Turkey to Host NATO Missile Defense Radar

Tom Z. Collina

After an extended delay, the U.S. Department of State announced on Sept. 2 that Turkey had agreed to host an early-warning radar as a key part of the European Phased Adaptive Approach, the Obama administration’s plan for missile defense in Europe.

U.S. officials have said they expect the radar to be deployed at a military base in Kurecik, about 435 miles from Iran, by the end of the year. The radar, along with the March deployment to the Mediterranean Sea of the USS Monterey, armed with Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) IA missile interceptors, would complete the first phase of the administration’s missile defense plans.

Other elements of the administration’s missile defense plans for NATO also have recently fallen into place. On Sept. 13, Romania signed an agreement with the United States to deploy 24 SM-3 IB missile interceptors at Deveselu Air Base in 2015. The pact still has to be ratified by the Romanian parliament. In addition, a U.S.-Polish agreement that entered into force on Sept. 15 would place SM-3 Block IIA interceptors at a base near Redzikowo in 2018. Both agreements were expected and are consistent with previously announced plans.

The U.S. desire to put an AN/TPY-2 X-band radar in Turkey has been known for more than a year, but Ankara had delayed its decision in an apparent attempt to avoid a conflict with Iran, against whose missiles the NATO interceptor system would be aimed. Ankara had been seeking to position itself as an intermediary between Washington and Tehran. The Iranian Foreign Ministry issued a statement regretting Turkey’s decision, saying it would “create tension” and cause “complicated consequences.”

Turkey also was seeking assurances from the United States that information from the radar would not be shared with Israel, a restriction opposed by many in the U.S. Congress. Israeli-Turkish relations have soured since Jerusalem’s raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla in 2010. U.S. officials said that no promise was made to Ankara regarding data sharing with Jerusalem. “It’s a U.S. radar,” a senior official told reporters on Sept. 15, adding, “Nothing in any of the agreements restricts our ability to defend the state of Israel.” A similar U.S. radar is already deployed in Israel.

Ankara appears to have a different interpretation. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in an interview Sept. 18 that information gathered by the radar would be available only to NATO members. “We will provide support only for systems that belong to NATO and are used solely by members of NATO,” he said. Israel is not a NATO member.

The Russian Foreign Ministry responded to the U.S.-Turkish radar agreement Sept. 2 by noting the “continued lack of progress in the Russia-NATO dialogue” on missile defense cooperation “due to the stubborn reluctance” of the United States and NATO to consider Russia “as an equal partner.” Moscow reiterated its demand for the United States and NATO to provide “solid, legally binding assurances that their missile defenses in Europe would not be directed at Russian strategic nuclear forces.”

Moscow is concerned about U.S. plans to deploy hundreds of increasingly capable SM-3 missile interceptors by 2020 at sea and on land as part of the phased approach, which NATO approved last November to counter the missile threat that allies expect to emerge from Iran. Russia agreed to work with NATO to seek areas of cooperation, such as sharing information on third-party missile launches and conducting joint exercises. The Pentagon has been interested in gaining access to data from Russian radars located northwest of Iran, such as the Gabala radar in Azerbaijan, that could provide useful tracking information on Iranian missiles that could be launched toward Europe or the United States.

Moscow has made it clear that it would be unwilling to pursue additional nuclear arms reductions with Washington unless its concerns about NATO’s missile interceptor plans are addressed. The United States and Russia met in Brussels in June to seek a compromise, but the talks were not successful. (See ACT, July/August 2011.) The effort stalled, officials said, because the United States and NATO could not convince Moscow that NATO would not use the system to intercept Russian strategic nuclear forces.

Speaking at a conference in Copenhagen on Sept. 5, U.S. Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder said Russia’s desire for a legally binding agreement was a “stumbling block we need to remove…. [The United States] can’t sign such an agreement.” Daalder said NATO was working on a compromise “in the form of a political statement” that makes it clear that the NATO system “is directed against a threat coming from outside Europe, not against Russia.”

Meanwhile, on Sept. 1, Raytheon’s new SM-3 IB missile, planned for deployment in Romania and at sea in 2015, failed to intercept a target during its first flight test, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) announced. The SM-3 IB is an upgrade of the SM-3 IA interceptor now deployed on the Monterey and other Aegis ships. Also last month, the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee zeroed out funding for the SM-3 IIB interceptor from its version of the fiscal year 2012 spending bill, in part because of problems with the SM-3 IB.

The SM-3 IB test missile was launched from the Aegis cruiser USS Lake Erie in the Pacific Ocean minutes after a short-range ballistic missile target was launched from Kauai, Hawaii, 574 miles away. “An intercept of the target was not achieved,” an MDA statement said. Agency officials are conducting a review of the test failure, the MDA said.