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It was announced in April, 2007, that U.S. President George W. Bush will visit Poland and the Czech Republic in June, 2008, en route to a G8 meeting in Germany. Missile defense is expected to dominate the visit. But can Mr. Bush persuade Czechs of the benefits of the system? The support in the Czech Republic currently ranges from about 30 to 50 percent, and Jan Hartl says the trend is not an upward one. American officials want to change all that.
But how did we arrive here? What events unfurled to cause the US to propose such a system?
The concept of locating missile defense assets in Europe goes back to 2002, when the Department of Defense decided to extend coverage to allies, friends and deployed forces in the region and to enhance the defense of the United States, according to Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry A. "Trey" Obering III, director of the Missile Defense Agency.
According to the Department of Defense, "Iran does not yet have long-range, intercontinental ballistic missile capability, but it is still the largest threat in the region because it is clearly working to achieve those capabilities. U.S. officials have learned from the past, such as when North Korea launched the Taepo Dong 1 in 1998, just months after experts had predicted it would be years before that country had long-range capabilities, he said.
"We want to have this in place by the 2011-2012 timeframe, because we think the Iranians, for example, shortly thereafter will be able to have a long-range capability -- not one that they've demonstrated today or necessarily tomorrow, but again you're talking about several years from now, and so it's prudent for us to be thinking about that now and begin to build toward that so that we're in a position that we can do something about it in that timeframe."
In fact, the entire program will be funded with US taxpayer dollars. The host nations will not have to ante up even one penny to put this system in place. US tax money will pay for the whole kit and caboodle. According to an April 3, 2007, United Press International release, "A top Pentagon official said the United States plans to deploy a missile defense system in Eastern Europe because Iran will have an ICBM around 2015.
"I think the judgment we have is that the threat starts to mature in around 2015, and one of the reasons we're moving ahead now is we want to have a capability in place to meet that threat in that timeline that it's developing on," Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Eric Edelman said.
The system will include 10 ground-based interceptors in Poland and an X-band radar on the Czech Republic. It will cost the United States billions; the 2008 budget includes roughly $1.7 billion to begin buying and deploying the missiles alone.
The missiles, which would be part of the United States' nascent national missile defense system now deployed in Alaska and Canada, are necessary to protect the United States' eastern coast from an Iranian or North Korean ICBM, neither of which has yet been developed.
But according to a Pentagon press conference report of mid-2007, Edelman insisted this system is not about protecting the United States.
"This is not a capability - we need to defend the United States," Edelman said. "It's a capability ... we believe will provide coverage for the United States; this does, however, provide us with a capability, if we have a third site in Europe, to extend protection to our fielded forces in those European countries that would be covered by this and to defend our friends and allies as well."
Parts of Eastern Europe are already within range of Iran's intermediate Shahab-3 missile, a threat that theater missile defenses are designed to defend against. Edelman said NATO is working on the shorter-range missile threat."
Watching these events unfold from the sidelines, I and greatly troubled by the significance this plan represents to countries like Russia, Iran and others. But my biggest concern is, "What threat?" Doesn’t a country’s intentions usually display itself long before a strike occurs? Where is this perceived threat from Iran coming from?
First, let’s get one thing very clear. North Korea will not attack the US via Europe. That is completely ludicrous. In the first place, they do not have a weapon that can do so. In the second place, it would be ludicrous for them to fly a weapon from Pyongyang to the US via the huge Eurasian continent as well as the entire Atlantic Ocean, when the much shorter route would be from Pyongyang across the Pacific Ocean to the US. This part of the proposed plan is completely erroneous.
So the threat is strictly from Iran. Yet there is no indication that Iran has any intention of attacking Europe. It has vented its anger towards Israel, but Israel already possesses an adequate missile defense system. According to a Defense Tech report, "Israelis are used to missile attacks; they've spent tons of cash on missile defense systems." So why have their interceptors been silent as a thousand Katyushas slammed into their soil? Victoria Samson, the Center for Defense Information's resident missile defense sage, has the answer: "the Israeli systems are built to stop longer-range missiles -- ones that fly for hundreds of miles, like those Iraqi Scuds that fell on Tel Aviv during the first Gulf War, or the missiles Iran might one day nuke-equip.) The shorter-range projectiles that Hezbollah is firing are too quick, and too mobile, for these interceptors to catch."