Date of Graduation

Spring 2022


Master of Science in Defense and Strategic Studies


Defense and Strategic Studies

Committee Chair

John Rose


Strategic missile defense or anti-ballistic missile (ABM) systems are considered deterrence by denial assets. The debate on the question if these systems stabilize or destabilize the balance of power between nuclear powers is still unresolved. This work reviews this impact using the example of the East – West relationship by focusing on NATO´s missile defense efforts. This is done in two parts. The first is a historical part, reviewing the East – West relationship during the Cold War based on strategic arsenals, crisis events and arms control talks related to missile defense developments. The second part reviews the development since the year 2000, using again strategic arsenals, crisis events, arms control talks as well as a comparison of missile defense of NATO and the Russian Federation. Neither the historical analysis nor the current situation analysis show a significant escalation-causing character of ABM systems. Especially in the historical view, ABM systems appear to have had a stabilizing effect. However, each development in missile defense creates a picture of a future where the technological advantage of an adversary could outpace offensive capabilities, degrading the offensive capabilities of a nation. The current situation shows in detail that such a future never took form and likely won’t for the foreseeable future. It shows how immense the disadvantage of a defender against a nuclear attack would be. There are physical constraints to position interceptors to be able to successfully intercept a missile. More importantly the cost of one intercept is significantly higher than the cost of an attacking missile. These constrains make the development and deployment of missile defense against a major Russian missile attack almost impossible. Russia, on the opposite side, communicates about missile defense primarily when trying to create a picture of NATO as an aggressor trying to mitigate Russia´s rightful ability for nuclear defense. This narrative is completely false. Russia is not the main target for NATO´s missile defense efforts and is only to a very limited degree influenced by the systems. Current missile defense systems contribute on two levels to stability. Firstly, deterrence by denial towards rogue regimes that don´t have the capabilities to overcome the defense. Secondly, by creating the ability to stop an accidental launch. Missile defense should therefore not be subject to restrictive arms control treaties.


missile defense, deterrence, deterrence by denial, NATO, Russian Federation, international relationship, arms control


© Christian Hofmann

Open Access