After lengthy consultations with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, President Obama has decided to cancel the anti-ballistic missile system that his predecessor, President Bush, planned for deployment in the Czech Republic and Poland.
Mr. Obama plans to develop and employ a new and more versatile system based on an assessment of the true nature of the Iranian threat. Compared to the old system that relied exclusively on a land based system, the new system “will feature deployments of increasingly-capable sea- and land-based missile interceptors, primarily upgraded versions of the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3), and a range of sensors in Europe to defend against the growing ballistic missile threat from Iran.”
Under the Bush administration, missile defense was viewed as a vital component of American and its European allies long-term defense needs. The mission of the missile shield plan was to protect Europe from attack by Iran. In principle, however, it could be used in the event of an attack from any number of other states, like China and Russia, which are still viewed with concern.
As envisioned by the Defense Department, the system entailed using “multiple sensors, and ground-based interceptors that are capable of detecting, tracking, and shooting down intermediate and long-range ballistic missiles during the midcourse phase of flight.” The Polish component, as planned by the Department of Defense, had ten underground silos similar in configuration to the missile interceptor bases in Alaska and California.
The design of the missiles had been altered from a three-stage booster to a two-stage booster because it was shown that the three-stage system was not suited for the geography of Europe and Europe’s proximity to Iran and other states of concern. The interception of a warhead while in the boost phase would occur soon after launch. The geographical location of the point of interception of the warhead would ideally happen while in the midcourse phase in the thermosphere layer above the Earth.
The interceptor sites that would have been housed in Poland would entail, “up to ten silo-based long-range interceptors…The interceptors would be housed in underground silos in an interceptor field about the size of a football field. The interceptor configuration planned for Poland is nearly identical to those in Alaska and California, but with a two-stage booster, rather than a three-stage booster…As with the interceptors based in Alaska and California, these interceptors are designed only for defensive purposes and employ small hit-to-kill vehicles to destroy their targets.”
The radar base that was to be installed in the Czech Republic would have used X-Band radar that would have been optimized to “point its narrow beam towards the Middle East in order to detect Iranian ballistic missile threats in flight. The information obtained by this radar will be used to identify and distinguish the missile warhead from other missile parts and potential decoys and countermeasures. Most importantly, it will be used to guide interceptor missiles to the projected trajectory of the ballistic missile warhead.”
Donald Tusk, the Polish prime minister, brokered a deal with the United States concerning the placement of missile silos in Poland, which was advantageous for Poland. These terms would have entailed security guarantees by the United States that any shield plan would not leave Poland vulnerable to attack from its eastern flank, by Russia, as much as the plan would protect Europe from a missile attack from Iran.
The system that President Bush proposed was based on an assessment that many view as flawed. That assessment was that Iran’s capabilities to produce an ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) were further along than they are now and the new assessment puts more emphasis on the threat from short to medium range missiles that have the potential to directly threaten U.S. interests in Europe.
The abrupt change in policy by President Obama has been greeted with applause in many European capitals. Many Europeans were uneasy about the strain that the old system was causing as it pertained to relations with Russia. Many Europeans view any system to be deployed in Europe as one that should include input from Russia and from NATO as well. The multilateral approach being taken by the Obama administration will incorporate missile defense capabilities from Russia as well as from its fellow NATO member states.
The new system that will incorporate Russia’s input will allow the Obama administration to gain Russian assistance in negotiations with Iran and other issues of international concern. Concerning Russia’s cooperation on any new system and that any system isn’t a direct threat to Russia, “We also welcome Russian cooperation to bring its missile defense capabilities into a broader defense of our common strategic interests. We have repeatedly made clear to Russia that missile defense in Europe poses no threat to its strategic deterrent.”
NATO has suggested that it be included in any design of an anti-ballistic missile system. In a speech in Brussels, NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen suggested, “the proliferation of ballistic missile technology is of concern not just to NATO nations, but to Russia too (and) studying ways to counter this threat is in NATO’s and Russia’s fundamental strategic interest.”