by Katie Mounts and Travis Sharp]
Published by MinutemanMedia.Org on October 15, 2008
The Bush administration has tried for years to build support for a long-range missile defense system in Europe. White House officials claim that the system will protect America’s allies from an Iranian missile attack. Unfortunately, the proposed system is plagued with budgetary, technical, and political problems, and actually poses serious risks to American security.
The Pentagon organization responsible for missile defense, the Missile Defense Agency, estimates the European system will cost $4 billion over the next five years. There is reason to suspect that this estimate is grossly underestimated, however, due to the Agency’s method of building weapons.
This method is known as “spiral development,” a process where development and production unfold simultaneously. It is equivalent to Ford or Chevrolet assembling a new car and letting people drive it around town without first completing engineering blueprints or testing the design. This haphazard approach inevitably results in multiple changes during production. Each time the Pentagon goes back to the drawing board, it costs American taxpayers millions of dollars.
If the only problem with European missile defense was that it was experimental and expensive, perhaps it could still be acceptable. After all, no price is too high to pay in order to protect American lives and those of our allies. The Missile Defense Agency, however, has a very risky secret: The system is based on shaky technical assumptions and is not yet ready for real-life combat scenarios.
The system proposed for deployment in Europe, a two-stage interceptor, has never been tested. The Bush administration claims that since it is based on a three-stage design that previously has been tested (albeit in unrealistic conditions), there is nothing to worry about. Two stages are clearly less than three, so the European design has to work, right?
Not so fast. A 2007 report by the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, the office that verifies the readiness of defense programs, concluded that the effectiveness of the two-stage interceptor “cannot be assumed,” and that at least three flight tests are necessary before the system is deployed.
Moreover, the system currently is unable to overcome decoys designed to distract radar systems such as balloons, debris, or other radar-absorbing materials. A 1999 National Intelligence Estimate determined that any country sophisticated enough to develop a ballistic missile would have the technical means to produce these decoys. In other words, the European missile defense system is unable to do what it was designed to do. This explains why Philip Coyle, former director of the Defense Test and Evaluation Agency, calls the system “a scarecrow defense.”
There are political consequences to building missile defense in Europe. Russia is opposed to the system, believing it is really aimed at Moscow and surrounds Russia with new American weapons and bases. While experts debate whether or not the system would threaten Russia’s nuclear arsenal, the threat of aggressive Russian action in its near-abroad is very real.
Former Russian President Vladimir Putin and current President Dmitri Medvedev have already threatened to respond to the placement of missile defense interceptors in Poland. If Russia’s recent actions in Georgia are any indication, these are not empty threats.
Ignoring Russian objections also may lead to an arms race, elements of which are already developing. Russia has now withdrawn or threatened to withdraw from two key treaties – the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty – that have placed a ceiling on nuclear weapons stockpiles since the Cold War.
In December 2009, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty is set to expire. Unless a continuation or replacement to this treaty is negotiated soon, the United States could lose the ability to oversee and verify Russian disarmament activities.
Now is not the time for Russia and the United States to stop working together on issues like Iran, terrorism, nuclear nonproliferation, and energy. There is simply too much at stake in the months and years ahead.