Speaking in Prague on October 23, Secretary of Defense Robert
Gates suggested that the United States might delay activation of
America's proposed missile defense shield in Europe until there is
"definitive proof" that Iran possesses long-range missile
capability. Speaking in Washington just hours later,
however, President Bush said that the need for missile defense in
Europe is "urgent" and that proposed congressional cuts of $139
million for the European program from an earlier stage in the
legislative process seriously jeopardizes the initiative.
Fortunately, it appears Congress paid more attention to President
Bush's statement than Secretary Gates' suggestion. The latest
version of the defense appropriations bill will reduce funding for
the missile defense sites in Europe by $85 million, as opposed to
the $139 million cut proposed earlier in the year.
Still, the conflicting statements by the Bush Administration and
the proposed budget cuts by Congress can put the initiative at
risk. Russian rhetoric has also intensified with categorical
condemnation of U.S. plans to put a high-tech X-band radar in the
Czech Republic and deploy 10 ground-based interceptors in Poland.
President Putin has warned of a new "arms race" and turning Europe
into a "powder keg." The Poles and the Czechs have also expressed
concern about mixed messages from the Bush Administration.
Separating fact from fiction is the next step toward fielding a
defense program that is critical to the national security of the
United States and its friends and allies in Europe.
Myth #1: The Iranian threat is not
In fact, the emerging Iranian threat is nothing less than a race
against the clock. Iran is involved in both a long-range missile
program and a clandestine nuclear weapons program. Both programs
could reach initial operating capability in the 2013-2015 timeframe
or even earlier. Pending immediate approval, current projections
forecast completion of the Polish and Czech "third site"
installations within five years, which is only marginally ahead of
Iran's estimated long-range ballistic missile capability and
nuclear capability. Moreover, with the possibility of a
Manhattan Project-like effort by Iran, supported by countries such
as North Korea, Iran's capability may well be realized even earlier
than currently expected.
With Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad saber-rattling and
threatening to "wipe Israel off the face of the earth," it is
incumbent upon the United States to take the growing Iranian threat
seriously by taking steps to protect itself, its forward-deployed
troops, and its friends and allies.
Furthermore, the threat of ballistic missile attack from other
quarters has grown exponentially, with 27 nations now possessing
such capabilities, nearly double that of 15 years ago. North Korea
completed several missile tests last summer, including the failed
or aborted test of a long-range Taepo-Dong-2 missile. Hezbollah's
estimated 13,000 missiles were its weapon of choice in its war with
Israel last year, which Israel had difficulty countering. Less
than 10 years ago, there were six nuclear weapons states; today
there are nine.
Secretary Gates seems to suggest delaying activation of missile
defenses in Europe until Iran tests a long-range missile or until
the Russians agree on the state of the threat. That strategy would
allow U.S. national security--or that of its friends and allies--to
potentially be held hostage to Iranian missile developments or
Russian judgment about the imminence of the Iranian threat.
Myth #2: NATO is opposed to a U.S.
missile defense system in Europe.
Quite the contrary. NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer
stated after the April 2007 North Atlantic Council meeting: "There
is absolutely a shared threat perception...Allies all agree that
there is a threat from ballistic missiles."
NATO military experts are currently studying plans for a
short-range missile defense system to protect southern European
nations that will not be covered by the U.S. initiative.
Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has indicated that this
system will complement the U.S. missile defense system, giving the
clearest indication yet that NATO considers U.S. plans vital to
Third site installations allow the United States to extend its
own security umbrella and protect its NATO allies in Europe from
long-range missiles. For Warsaw and Prague, this would mark a new
milestone in their integration into the transatlantic security
community. They would be providing a significant contribution to
their own defense and that of NATO, making a powerful statement in
support of the alliance's principle of mutual defense.
Although NATO has generally considered the talks between
Washington and Warsaw and Prague as a bilateral issue, it is
broadly supportive of American missile defense plans in Europe.
Individual members fear provoking Russia with this initiative,
influencing Moscow negatively on other thorny issues, such as
European energy security, Kosovo independence, and future NATO
Myth #3: Missile defense is not well
tested or reliable.
Not so. On September 28, 2007, some 75 miles into space over the
Pacific Ocean, a kill vehicle from America's missile defense system
destroyed the mock warhead of a long-range missile. This test of
the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system provides further
evidence that its "hit-to-kill" technology works. The GMD
interceptor destroyed the mock warhead by the force of collision
and did not use an explosive warhead of any kind.
Hit-to-kill technology is common to a variety of missile defense
interceptors now in either development or deployment. In addition
to the GMD system, the technology is used in the Navy's Standard
Missile-3, Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), and Patriot
PAC-3 interceptors. Roughly 80 percent of recent tests across all
four of these programs have been successful.
Yet, critics continue to argue that missile defense will prove
ineffective. Congress should reject arguments that cloak policy
preference in technical analysis and should protect Americans with
a policy of designing and building the most effective missile
defense system possible.
Myth #4: Missile defense is
If anything, the opposite is true. Defensive weapons systems
such as missile defense have a stabilizing effect on the security
environment, as opposed to offensive weapons, which research has
shown can be destabilizing. As a defensive capability, U.S. missile
defense plans for Europe will act as a deterrent to rogue nations
and non-state actors from acquiring ballistic missiles and weapons
of mass destruction.
There will be less motivation for ballistic missile capability
if Europe has the ability to defend against it. To make America and
its allies deliberately vulnerable to attack is not only
nonsensical, it is likely to incur further proliferation. As
President Bush stated, "Missile defense is a vital tool for our
security, it's a vital tool for deterrence and it's a vital tool
However, the failure of third site negotiations would embolden
those in Russia who believe that the United States is negotiating
from a position of diplomatic and military weakness. Putin would
claim--with some credibility--to have scored a diplomatic victory
over the United States. Failure would also increase Russian
boldness in intimidating former satellite states, adding to
instability in Eastern Europe.
Myth #5: Other missile defense systems
such as THAAD and Aegis would be more valuable than the proposed
third site installations.
In fact, they're complementary. The Bush Administration's
overall approach to missile defense is to field a layered missile
defense capability for countering missiles of different ranges on a
worldwide basis.This capability entails a variety of components
that are optimized to counter different kinds of missiles.Thus, it
is wrong to state that one particular component is more valuable
than another.The GMD system proposed for Europe is optimized to
counter long-range missiles, whereas THAAD and the Aegis systems
are designed to counter short- and intermediate-range
missiles.Fielding only the THAAD and Aegis systems in the European
arena would not fully meet the need to counter long-range missiles
and would not provide Europe with the most effective missile
On both sides of the Atlantic, there are obstacles to deploying
a U.S. missile defense system in Europe. The Polish public is not
entirely convinced about missile defense, having become less
enamored with the United States over the war in Iraq and the issue
of Polish admittance to the American visa waiver program. Neither
are the Czechs overwhelmingly convinced about the initiative.
Russian anxiety about the Eastern European missile shield is likely
more about the placement of the system in what it perceives as its
neighborhood than strategic concerns.
Overall, however, the deployment of 10 long-range, ground-based
missile defense interceptors in Poland and a mid-course radar in
the Czech Republic would strengthen transatlantic security and
counter the evolving Middle Eastern ballistic missile threat. The
United States, along with its European partners, must show the
resolve and leadership necessary to take this program forward.
Sally McNamara is Senior
Policy Analyst in European Affairs for the Margaret Thatcher Center
For Freedom, Baker
Spring is F.M. Kirby Research Fellow in National Security
Policy in The Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for
International Studies, and Peter Brookes is Senior
Fellow for National Security Affairs and Chung Ju-Yung Fellow for
Policy Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.
Defense Intelligence Agency predicts Iran could have
intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) by 2015.