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Chair, MTCR
May 19, 2021
U.S. Taps Romania for Missile Defense
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Tom Z. Collina

Moving to flesh out its revamped European missile defense plan announced last September, the Obama administration confirmed in February that Romania would host the first deployment of Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) land-based interceptors in 2015 and that Poland would host the next site in 2018. Turkey and Bulgaria may play a role as well, according to administration officials, who are seeking to soothe Russian concerns by inviting Moscow to join U.S.-NATO missile defense plans.

The Obama administration announced last fall its intention to base missile interceptors in Poland and in southeastern Europe, but exact deployment dates and the specific southern country had not been officially named. Speaking at the Nuclear Deterrence Summit near Washington Feb. 17, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen O. Tauscher said SM-3 missiles would be deployed in Romania in 2015 and Poland in 2018 and that both sites would get missile upgrades in 2020.

Romanian President Traian Băsescu broke the news about his nation’s involvement Feb. 4 while Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was in Turkey and Tauscher was in Romania, a former Warsaw Pact member that now is part of NATO. Băsescu said that the system would not be directed at Russia but rather “against other threats,” according to The New York Times. Department of State spokesman P.J. Crowley told a press briefing Feb. 4 that “as we have made clear over and over again, this is not a capability that is directed at Russia.”

Gates later told reporters he was talking with the Turkish government about what role it could play within NATO on missile defense. “We have discussed the possibility of erecting two radar systems in Turkey,” Gates said Feb 8. However, Ankara is reportedly worried about appearing to sign a bilateral pact with Washington against Tehran.

The United States may also hold preliminary talks with the Bulgarian government on hosting parts of the system, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov said Feb. 12, according to Reuters. But in her Feb. 17 comments, Tauscher said, “We’ve not made an offer to Bulgaria about hosting any element” of U.S. missile defenses.

Russian leaders said they were surprised by the news, and they reacted coolly to it. “We have already asked our partners in Washington...what does this all mean and why after the Romanian surprise there is a Bulgarian surprise now,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, according to Reuters Feb. 15. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton responded in a Washington speech Feb. 22 that Moscow has nothing to fear from NATO. “We need to make Russia a partner in our efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation and in missile defense. We invite Russia to join NATO in developing a missile defense system that can protect all citizens of Europe and of Russia as well,” she said.

Russia’s ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, questioned how far such cooperation would go. “We would still like to understand whether the U.S. is really going to hold not only its own finger, but also that of its partners, on the button for using missile defense systems. I personally have very strong doubts about that,” he said Feb. 23 in an interview with Interfax.

U.S. missile defense plans for Europe are a long-standing concern for Russian officials, who say they fear the system could be used to intercept Russian long-range missiles aimed at the United States or even used to launch nuclear warheads at Russia. Gates told a press conference last September that the Russians “believed, despite our best efforts to dissuade them, that the ground-based interceptors in Poland could be fitted with nuclear weapons and become an offensive weapon…for which they would have virtually no warning time.” Russia’s new military doctrine, recently approved by President Dmitry Medvedev, identified U.S. missile defense as a major threat to Russian security, saying it “undermines strategic stability.” The document also underscored the continued expansion of NATO and its “assumption of global functions in violation of international law.”

Deployment Plans Set

Last September, the Obama administration shifted gears from Bush administration plans to deploy 10 long-range interceptors in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic, saying that it would instead deploy shorter-range interceptors against near-term missile threats from Iran and increase interceptor performance over time. (See ACT, October 2009.) According to the administration’s February 2010 Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) Review and other sources, this “phased adaptive approach” for Europe includes deploying SM-3 Block IA interceptors, which have a top speed of 3 kilometers per second, on Aegis ships in the Mediterranean Sea and a radar in southern Europe next year. Tauscher told journalists Feb. 15 that the United States does not plan to deploy sea-based SM-3 missiles in the Black Sea, a prospect that Russia has opposed.

By 2015, about 20 land-based SM-3 Block IB interceptors, known as “Aegis-Ashore,” would be deployed in Romania with an improved “kill vehicle,” which is carried by the missile and seeks and collides with the target. By 2018 a second land-based site would be added in Poland with larger and faster (4.5 kilometers per second) SM-3 Block IIA missiles, which are in development and would also be deployed in Romania. The fourth phase, in 2020, would deploy at both sites another SM-3 upgrade, Block IIB, with an improved kill vehicle, which, according to the BMD Review, would have “some early-intercept capability against a long-range missile.”

“We are starting the four-phased approach to fielding a capability in Europe against the emerging Iranian threat, initially against the short- and medium-range threat that exists, and hence our initial emphasis will be on southeastern Europe,” David Altwegg, executive director of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), told Pentagon reporters Feb. 1.

The initial SM-3 Block IA and IB deployments at sea and in Romania are not likely by themselves to cause Russia serious concern, according to experts, because these interceptors would not be effective against long-range missiles and, as a result, would not likely derail the ongoing START follow-on talks (see page 40). However, the 2018 and 2020 phases of the Obama administration’s plans, during which Block IIA and IIB SM-3 missiles would be deployed at sea and in Romania and Poland, do appear to give Russian leaders reason to worry and could create problems for the current and future U.S.-Russian nuclear arms reductions talks, sources say. Lavrov told Russia Today TV in October that the revised U.S. plans “would not create problems in its first phase, but we would like more details on further stages.”

Reflecting these concerns, Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak told the nuclear deterrence conference Feb. 17 that the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty “gave predictability” by limiting U.S. missile defense deployments. But with the Bush administration’s withdrawal from that treaty in 2002, “the environment has changed,” he said. “We are not sure that the story that we are hearing is the story that will develop within the time span of the would-be treaty, 10 years,” he said. To deal with this uncertainty, Russia may attach a unilateral declaration to the START follow-on stating that Moscow would withdraw if “strategic stability” was upset by U.S. missile defense deployments, The Cable reported Feb. 17.

In response to that possibility, Senators Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) sent a letter to national security adviser James Jones Feb. 17 warning that “[e]ven as a unilateral declaration, a provision like this would put pressure on the United States to limit its [missile defense] systems or their deployment because of Russian threats of withdrawal from the treaty.” Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.) countered that both sides are free to make unilateral declarations, which are routine and do not justify opposition to the agreement. “They can withdraw unilaterally for any reason, so I don’t know that that’s a good reason to object,” Levin told The Cable Feb. 23, adding, “The United States withdrew unilaterally from the ABM Treaty when we decided it was in our interest, right?”

In their letter, the three senators pledged to work with the administration to fund and deploy the European system, “most especially” the SM-3 Block IIB interceptor.

Funding Request

Meanwhile, the Obama administration’s fiscal year 2011 budget request, which was released Feb. 1, asked for about $10 billion for missile defense. That figure, which includes space-based sensors, is $2 billion less than in fiscal year 2009, when the funding was based on the Bush administration’s request, and $700 million more than in fiscal year 2010. More than $4.2 billion would go to the European system, including $1.5 billion for Aegis ballistic missile defense, $319 million for SM-3 Block IIA, $112 million for the Airborne Infrared Sensor, $94 million for 436 Aegis SM-3 Block IA and IB interceptors by 2015, $1.5 billion for three additional AN/TPY-2 radars (14 total), $455 million for BMD sensors, and $281 million for land-based SM-3, according to the MDA.

“We have shifted our emphasis from the ground-based defense against intercontinental ballistic missiles to the regional threat, short- and medium-range missiles, which comprise about 99 percent of the ballistic missile threat extant,” Altwegg said Feb. 1.

The Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, which is meant to protect the United States from limited long-range missile attack from North Korea and Iran, would receive $1.3 billion in fiscal 2011, an increase of $317 million. According to the BMD Review, by the end of this year the United States will deploy 30 ground-based interceptors, with 26 at Fort Greely Army Base in Alaska, and four at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. This system can “counter the projected threats from North Korea and Iran for the foreseeable future,” according to the review. The Bush administration had planned to deploy 44 ground-based interceptors.

Meanwhile, a Jan. 31 flight test of the GMD system failed to intercept its target, which was designed to mimic an Iranian missile attack, according to the MDA. In the $150 million test, both the target missile, fired from Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, and the interceptor, from Vandenberg, performed normally, the MDA said. “However, the Sea-Based X-band [SBX] radar did not perform as expected,” the agency said on its Web site Feb 1. Later the same day, Altwegg said, “I’m not exonerating the SBX, but I am not saying it was solely an SBX problem.” He said the results of a failure review would not be known for months.

It was the first time the United States had tested its long-range defense against a simulated Iranian attack. Previous drills have imitated a flight path from North Korea, another country locking horns with the international community over its nuclear program.

In a separate test, the Airborne Laser Testbed (ALTB) destroyed a boosting ballistic missile for the first time Feb. 11, the MDA announced. Carried by a Boeing 747 jumbo jet, the ALTB shot down a short-range ballistic missile that was launched from a sea-based mobile launch platform off Point Mugu on the central California coast. However, according to the BMD Review, this program has experienced repeated schedule delays and technical problems since its start in 1996; plans for a second plane were canceled, and the existing aircraft has been shifted to a technology demonstration program. (See ACT, July/August 2009.) Last April, Gates said that the Airborne Laser program “has significant affordability and technology problems and the program’s proposed operational role is highly questionable.” The Pentagon has no plans to revive the program after the recent test because it requires the military to “hover a 747 in enemy territory to shoot down a missile” and carries “an extraordinary cost,” Geoff Morrell, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters Feb 18.

The BMD Review said that, in the future, more emphasis would be placed on conducting realistic tests of interceptors and radars. The Bush administration was criticized repeatedly by Democrats and independent scientists for rushing the GMD system into deployment before it was fully tested and for staging tests that were not operationally realistic. In contrast, according to the review, “The [Obama] administration will take a different approach, best characterized as ‘fly before you buy.’”