Sunday, October 18, 2009

European missile defense bases - yet another post

More than a month has passed since President Obama announced to bury the former plans for the two controversial missile defense bases in Poland and the Czech Republic. This gave ample opportunity to digest this major change. Here is a brief summary of the reactions and latest developments:

Paul Taylor at the Reuters blog wrote that the decision to drop plans to install it on Polish and Czech territory constitutes a test for NATO’s unity because

President Barack Obama’s decision […] leaves those former Soviet satellites feeling betrayed — because they expended political capital to win parliamentary support — and more exposed to a resurgent Russia, especially after its use of force against Georgia last year.
Megan Stack from the LA Times puts it more poignantly:

Washington's decision to back out of the missile shield agreement forged by the Bush administration –and opposed by Russia – has evoked memories among Poles of Cold War helplessness, of being brushed aside as casualties of great power politics.
When Barack Obama entered office it was often mentioned in the European press that even though the substance of his foreign policy might not change dramatically, the way he would address his (European) partners would alter in comparison to Dubya. The Nobel Peace Prize Committee obviously shared this view and awarded Obama the prize "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples". Well, it seems that sometimes the Obama administration is not necessarily more successful than the Bush gang: Polish officials seemed to be the last to hear about the change in plans.

"We heard first from the media," said Witold Waszczykowski, deputy head of Poland's national security bureau. Speculation that the missile shield plan would be dropped had been in the air since the U.S. presidential campaign. And yet, Waszczykowski said, Polish leaders were repeatedly reassured - even days before a team of U.S. officials arrived to brief officials - that no decision had been reached.
Aiming to sooth this frustration and concerns, Poland and the Czech Republic are being offered roles in the Obama administration's new plan to defend Europe against Iran's development and deployment of short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, senior administration officials told Congress on October 1.

The U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, Ellen O. Tauscher, informed the House Armed Services Committee that

"We have offered the Poles a future piece of the SM-3 [Standard missile-3] deployment" and "we're working on a number of different things" for the Czechs.
Russia remains suspicious about Washington's new antimissile plans and fears its strategic nuclear weapons could still be threatened by the reconfigured scheme. However, at the same time Moscow sees a redrafted U.S. anti-missile shield plan as less of a security threat than the previously proposed project. Russia’s ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, stressed that there are chances for cooperation. He said that Moscow believes it would be possible to establish a missile-defense system jointly with the military alliance.

"If we are convinced that the European missile-defense initiative is not part of a U.S. theater missile-defense system, such efforts are possible."
Cooperation is also under discussion in Washington. The United States has not dismissed an offer to use two Russian radars in southern Russia and Azerbaijan for missile defense, a senior Defense Department official said in a recent interview with Interfax. The NTI Newswire reported that:

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates "and other senior defense officials have already pointed to the possibility of some form of link between Russian radars ... to provide additional data and early warning information that could benefit both of us in defending against ballistic missile threats," said Assistant Defense Secretary Alexander Vershbow.
Vershbow bang the drum also with other remarks that raised concern on the Russian side. He told reporters on Thursday that countries in the region, such as Ukraine, "may also have radars that could contribute to early-warning information." This statement prompted Moscow to call for clarification. Subsequently Washington denied in an official statement that it planned to station U.S. radar systems in Ukraine.

Leaving aside all this animosities, concerns, and the potential for cooperation, some observers question whether the weapons that would be central to the Obama administration's new missile defense plan for Europe can be trusted to function during a conflict. There has been no realistic testing of the Standard Missile 3, which could still be fooled by balloons or other decoys likely to be deployed by an enemy missile, argued David Wright, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. In addition critics come up with a very creative form of accounting to show that the new plans will not lead to cost-savings. The Congressional Budget Office early this year estimated the cost of the Bush plan at between $9 billion and $13 billion over two decades. However these savings are allegedly eliminated by the construction and extended operational costs of the ship-based alternative which would cost $18 billion to $26 billion. However, there is one teeny tiny thing that the critics might have forgotten to take into consideration: some of that cost comes from pre-existing plans to equip no fewer than 67 Navy vessels with Aegis ballistic missile defense technology. Besides that, the vessels are far more flexible and neither static nor do they serve a single purpose as the European components of the original plan would have.

There is another reason why the new plan leaves a lighter footprint: Lt. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly, director of the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency, added that preparation of a Polish missile defense site, which was to have taken five years to complete, could now be finished in less than a year and be staffed with fewer than 100 U.S. personnel, instead of the 400 who would have been needed under the Bush-era plan.

© picture: Korea Times