ACA Welcomes Shift to a More Pragmatic U.S. Missile Defense Policy
For Immediate Release: Sept. 17, 2009
Media Contacts: Tom Collina, Research Director, ACA (202-463-8270, ext. 104); Greg Thielmann, Former State Department Intelligence Analyst; Senior Fellow, ACA (202-463-8270, ext. 103); Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, (202-463-8270 ext. 107).
(Washington, D.C.) Experts from the independent Arms Control Association (ACA) welcomed reports that the Barack Obama administration has decided to shelve the controversial George W. Bush administration proposal to install an untested, ground-based missile interceptor system in Poland and the Czech Republic to counter an as-yet undeveloped Iranian long-range missile threat. The Obama administration has signaled it will instead pursue alternative basing modes and concentrate on better-proven missile interceptor technologies.
The administration's decision comes after an extensive missile defense policy review, which Defense Secretary Robert Gates is scheduled to outline in a press conference later today.
"The Obama administration made the right call," said Tom Z. Collina, ACA's Research Director. "It would have been extremely unwise to proceed with the Bush administration's plan to rush untested interceptors into Poland to deal with an Iranian long-range missile threat that does not yet exist."
"President Obama's more pragmatic approach steers the United States toward a European missile defense that addresses more realistic threats and also facilitates deeper reductions in bloated U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles," said Collina. "This is a win-win-win for the United States, Europe and global security," he added.
"The Obama administration has signaled that it will pursue more effective alternative missile defense approaches that have a greater potential for countering realistic ballistic missile threats to our NATO allies and U.S. forces in the region," ACA Senior Fellow Greg Thielmann said.
"The Bush-proposed system, which has not been tested, would not have protected south-eastern Europe from current Iranian missile threats since the defense was not designed to cover this area. Nor is the proposed system needed to defend the United States, since Iran has no intercontinental-range missiles, and the Pentagon says existing U.S. missile defense deployments can address this potential threat if and when it develops," noted Thielmann, a former State Department intelligence analyst.
"The decision to defer the untested and expensive Bush plan may ease Russia's concerns about unconstrained U.S. radars and missile interceptor deployments on its borders, but the administration has made it clear from the get-go that its decision has been made independently," said ACA's Executive Director Daryl G. Kimball
"Simply put, the decision to shelve the costly, controversial, untested ground-based interceptor system was a pragmatic decision regardless of Russia's concerns or other U.S. interests. The conclusion of the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) agreement was not dependent on this U.S. missile defense decision," said Kimball.
In 2007, the Bush administration announced plans to install 10 ground-based anti-missile interceptors in Poland and battle-management radar in the Czech Republic to counter possible long-range Iranian ballistic missiles. Basing agreements were signed in 2008, but they have yet to be approved by Czech and Polish legislators.
Congress and its government investigative agencies have knocked the Missile Defense Agency's testing programs, including its ability to build credible targets. Rep. Terry Everett (R-Ala.), the ranking member House Armed Services Strategic Forces subcommittee said Sept. 23 that he had concerns about the MDA's "performance in its missile defense testing and targets program."
In response to these concerns, Congress approved legislation in 2008 that mandates that the Secretary of Defense review U.S. missile defense policy and strategy and submit a report by Jan. 31, 2010.
Congress also prohibited the acquisition or deployment of the 10 proposed interceptors to Poland until they are certified by the Secretary of Defense as passing "operationally realistic flight testing."
The interceptor, a two-stage variant of the approximately thirty three-stage U.S. interceptors deployed in Alaska and California, was supposed to be flight-tested for the first time this year and then tested twice in 2010 against targets.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced at an April 6 press conference that he intended to reorganize the U.S. missile defense program around short-range missile defense systems (including Aegis-destroyer-based interceptors and Theater High Altitude Area Defense) and efforts to counter "rogue" states, and would not increase the number of ground-based, mid-course strategic missile interceptors at Fort Greely, Alaska and Vandenberg AFB in California.
The Obama administration completed its review of the European deployment option this month.
There is no rush to deploy untested strategic missile interceptors in Europe. A long-range missile threat to the U.S. from Iran does not exist. U.S. Intelligence estimates that Iran will not pose such a threat until 2015 at the earliest. Previous estimates have assumed such threats would emerge faster than they actually have.
A European strategic missile interceptor system would not be necessary even if the Iranian missile threat develops sooner than expected. The chief of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency said that the ground-based system currently deployed in Alaska and California is capable of protecting U.S. territory from future Iranian missiles, without a redundant "third site" in Europe.
The Bush administration-proposed interceptors for Poland have not been tested. The modified two-stage interceptor for the Bush administration's proposed system in Europe has not been tested and Poland and the Czech Republic have not yet approved the necessary basing agreements. Planned testing for the system would take a few years to complete. In 2008, the Pentagon's Office of Operational Test and Evaluation said that previous testing of the U.S. interceptor on which the European missile is based "is not sufficient to provide a high level of statistical confidence in its limited capability."
Even if it worked the system proposed by Bush would not have protected south-eastern Europe. The Bush administration's proposed missile interceptor system would not have protected NATO members Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania from current Iranian missile threats since the defense was not designed to cover this area. The Obama administration has time to explore new approaches that do a better job of defending all of Europe against the short- and medium-range ballistic missiles that Iran actually has.
The Bush plan would have undermined U.S. efforts to reduce the nuclear threat from Russia. The Obama administration can now explore new approaches that enhance, rather than undermine, prospects for U.S-Russian cooperation on nuclear arsenal reductions and on containing the Iranian threat. The Bush administration asserted that the 10 proposed missile interceptors in Poland would not threaten Russia's expansive nuclear forces.
Russia, however, has been unconvinced by such assurances. As Russia's ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, told Arms Control Today magazine in November, "there are several strategic defensive bases of Russia in the European part of Russia that will be within range of this system, [and] most probably, it is not the last deployment in the region."
The Obama administration should continue to actively pursue options for U.S.-Russian missile defense cooperation, clarify how many strategic missile interceptors may or may not be deployed in south and eastern Europe and elsewhere, and complete a long-delayed joint early-warning center to build confidence and avoid miscalculation.
The Bush missile interceptor plan would cost tens of billions of dollars to deploy. The Congressional Budget Office estimated in February 2009 that the proposed plan would cost $9-13 billion over 20 years. This would be on top of the tens of billions that have already been spent on missile defense during the Bush administration. It would be foolhardy for the United States to commit to deploying such an expensive system before it has been proven workable in a real-world environment.