by Robert G. Gard
Published in United Press International on June 22, 2007
The Bush administration has announced its intention to build a national missile defense complex in Europe to supplement current deployments of the system’s components, including interceptor sites in Alaska and California. This decision is premature, misguided, wasteful of billions of dollars and damaging to U.S. relationships with our European allies and Russia.
National missile defense, now called the Ground-Based Midcourse Missile Defense System, or GMD, is being developed to protect the United States against a limited attack from warheads launched on long-range ballistic missiles by so-called rogue states. The intent is to destroy incoming weapons during their flight in space, called the “midcourse” phase of their trajectory.
Yet GMD is still in its developmental phase, by no means ready for deployment. It has not demonstrated the capability under realistic conditions to destroy a target in space, and operational testing of the system is not yet even scheduled. Knowledgeable defense scientists believe the system will never be able to defeat countermeasures that any nation capable of fielding complex intercontinental ballistic missiles will be able to employ with ease.
In focusing initially on defending against a potential threat from North Korea, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency perceived that there would be gaps in the coverage of missiles launched from Iran that could be filled by a European deployment. Recently, however, the MDA concluded that without deploying elements of GMD in Europe, other system components will protect the entire United States against an attack by ballistic missiles launched from Iran by 2011, well before that country will be able to field an intercontinental missile capability.
So now MDA cites the indivisibility of U.S. and European security interests as a justification for deploying a missile defense complex in Europe. Yet the administration negotiated directly with the Czech and Polish governments without broader consultation, thereby triggering considerable consternation throughout the continent and disrupting the NATO alliance. As the NATO Secretary General stated critically, “NATO is the right place to have this discussion on missile defense.”
MDA also claims that deploying GMD in Europe will promote regional stability. But the announcement of the deployment and the reaction to it has created considerable instability. Russian President Vladimir Putin has strongly denounced the deployment, although he recently offered the use of a Russian radar site in Azerbaijan to substitute for the radar planned for deployment in the Czech Republic.
Putin’s basic concern is that the missile defense deployment is yet another U.S. and NATO military encroachment into former Warsaw Pact countries close to Russia’s borders, and because he suspects that further development of the GMD complex may present a more significant challenge to Russia’s security in the future. Putin’s resultant threats to declare a moratorium on Russia’s observance of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty and his hint of withdrawal from the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty deeply concern our European allies.
There are other serious problems with a GMD missile defense in Europe that should be considered:
- The interceptor missiles planned for installation in Poland involve difficult and less-tested technology than those presently deployed in Alaska and California. Initial flight tests are scheduled for 2010, and deployment of up to 10 operational missiles is programmed to be completed by 2013. Previous problems with GMD and related programs indicate that this timeline is overly optimistic.
- The complex in Europe will have only 20 minutes to detect, track, and intercept a missile launched from Iran. This would present a highly difficult challenge to a system that has met stringent test standards and is manned by a well-trained crew on quick-reaction alert. But essential operational testing to prove the effectiveness of the system is not yet even projected for the European complex.
- The European deployment is currently estimated to cost in excess of $4 billion. If past is prologue, this will increase substantially.
Since Iran will not be able to develop long-range missiles until well into the next decade, as reliable intelligence agencies estimate, there is ample time for continued development of the GMD system to determine if it can somehow be made to work effectively. The launch of a ballistic missile can also be traced to its source, so it seems highly doubtful that Iran would choose to attack the United States or Europe with a ballistic missile, thereby inviting a devastating retaliatory strike.
Whatever marginal benefit may be perceived to accrue from deploying a European component of GMD is clearly outweighed by its costs, both financial and political. The bottom line is a no-brainer: The third GMD missile defense site in Europe should be put on ice.
Lt. General Robert G. Gard Jr., a former president of National Defense University, is the Senior Military Fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington, D.C.