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Missile Defense and Europe
A little detour from my previous oil discussion as we focus this week on missile defense and the explanation from the Pentagon as to why we are abandoning the original plans for Poland and Czech Republic. I’ll get back to oil in two weeks. Heading overseas in the interim.
This week, the president, on the recommendation and advice of his national security team and our senior military leadership, decided to change the architecture of our ballistic missile defense in Europe, a change I believe will enhance our ability to respond to the most immediate threats to the continent, as well as future threats.
First, some background. On December 27, 2006, I recommended that President Bush initiate a Europe-based, missile-defense system that would put in advanced radar in the Czech Republic and 10 ground-based interceptors in Poland. At the time, this was considered the best way to protect the United States and our European allies from the growing threat posed by Iran’s development of longer-range ballistic missiles.
Since then, two important developments have prompted a reassessment of our approach in Europe. First, a change in our intelligence community’s 2006 view of the Iranian threat: The intelligence community now assesses that the threat from Iran’s short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, such as the Shahab-3, is developing more rapidly than previously projected. This poses an increased and more immediate threat to our forces on the European continent, as well as to our allies.
On the other hand, our intelligence assessment also now assesses that the threat of potential Iranian intercontinental ballistic missile capabilities has been slower to develop than was estimated in 2006.
The second development relates to our technology. Over the last few years, we have made great strides with missile defense, particularly in our ability to counter short-and-medium-range missiles. We now have proven capabilities to intercept these ballistic missiles with land-and-sea-based interceptors supported by much-improved sensors.
These capabilities offer a variety of options to detect, track and shoot down enemy missiles. This allows us to deploy a distributive sensor network rather than a single fixed site, like the kind slated for the Czech Republic, enabling greater survivability and adaptability.
We have also improved the Standard Missile 3, the SM-3, which has had eight successful flight tests since 2007. These tests have amply demonstrated the SM-3’s capability and have given us greater confidence in the system and its future.
Based on these two factors, we have now the opportunity to deploy new sensors and interceptors, in northern and southern Europe, that near-term can provide missile defense coverage against more immediate threats from Iran or others.
In the initial stage, we will deploy Aegis ships equipped with SM-3 interceptors, which provide the flexibility to move interceptors from one region to another if needed.
The second phase, about 2015, will involve fielding upgraded, land-based SM-3s. Consultations have begun with allies, starting with Poland and the Czech Republic, about hosting a land-based version of the SM-3 and other components of the system. Basing some interceptors on land will provide additional coverage and save costs compared to a purely sea-based approach.
Over time, this architecture is designed to continually incorporate new and more effective technologies, as well as more interceptors, expanding the range of coverage, improving our ability to knock down multiple targets and increasing the survivability of the overall system.
This approach also provides us with greater flexibility to adapt to developing threats and evolving technologies. For example, although the Iranian long-range missile threat is not as immediate as we previously thought, this system will allow us to incorporate future defensive capabilities against such threats, as they develop.
Perhaps most important, though, we can now field initial elements of the system to protect our forces in Europe and our allies roughly six to seven years earlier than the previous plan, a fact made more relevant by continued delays in the Czech and Polish ratification processes that have caused repeated slips in the timeline.
I would also note that plans to cover most of Europe and add to the defense of the U.S. homeland will continue on about the same schedule as before. As the president has said very clearly, as long as the Iranian threat persists, we will pursue proven and cost-effective missile defenses.
Today the Department of Defense is briefing the Congress and our NATO allies about this plan. One of our guiding principles for missile defense remains the involvement and support of our allies and partners. We will continue to rely on our allies and work with them to develop a system that most effectively defends against very real and growing threats.
Those who say we are scrapping missile defense in Europe are either misinformed or misrepresenting the reality of what we are doing. The security of Europe has been a vital national interest of the United States for my entire career. The circumstances, borders and threats may have changed, but that commitment continues. I believe this new approach provides a better missile defense capability for our forces in Europe, for our European allies and eventually for our homeland than the program I recommended almost three years ago. It is more adapted to the threat we see developing and takes advantage of new technical capabilities available to us today.
Q: I noticed that neither of you said the word Russia in your opening remarks. Can you say to what extent the hope for a better relationship with Russia and Russia’s cooperation, in any future sanctions regime or other attempt to counter the Iranian missile threat, to what extent that was a factor in making this change?
Sec. Gates: The decisions were driven, I would say, almost exclusively by the changed intelligence assessment and the enhanced technology. It really was a zero-based look at both the threat and our capability to deal with it.
Now, that said, I think that first of all, the Russians are probably not going to be pleased that we are continuing with missile defense efforts in Europe. But at the same time, there are two changes in this architecture that should allay some of their, what we think, unfounded concerns.
One is their concern that the radar that was going into the Czech Republic looked deep into Russia and actually could monitor the launches of their ICBMs as well. So that’s one.
The second is, the Russians believed, despite our best efforts to dissuade them, that the ground-based interceptors in Poland could be fitted with nuclear weapons and become an offensive weapon like a Pershing and a weapon for which they would have virtually no warning time.
The move to the SM-3s, while enhancing our capabilities, that’s also a weapon that they simply cannot at least rationally argue bears any kind of a threat to Russia.
Source: U.S. Department of Defense [defenselink.mil]