by Kingston Reif
INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND
Since withdrawing the United States from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002, the Bush administration has moved to create a missile defense system to defend against long-range ballistic missile threats from rogue states. In 2004, the United States began deploying interceptors in Alaska and California to defend against North Korean missile threats.
In early 2007, the Bush administration began formal negotiations with the governments of Poland and the Czech Republic on the proposed deployment of U.S. interceptors in Europe. This “third site” is designed to protect Europe and the United States from intermediate- and long-range missile threats from Iran. The plan calls for installing ten interceptor missiles in Poland, a radar in the Czech Republic, and a radar in a yet-to-be determined country closer to Iran. The project is slated for completion in 2013, and carries an estimated price tag of $4 billion.
Unlike the interceptors currently deployed in Alaska and California, which are powered by three-stage booster rockets, the interceptors planned for the third site will have only two stages. A two-stage configuration is necessary for Europe because the interceptor launch site in Poland is much closer to Iran than the interceptor launch sites in Alaska and California are to North Korea. Eliminating the third stage is designed to make the interceptor lighter and more responsive to the shorter engagement ranges and timelines for Europe, thereby allowing it to react more quickly to a prospective Iranian missile threat. The two-stage configuration has yet to be tested.
The proposed European deployment has met with stiff opposition from Russia, while public opinion polls in the Czech Republic and Poland have shown that a significant majority of Czechs and Poles also oppose the system. Moreover, despite the Bush administration’s claims to the contrary, NATO has failed to enthusiastically endorse the system. At the April NATO summit in Bucharest, NATO members merely stated that they “recognize” – rather than “welcome” or “support” – the contribution the system could make to European security. Ultimately, the alliance has not pledged to develop any missile defenses.
In its Fiscal Year 2008 budget request, the Bush administration asked for $310 million to begin design, construction, and deployment of the system in Europe. The conference report of the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 1585) cut the $85 million the administration requested for third site construction until the Polish and Czech governments give final approval. In addition, it called for independent evaluations on missile defense options for Europe, and required that the Secretary of Defense certify that the proposed two-stage interceptor “has demonstrated, through successful, operationally realistic flight testing, a high probability of working in an operationally effective manner” before acquisition deployment can begin.
Congress has begun to impose similar restrictions on the Bush administration’s Fiscal Year 2009 budget request for the third site. The House Armed Services Committee authorized $341.2 million for European missile defense, a reduction of $370.8 million from the administration’s request of $719 million. It also limited the availability of funds for the site until the Polish and Czech parliaments give final approval and the Secretary of Defense has certified the system’s effectiveness. Though the Senate Armed Services Committee fully funded the Bush administration’s request, it too conditioned the procurement, construction, and deployment of missile defenses in Europe on final approval from the Czech and Polish governments and a certification from the U.S. defense secretary that the system will work “in an operationally effective manner.”
LIKELY TO BE PUT ON HOLD
Two recent developments have all but ensured that the third site will not be completed by the Bush administration’s 2013 target date and that it will fall to the next president to determine the future of the European deployment.
1. The Czech and Polish governments are still far from giving final approval to place elements of the U.S. missile defense system on their territories.
On July 8, the United States and the Czech Republic signed an initial agreement to build a missile defense radar on Czech soil. However, the agreement has to be ratified by the Czech parliament and perhaps even survive a public referendum. According to Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, the widespread unpopularity of the plan could bring down the government this fall. Topolanek’s three-party governing coalition controls just 100 of the 200 seats in the Czech parliament’s lower chamber, which is not enough to ratify the agreement. An opinion poll last month showed that nearly 70 percent of Czechs oppose placing a radar on Czech soil.
Even if Topolanek’s governing coalition survives, parliamentary approval does not appear to be likely anytime soon, as the government currently has no plans to submit the agreement to parliament before the next general elections scheduled for 2010.
The situation in Poland is even more uncertain. Early in July, it appeared that Washington and Warsaw had reached a tentative agreement. Yet disagreement over Poland’s insistence that the United States provide it with U.S. Patriot air defense systems as well as aid to modernize its armed forces stalled the negotiations. “We need firm guarantees from Washington that deployment of a missile defense base will enhance Poland’s security,” Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk told reporters, but “we did not achieve a result that would be satisfactory to Poland.” Tusk has vowed to continue negotiations in the hopes of reaching a compromise.
As negotiations with Poland continue to flounder, the Bush administration announced in late June that it is considering Lithuania as an alternative site for the interceptors. Yet most observers agree that this is not a realistic proposal but rather an attempt to soften Poland’s hard-line negotiating position.
As is the case in the Czech Republic, Polish public opinion is strongly against the proposed deployment. These misgivings are rooted in concerns about Polish national sovereignty, as well as fears that the interceptors will poison Polish relations with Russia. As Tusk put it, “The fact that the installation would be built on Polish territory increases certain risks and threats for Poland.” These fears appear to be well founded, as Russia has threatened to target the proposed interceptor sites with its own missiles and redeploy nuclear missiles to the enclave of Kaliningrad, which borders Poland and Lithuania.
Assuming the conditions and restrictions on the third site contained in the 2008 Defense Authorization Act are continued in 2009, it is unlikely that the United States will be able to begin construction on the third site in the near future. Final approval from the Czech and Polish governments is a long way off, and important politicians in both Prague and Warsaw are urging that no action be taken on the agreements until a new administration arrives in Washington.
2. A report by the Department of Defense’s Director, Operational Test & Evaluation issued in October 2007, but not made public until June of this year, revealed that the “effectiveness” of the two-stage interceptor “cannot be assumed” and at least three flight tests are necessary for any determination of operational effectiveness.
On October 1, 2007, Dr. Charles McQueary, the Department of Defense’s Director, Operational Test & Evaluation issued a report on the Bush administration’s proposed European missile defense system. It was distributed to members of Congress at the time, but was not made public until the Associated Press obtained a copy in late June.
The report’s key conclusion is that while the new two-stage configuration shares important similarities with its three-stage forerunner, “the effectiveness of the European assets cannot be assumed.” A robust test program of the system consisting of at least three flight tests is necessary for any determination of operational effectiveness.
Dr. McQueary’s assessment demonstrates that the Bush administration has repeatedly downplayed the important differences between the new two-stage booster and the existing three-stage booster, ignored the significant geographical and technical challenges associated with European missile defense, and painted a misleading picture of the number of tests required to certify the operational effectiveness of the system.
In a May 2007 hearing of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, John Rood, then-Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, argued that the two-stage configuration “has 98 percent of the same components as the three-stage configuration. So I would say that those components and that system have had testing as part of that.”
Missile Defense Agency Director Lt. General Henry Obering III made a similar claim in an April 2007 hearing of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the Sentate Armed Services Committee, maintaining that the two-stage configuration “is not a significant change” from the three-stage configuration. When forced by aggressive questioning from Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) to concede that the two-stage configuration will require many important modifications, Obering insisted that these changes would not “be very high-risk items.”
In a January 2008 report to Congress, the Bush administration continued to emphasize the similarities between the two boosters, arguing that the two-stage configuration was “a less complex version” of the three-stage booster and that constructing and testing the system would be a “low-risk” endeavor.
In contrast, Dr. McQueary notes that “the hardware and software in the two-stage booster might be reasonably well understood, but the employment of this booster in European defensive operations is not.” Defending Europe and the United States from Iranian threats requires the European system to demonstrate capabilities unlike those required for defense against North Korean threats. For example, the shorter distance between the third site and Iran relative to U.S.-based system and North Korea presents geographical and technical challenges that have not been addressed in tests of the U.S.-based system. In addition, the Bush administration’s plan calls for the interceptors in Europe to intercept both intermediate- and long-range Iranian threats. As the report points out, the system proposed for Europe has never been required to engage intermediate-range ballistic missiles “and thus it is completely untested regarding intermediate-range threats.”
Initially, Bush administration officials ignored the report’s conclusions and continued to maintain that the two-stage interceptor only required two tests – a booster verification flyout test and an intercept flight test – because it was nearly identical to the three-stage version. However, Dr. McQueary’s report states that a third, combined intercept/sensor flight test, should be added to the European test program. According to the report, a third test that engages multiple threat representative intermediate-range targets and a long-range representative target is necessary to simulate the actual engagement scenarios the United States and its allies are likely to encounter in the European theater.
Since agreeing to add a third test, the Missile Defense Agency has announced that it hopes to complete all three tests by 2010. This schedule is unlikely to be met. Tests of the existing U.S.-based system have frequently been delayed, in some cases for many months. For example, a long-range interceptor test originally planned for April is now being delayed until December due to a faulty technical component. A long-range flight intercept test has not been conducted since September 2007.
Construction and deployment of the system is likely to be further delayed by the Congressional requirement that the Secretary of Defense certify that the interceptors will work “in an operationally effective manner.” Given that only 7 of the previous 13 tests of the U.S.-based long-range anti-missile system have been successful, more than three tests are likely to be required to confirm the system’s operational effectiveness. What’s more, since procurement cannot begin until the system has been certified, the Missile Defense Agency estimates that it could take up to an additional three years to procure fully assembled interceptors.
STILL NO RUSH
As the Bush administration’s time in office approaches its end, it is pushing hard to secure Czech and Polish approval for the third site. However, approval is not likely to be forthcoming and tests of the system will take many years. Consequently, it will fall to the next president and the next Congress to determine the fate of the system.
The delay is a beneficial development. The third site is likely to be no more capable than the U.S.-based system, for which there are serious doubts about its effectiveness. In addition, the system threatens to disrupt U.S. relations with some of our key European allies and Russia. While Russia should not have a veto over U.S. policy, it does not make sense to field a flawed system to defend against a potential threat from Iran that may never materialize. The United States needs Russia’s cooperation to address the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program, negotiate deeper, binding, and verifiable reductions of nuclear warheads and delivery vehicle systems, and buttress programs that are helping to secure and safeguard Russian nuclear materials. Pursuing a system that antagonizes Moscow will make it all the more difficult to achieve these vital national security objectives.