U.S. plans for establishing a strategic ballistic missile defense base in Europe remain unsettled, but Russian officials are sharpening their criticism of the proposal. Meanwhile, leaders of the 26-member NATO alliance will soon begin weighing options for proceeding with missile defenses in Europe.
The Bush administration has installed nine long-range missile interceptors at Fort Greely, Alaska, and another two at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. A version of the deployed interceptors, which are to hone in on and collide with an enemy warhead in space, has yet to be tested against a target in flight. The first test of this type might occur as early as August.
The Pentagon revealed in 2004 its intentions to expand long-range interceptor deployments to Europe to defend against possible ballistic missile launches from the Middle East. (See ACT, July/August 2004.) Although Missile Defense Agency (MDA) Director Lieutenant General Henry Obering told reporters March 20 that the United States would like to begin work on the project in 2007, no plans have yet been finalized.
MDA spokesperson Rick Lehner told Arms Control Today June 14 that the possible hosts for a base of 10 interceptors have been narrowed to the Czech Republic or Poland because of their location and expressed interest. “Consultations are continuing” with the prospective hosts, according to Pentagon spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Karen Finn in a June 16 interview with Arms Control Today, but she declined to elaborate. The Pentagon’s office of international security policy is heading the talks on the U.S. side.
Marek Purowski, a spokesperson for the Polish embassy in Washington, also told Arms Control Today June 14 that the talks were ongoing but that no decisions had been made. He said many technical details, such as who will control the interceptor’s operation, still needed to be worked out.
Some U.S. lawmakers are also balking at funding the site. As part of its fiscal year 2007 budget request submitted to Congress in February, the administration asked for almost $56 million to begin construction of the European site and for an additional $63 million to begin manufacturing the proposed base’s 10 interceptors. In a defense appropriations bill passed June 20, the House of Representatives zeroed out the base construction and interceptor funds.
The Senate has yet to approve a defense appropriations bill, so the ultimate status of the funding request remains uncertain. Both chambers each pass an appropriations bill, and then they work out the differences between the two before sending a final version to the president.
Russian leaders, however, are not waiting on the U.S. budget process to register their opposition to the proposed missile defense base. Speaking June 7 to the Duma, the lower house of Russia’s legislature, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov criticized the base as one that over time might be used to intercept Russian missiles or secretly house offensive ballistic missiles. “The danger also arises of the use of the planned anti-missile defense silo launchers for clandestine deployment of ballistic missiles,” Lavrov stated.
Lehner dismissed such a possibility. He said the base would have “no offensive capability whatsoever” and interceptors and ballistic missiles have “entirely different configurations for silos.”
Moscow is not alone in presuming that a European-based U.S. missile defense site, in some form, will one day be a reality. A 10,000-page study recently completed by NATO postulates that the most efficient way for building a missile defense architecture in Europe is to use the proposed U.S. site as one of the initial building blocks, according to a NATO official familiar with the study interviewed June 14 by Arms Control Today.
Initially requested in 2002 and officially completed May 10, the “NATO Missile Defense Feasibility Study” concluded that building an anti-missile system to protect all members’ territories was technically feasible and outlined various options for achieving that goal. The NATO official said alliance military planners must now “await political guidance” on which options, if any, to pursue.The study will be presented to NATO leaders at the alliance’s heads of state summit November 28-29 in Riga, Latvia. If the leaders determine that proceeding with missile defenses is “desirable,” the official said the next step for the alliance will be to define the specific architecture.