positive step that the president and Secretary Gates have really reversed some of their positioning from a year ago in increasing the funding."

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