U.S. Missile Shield Plans: Retreat Or Advance?
On September 17 the White House and the Pentagon, Barack Obama and Robert Gates, announced that after a sixty-day review of the project the U.S. is going to abandon plans to station ten ground-based interceptor missiles in Poland and a forward-based X-band missile radar installation in the Czech Republic.
The deployments were negotiated with both prospective host countries by the preceding George W. Bush administration under the guise of protecting the United States from alleged long-range missile attacks by what were described as rogue states: Iran and North Korea.
Interceptor missiles in Poland would only be of use in protecting the U.S. if Iran possessed intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of being fired over the Arctic Ocean. No serious person has ever suggested Iran has such a capability or ever will.
But Russian ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin remarked last November that U.S. missiles in Poland could hit his nation's capital of Moscow in four minutes, as NATO warplanes that have patrolled the skies over the Baltic Sea since 2004 could reach Russia's second largest city, St. Petersburg, in five minutes.
Leading Russian officials, political and military, have unanimously accused Washington of targeting their own nation and its strategic forces rather than Iran with its third position missile shield plans.
Surveys have consistently demonstrated that a majority of Poles oppose the stationing of American missiles and the troops that would accompany them in their nation. Polls in the Czech Republic show over two-thirds opposition to the basing of interceptor missile radar in that country.
Much of the world, then, was relieved to read the news that the U.S. was reversing course and renouncing designs to base missile shield facilities in Eastern Europe.
What Washington has stated, though, is not so straightforward.
President Obama's statement began with "President Bush was right that Iran's ballistic missile program poses a significant threat. And that's why I'm committed to deploying strong missile defense systems which are adaptable to the threats of the 21st century."
The second sentence confirms the position on so-called missile defense that his administration has repeatedly and unswervingly voiced since coming to power in January: A global interceptor missile system will be deployed when and exactly where it is proven to be most capable of achieving its purpose and in the most cost-effective manner. In American vernacular, the White House and the Pentagon want more bang for the buck.
The underlying motive for a universal interceptor missile system - based on land, at sea, in the air and in space - is to secure uncontested American international military superiority by making itself and key allies impenetrable to retaliation by nations like Russia and China.
Obama also said, "I have approved the unanimous recommendations of my Secretary of Defense and my Joint Chiefs of Staff to strengthen America's defenses against ballistic missile attack. This new approach will provide capabilities sooner, build on proven systems, and offer greater defenses against the threat of missile attack than the 2007 European missile defense program."
There is nothing equivocal about that pledge. Obama is promising a missile shield system not only more effective but more ambitious than the one he has rejected.
The major drawback of ground-based missiles in Poland is that they would be fixed-site deployments. For several years now Russia has warned that it was prepared to base Iskander theater ballistic missiles in its Kaliningrad region, which borders Poland, should Washington deploy its missiles to that nation.
Obama and his defense secretary Robert Gates have suggested a more mobile, less detectable system that cannot be as easily monitored and if need be neutralized.