Date of Completion

Spring 5-1-2019

Thesis Advisor(s)

Evan Perkoski; Jennifer Sterling-Folker

Honors Major

Political Science


International Relations


What caused interest in the U.S. missile defense systems to change over time, starting as an impossible idea and now a multibillion dollar reality? The common belief is that national security decisions and technological choices are rationally determined in response to external threats. Is it possible that technological defense decisions are shaped by bureaucracy and political ideology as well? Was funding poured into SDI due to pressure from Russian threats? From U.S. policymakers with close ties to defense contractors? I measure interest in missile defense through the amount of money allocated to these projects, evaluating how it has changed since Ronald Reagan first announced the Strategic Defense Initiative in 1983. To assess why it changes over time, I evaluate congressional and presidential politics, national security strategy reports, and other documents to determine the relative influence of each. While I find that the decision-making process underlying missile defense is obscure and often opaque, both threat and ideology shape interest in these systems.