U.S. Eyes Missile Defense Site in Europe

Wade Boese

The United States is currently holding discussions with the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland about building a U.S. missile defense interceptor site on one of their territories, Arms Control Today has learned. Although no final decision has been made to establish a missile interceptor base in Europe, a top Pentagon official previously indicated that, if a decision were made, the United States might begin construction on such a site as early as 2006.

Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton provided a hint of the previously secret negotiations during a recent visit to Poland. Speaking May 31 to reporters covering the one-year anniversary of a U.S.-led counterproliferation initiative, Bolton said, “[W]e’re now engaged in discussions with Poland about the possibility of basing interceptors and radars here.” ACT has learned, however, that consultations with the Czech Republic and Hungary have also started. Discussions with the three central European countries are reportedly still in the preliminary stages.

The general process for military-basing consultations involves the United States preparing a list of criteria on what it is seeking in a base and the potential host countries nominating specific sites. U.S. officials then visit and evaluate the options, select one, and began negotiations with the respective government on operational parameters, including command and control issues.

It is unclear when decisions will be made on whether and where to build such a site. A foreign government official familiar with the talks said that at this time there are “a lot of ifs.”

Lieutenant General Ronald Kadish, director of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA), first disclosed general U.S. planning for a foreign missile defense deployment in congressional testimony earlier this year.

In a prepared statement on MDA’s fiscal year 2005 budget request, Kadish reported, “In Block 2006, we are preparing to move forward when appropriate to build a third [ground-based interceptor] site at a location outside the United States.” MDA divides its future plans into two-year periods known as blocks, so Block 2006 refers to the period between Jan. 1, 2006, and Dec. 31, 2007.

As part of its fiscal year 2005 budget, MDA requested approximately $35 million for “long lead activity for [ground-based interceptors] at a potential third site.” Whether Congress ultimately will support this request remains up in the air, but the Senate Armed Services Committee and the House Appropriations Committee have both recommended that the Pentagon not spend money on this long-lead activity because no third site has been specified.

Kadish explained in his testimony, “For the cost of 10 [ground-based interceptors] and associated infrastructure, we will be able to demonstrate in the most convincing way possible our commitment to” protecting U.S. allies and deployed forces.

Reassuring friends and fulfilling President George W. Bush’s repeated claim that U.S. defenses will protect more than just America are important factors in consideration of a European missile defense site. Yet, the driving rationale is that the two U.S. interceptor sites currently under construction are not ideally situated to protect the U.S. East Coast from a long-range ballistic missile launched from the Middle East.

Later this summer, the Pentagon will begin stationing interceptors at Fort Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, with this force set to grow to about 20 by the end of 2005. But those missiles are geared toward defending against a North Korean ballistic missile strike and would have little utility in other scenarios, particularly attacks from the opposite direction.

Whether the missiles are based in Europe or the United States, the missile defense system still faces substantial technical challenges. Both the General Accounting Office, Congress’s investigative arm, and the top weapons tester for the Department of Defense have reported that the Pentagon has not yet proven that the interceptors can perform their mission because they have yet to be subjected to real-world-type testing. (See ACT, May 2004.) MDA contends that the interceptors must be deployed before they can be tested in such a way.