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The Obstacles To the Proposed U.S. Missile Defense Systems in Europe

18.1.2008 - Philip E. Coyle

At the G-8 Summit in early June, 2007, the difficulties and complexities of proposed U.S. missile defenses in Europe were on full display. (…)

Putin proposed a smart missile defense technical and policy solution that the Pentagon should have thought of first: establishing a missile defense radar site at the existing Qabala early warning radar station in Azerbaijan. (…)

President George W. Bush said the proposal was an “interesting suggestion,” and seemed to welcome the policy shift, but his administration appeared to immediately reject the offer. "One does not choose sites for missile defense out of the blue," snapped Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice in an interview with the Associated Press. "It's geometry and geography as to how you intercept a missile."

But in that short comment, Secretary Rice showed that she understood neither the geometry nor the geography of the U.S. missile defense plans, nor of Putin’s proposal. Russia had done its homework and proposed a site that was better for missile defense from both American and Russian technical and policy points of view.

Because of its location farther south, relative to the original sites proposed by the Bush administration in Poland and the Czech Republic, the Azerbaijan option has several advantages. At that location, the proposed missile defenses could "defend" all of Europe, including south-eastern Europe.
Also, a radar at the Azerbaijan site would not be able to “see” Russian missile launches going over the pole towards America, which means that it could not be used to defend America from Russia. Also, in an actual missile-vs.-missile battle, the originally proposed sites in Poland and the Czech Republic could result in debris falling on Russia if U.S. missile defense interceptors sent hypothetical Iranian missiles careening off course. The Azerbaijan site would minimize that problem as well.

(…) (…)

By putting forward his proposal to locate U.S. missile defenses in Azerbaijan or in southern Russia, Putin questioned the technical efficacy of the proposed sites in Poland and the Czech Republic, and justified recent cuts by Congress in the budget for construction at these sites. Congress had been skeptical anyway, and Putin showed that they had reason to be.

Under the agreements the Bush administration is seeking with Poland and the Czech Republic, the proposed missile defense sites, if located there, would essentially be sovereign U.S. territory, like an embassy. It remains to be seen if Poland or the Czech Republic will agree to this, and perhaps neither Russia nor Azerbaijan would agree to that either.

At the G-8 Summit, Putin also proposed locating the U.S. missile defense systems in Turkey, Iraq, or even on sea-based platforms, but this had the effect of undermining his original proposal. The initial reaction from Iraqi officials noted that a U.S. missile defense site in Iraq could provide a new target, and new motivations, for insurgents. (…)

The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA) says that at best they can only handle what they call “an unsophisticated threat,” that is, just one or two missiles from Iran, with no decoys or countermeasures, not because that is a realistic threat, but because that's the toughest threat the MDA can claim to be able to deal with.

The MDA definition of the supposed threat raises the question: would Iran attack Europe, or the United States, with a single missile and then sit back and wait for the consequences?

Thus, Iran does not have a sufficient capability to attack Europe or the United States, and if it did, the U.S. proposed U.S. missile defenses couldn’t deal with it. (…)

Decoys and countermeasures are the Achilles heel of missile defense, and also of the proposed missile defense system in Europe. (…)

Decoys can include objects which provide a close representation of the attacking enemy missile or its warhead encased in a re-entry vehicle. For example, a simple balloon in the shape of a cone – the shape of a re-entry vehicle – would travel out in space as fast as the RV itself and might be confusing to the defender. An enemy missile could carry many of these balloons (…)

Countermeasures could include chaff or debris deliberately scattered by the attacker with the target missile or warhead to reflect the search radar of a missile defense system. This might be short metal rods – like paper clips – of the proper length, or bits of metal foil to reflect the radar, or to cloud the view the radar might otherwise have of the target.

(…) (…)

Of course, in all out battle, missile defense radar and interceptor sites would be prime targets for an enemy.

For the outset, the Poland/Czech Republic arrangement had raised questions about who exactly it was defending against? Was it really to defend against Iran, as advertised, or was it an attempt by the United States to locate missile defenses close to Russia to defend the U.S. from Russia? Or both? (…)

Just as 46-years ago America saw Russian missiles in Cuba as an alarming threat, Russia clearly feels that the proposed U.S. missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic are too close to its territory.

Of course, the Soviet missiles in Cuba were offensive, and the proposed U.S. interceptors in Poland are to be defensive. Nevertheless the U.S. proposal is in direct violation of the Joint Declaration issued in conjunction with the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty – also known as the Moscow Treaty – signed by Presidents Bush and Putin on May 24, 2002.

That Joint Declaration calls for joint research and development on missile defense technologies, and U.S./Russian cooperation on missile defense for Europe. The Bush proposal to establish U.S. missile defenses in Europe was neither joint or cooperative, and was undertaken unilaterally almost before the ink had dried on the Joint Declaration.

Putin also noted that the U.S. decision to deploy missile defenses close to Russia was presaged by the unilateral withdrawal in 2002 of the United States from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which President Nixon and Soviet Communist Party Secretary Leonid Brezhnev signed together in Moscow in 1972.

Given the duplicity of the U.S. relative to the aforementioned accords, it is not surprising that Russia might regard the proposed U.S. interceptors as potentially offensive. The proposed U.S. interceptor missiles are two-stage variants of a proven launch vehicle, Pegasus missiles, which have enough payload and thrust to carry satellites into low-earth orbit.

Accordingly, these missiles could easily carry nuclear warheads aimed at Russia. Russia may not be willing to take the Pentagon’s word that these missiles are for defense only, and do not carry a lethal offensive payload. If Russian verification and inspection provisions are to accompany the deployment of U.S. missile defenses in Europe, those agreements themselves could take years.

Also, since the proposed GMD missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic could not cover all of Europe, some members of Congress raised questions about why the United States would chose to "defend" some European countries and not others. (…)

It has taken MDA five years of efforts with Poland and the Czech Republic to obtain their cooperation, and yet questions still remain with only 9 months left in the Bush administration.

Accepting the Putin proposal would have left it up to the next U.S. president to decide whether to establish U.S. missile defenses in Europe, but the Bush administration has wanted to get concrete poured before its term is up. (…)

However, Putin’s proposal opened up new options for U.S. cooperation that America may need. For example, a second radar site is needed for a powerful, transportable Forward-Based Radar whose location is yet to be determined (Georgia?!? - note No to Bases initiative) but is intended to be closer to Iran than the site in the Czech Republic. Negotiations over this second radar site could bring additional Russian objections.

As for the ten new interceptors the administration proposes to base in Poland, they are not yet developed or tested, and are not scheduled to be tested until 2010.

During a Senate Armed Sevices Committee hearing with Senator Bill Nelson (Florida) on April 11, 2007, Lt. Gen. Henry “Trey” Obering, head of the Missile Defense Agency, explained that the MDA was requesting money for 10 interceptors for Europe or, if not in Europe, for U.S. locations.  Obering said that if agreement on the European sites takes too long to wrap up then MDA wanted to buy ten interceptors for the US instead.

"Why?" asked Senator Nelson.

"We don't want to loose the money," responded Obering. (…)

Poland and the Czech Republic each have their own point of view, but they share some concerns in common. Neither country faces a threat from Iran, but by hosting U.S. missile defenses in their territory they could motivate new animosity in Iran and other Muslim populations towards Poland and the Czech Republic.

In an actual ballistic missile defense battle, Poland and the Czech Republic would become the first targets that an enemy would attack, as simply a matter of ordinary military tactics.

By attacking the X-band radar, an enemy could blind the system so that it could not see attacking missiles, and by attacking the interceptors in their silos, an enemy could disable the interceptors themselves.

This means that beyond the threat that other European countries might face, Poland and the Czech Republic might need special missile or other defenses designed to protect those two sites, assuming that such defenses were effective.

Poland and the Czech Republic might also need other security guarantees for taking on the new risk of becoming targets themselves. However, Lt. Gen Obering has told Congress that MDA had no plans to put Patriot or Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) systems at the proposed European sites.  Not that Patriot or THAAD could necessarily be depended upon, but the Missile Defense Agency does not plan to deploy Patriot or THAAD at the European sites "for deterrence," as they have in Japan.

Taken more broadly, Europe as a whole also does not face a threat from Iran, but by cooperating with the U.S., Poland and the Czech Republic might cause Europe to become a more frequent target of terrorists or even to be viewed less favorably by Iran.

Also, to the extent that Russia sees the proposed U.S. missile defenses as a threat, Russia might retaliate in some ways towards Poland or the Czech Republic, especially if U.S./Russian relations turned unusually sour. For example, President Putin indicated last year that Russia might target Poland and the Czech Republic, and threatened to deploy Russian medium-range offensive missiles in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad on the Polish border. (…)

In the April 11, 2007, Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, referred to earlier, Brian Green, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategic Capabilities, OSD Policy, said the Third Site agreements will be executive agreements and will not require congressional approval. (…)

In the same hearing, Mr. Green said that though the Administration will be consulting with NATO, the agreement on the interceptors and radar will be bilateral agreements, and require US ownership. Senator Nelson asked Green what would happen if either European nation decided not to go forward. Green had no answer.

The Congress understands that many Czech and Polish citizens oppose the proposal as does the government of Russia. The Congress also has seen Russia reacting to the proposed U.S. missile defense sites so close to its borders. (…)
From its first days in office the current administration has been touting North Korea and Iran as dire threats to America. In response to the threat from those countries, as well as from other nations possessing ballistic missiles, the Pentagon wants a layered missile defense system, with interceptors launched from land, sea, from aircraft (the Airborne Laser), and from space, capable of shooting down enemy missiles of all types: short range, medium range, long range, and intercontinental ballistic missiles. (…)

Pentagon briefings picture giant glass domes covering the United States, and we are meant to imagine that enemy missiles will bounce off these glass domes like hail off a windshield.  And one of those glass domes - one of those layers - is to be in space.

When discussing the proposed missile defense system for Eastern Europe, it's best to put the word "defend" in quotes.  This is because the missile defense hardware United States is deploying in Alaska and California, and is proposing to deploy in Eastern Europe, has no demonstrated capability to defend Europe, let alone the United States, from an attack by Iran (or North Korea for that matter) under realistic operational conditions.
For this reason, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency has "dumbed down" the supposed threat from Iran (and North Korea) by definition to be just one or two missiles with no decoys or countermeasures. And yet still the MDA has not been able to demonstrate the effective capability to stop even that idealized threat under realistic operational conditions. Seven of the 13 flight intercept tests conducted with the Ground-based Midcourse Missile Defense system have resulted in successful intercepts, but six have failed for one reason or another.
And none of those tests have been conducted without advance information about the mock attack, information that no real enemy would willingly provide. Because of the expense of these tests, and the embarrassment when one fails, the tests are conducted with enough information provided about the enemy attack to maximize the chances of success, and yet in spite of this they sometimes fail.

It is not credible that North Korea would attack the U.S., or that Iran would attack Europe, constrained to one missile with no countermeasures, and then just sit back to see what retaliation would follow. Nor would Iran likely attack Europe, no matter how many missiles it had, but if Iran had many missiles the U.S. missile defense system could be overwhelmed. (…) why would Iran chose to threaten the whole of Europe? For what purpose?

Ironically, the missile defense systems being proposed for Europe depend for their justification on Iran behaving badly from time to time. If through creative diplomacy, undoubtedly with help from Europe, Iran and the U.S. would actually sit down together face-to-face and settle their differences, as North Korea and the U.S. have begun to do, there would be no justification for presumed-to-be-effective missile defense systems in Europe.

On January 25, 2007, MDA’s Lt. Gen. Obering, held a reporters' roundtable where reporters could ask Obering questions via conference call. One reporter asked Obering what would be the point of the European site if the so-called Iranian threat went away, and he couldn't come up with one. (…)

Some would argue that if not a realistic threat today, North Korea and Iran may become a real threat in the future. But if they do, the limitations of the administrations planned initial missile defense capability were revealed by an unusually candid admission in the MDA FY-2008 budget request, "This initial capability is not sufficient to protect the United States from the extant and anticipated rogue nation threat."

(…) (…)

This paragraph also reveals that the MDA sees the proposed missile defenses in Europe as a first line of defense to protect existing radar sites in Greenland and the United Kingdom necessary to defend the U.S., not first and foremost to defend Europe. (…)
Eight years ago President Clinton established four criteria against which he would make a deployment decision. (…)

The Nitze criteria were shorter and even tougher. During the Reagan years, Paul Nitze, the highly regarded scholar and statesman whose name graces this institution, presented three criteria that any - in those days it was SDI - missile defense system must meet before being considered for deployment. (…)
The proposed U.S. missile defense system for Europe meets none of the above criteria, not the Clinton critieria and not the Nitze criteria. (…)

Beyond the proposed U.S. missile defense sites in Europe, the administration is proposing an immense build up of missile defenses around the world, citing missile proliferation as the justification. (…)

To defend the need for missile defenses, in October 2007, the White House announced, "America faces a growing ballistic missile threat.  In 1972, just nine countries had ballistic missiles. Today, that number has grown to 27 and it includes hostile regimes with ties to terrorists."

Similarly MDA’s Obering has a briefing that claims the threat from enemy missiles is growing and shows missiles in 20 countries. But all but two of those 20 countries - Iran and North Korea - are either friends, allies, or countries from which we have no missile threat, e.g. Israel, India, Pakistan, Vietnam, South Korea, Moldova, Ukraine, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, etc.

Moldova??? Yes, and recently Venezuela was added to the list. (…)

Because of the number of ICBMs Russia and China have, and because they use decoys and countermeasures - the Achilles heel of missile defense - the most futuristic missile defenses we can imagine would not be dependable against the ICBMs in Russia and China. (…)

China currently has about 20 missiles that could reach the U.S. Some of those have countermeasures which would confound U.S. missile defense systems. However, in response to U.S. missile defense efforts, China could decide to build up their stockpile of ICBMs to Russian levels, so that China also could overwhelm our defenses.
If China does that, U.S. missile defenses will have destabilized the international situation.

In 1999, former Secretary of Defense William Perry made what must have been an exhausting series of diplomatic trips to convince North Korea to stop developing and testing long-range missiles. He was remarkably successful. In fact, as news of his success reached the Pentagon, officials there joked: "There goes the threat!"

The joke underscored that the most effective route in dealing with nuclear and missile proliferation threats can be through creative diplomacy, not military technology.
Dollar for dollar, Dr. Perry was the most cost-effective missile defense system the United States ever had, and he showed that effective diplomacy is hard to beat. (…)

If North Korea and the U.S. continue to make progress in face-to-face negotiations and in the 6-party talks, there will be no justification for the presumed-to-be-effective missile defense systems in Alaska, California, and Japan, either. (…)

In any case, if Russia is not an enemy, as Bush says, he should be willing to support serious U.S/Russian cooperation. (…) Russia has indicated strongly that it will not accept U.S. missile defenses being deployed in Eastern Europe. (…)
Russia has also said they want the U.S. to stop the deployment of attack weapons in space, which they also find threatening.

The Russian test on September 17, 2007, of the “ Father Of All Bombs,” claimed to be four times more powerful than the conventional U.S. 20,000 pound Massive Ordnance Air Burst bomb, also called the “Mother Of All Bombs,” was interpreted by many as yet another message to the U.S. that the proposed missile defenses are unacceptable. (…)

Given the many complications already surrounding the U.S. European missile defense proposal, the Poland or the Czech Republic could follow Canada's example. Three years ago, Canada - surely one of America's closest allies - decided not to participate in the U.S. missile defense system.
While expressing its continuing commitment to NORAD, the Canadian government said it would not join the Pentagon's missile defense program. Why? Why did one of our closest partners, and neighbors, take this strong step?
Because Canadian citizens were justifiably skeptical of U.S. missile defense plans. Canadians questioned that the United States can develop missile defenses that will be effective against enemy missiles under realistic operational conditions. They were concerned about the costs, and they didn't want to participate in creating a new arms race in space.

Canada understood correctly that U.S. missile defense represent the first wave in which the United States could introduce attack weapons into space, that is, weapons with strike capability - shooters, if you will - and Canadians did not want to contribute to that.

While the militarization of space is already a fact of life, the U.S. military relies on space satellites for military communications, for reconnaissance and sensing, for weather, and for targeting, the weaponization of space hasn't happened. There are no strike weapons deployed in space. So deciding not to deploy strike weapons in space was a practical place to draw the line, exactly what Canada did.

Another admirable example of restraint is South Korea. While sharing a border with North Korea, and always mindful of a threat from North Korea, South Korea has opted to take a very different path than Japan.

In Japan, political pressures have led to a major build-up of missile defenses. Not that those missile defenses would actually defend Japan from North Korea, but Japan has found U.S. missile defense systems irresistible as a way to show Japanese voters that they are doing something about North Korea. (…)

By contrast South Korea, will deploy relatively few short range and very short-range missile defenses under the Korean Air and Missile Defense command they decided to establish in late 2006.

Where Japan will soon be bristling with missile defenses of questionable effectiveness, South Korea has opted to continue its Sunshine Policy of reducing tensions and building up trade and diplomatic ties with the North.

The level of debate both in America and in Europe has not been adequate to inform the public about the limitations and liabilities of missile defense. (…) there appears to be no urgent threat, and if there were U.S. missile defenses are not adequate to the task, because of the artificial constraint that an enemy would only attack with one or two missiles, and using no decoys or countermeasures.

The U.S. proposal to establish missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic has alienated Russia to a degree not seen since the height of the Cold War, and for no good purpose since the proposed U.S. system in Europe has no demonstrated capability to defend the United States, let alone Europe, under realistic operational conditions.

The full text is available on the independent Czech news server Britské listy »

Detailed information on Philip Coyle at the Washington-based non-governmental Center for Defense Information (CDI)

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