US-Euro Missile Defense Shield May Be Delayed

A convergence of foreign and domestic political maneuvers, and a puzzling statement from US SecDef Robert Gates have led to a potential delay in getting the strategically important European ballistic missile defense shield up and running.  President Bush hoped to have the deal signed before the end of this year and have the system operational by 2011.

Recent elections in Poland, which is scheduled to host 10 missile interceptor sites, have apparently sent both sides back to the negotiating table.  The conservative Parliament was ousted by the opposition Civic Platform Party, which is likely to demand more concessions from the US to begin construction of the missile sites.  Translation: they want more money.

Meanwhile, the Czech Republic, which was designated as the home of the system's advanced radar, continues to support the US and the missile defense system, but argues that the negotiations will not be completed this year.  Early this week, Czech Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tomas Pojar, said that despite the Czech public's seeming opposition to the US presence in their country, that,
...his government's support for the defense plan is based not only on a shared worry about future missile threats but also a "moral, historical" sense of appreciation for American support for Czech democracy.
Nevertheless, Pojar said that the Czech parliament will not be rushed in completing the deal and that it will take "a few more months" to gain parliamentary approval.

Gates' gaffe

In response to these roadblocks, and while trying to appease Russian concerns about the shield, US SecDef Robert Gates said that the US would delay activation of the system until there was "definitive proof" of an Iranian missile threat.  Elaborating in a press conference:
"We would consider tying together activation of the sites in Poland and the Czech Republic with definitive proof of the threat - in other words, Iranian missile testing and so on."
Careful parsing of his words may soften the impact of this amazingly naïve and goofy offer.  That is, the term "activation" implies that the system will be established, but will not go operational until intelligence says the Iranians have a ballistic missile capability.  This is a very iffy proposition from someone who should know better than anyone that intelligence in the best of circumstances offers no guarantee of accuracy and that some of our agencies are so politicized and adversarial that Gates would likely never get the "proof" required until a mushroom cloud appeared over Prague.

This entire discussion outwardly kowtows to Russian President Vladimir Putin's opposition to the shield, and his desperate attempts to remain relevant on the world stage.  This is a complete 180  from Gates' earlier statement to Russia, essentially telling Putin to butt out of our affairs with the new Europe.

The next day, the White House sought to reel in the SecDef by further laying out the case for the shield during a speech by the President at the National Defense University.
"The need for missile defense in Europe is real, and I believe it's urgent.  Today, we have no way to defend Europe against the emerging Iranian threat, so we must deploy a missile defense system there that can."
Minimizing the seeming divergence between the White House and the SecDef, White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said there is no doubt that "the program will go forward."  Let's hope the SecDef gets the same message.

Democrats cut missile shield funds

Meanwhile, the US Congress continues to obstruct our long-term strategy in the Global War on Terror.  DoD was forced to appeal (subscription required) Congressional cuts to the U.S. Missile Defense Agency's 2008 budget request.  The House cut $160 million and the Senate cut $85 million from the original $310.4 million request for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense budget.  Piling on the developments in Eastern Europe, the Democrat-controlled Congress emphasized that Poland and the Czech Republic were balking at hosting the missile sites.

The Pentagon has come out strongly against the cuts, and said,
"These reductions will significantly delay the department's ability to extend ballistic missile defense coverage of the United States homeland and protection to our allies and deployed forces in Europe, and to counter a growing Iranian missile threat, by slowing the planning and preparatory measures that will take place while the requisite international agreements are secured."
A possible counter-maneuver

A clue to putting pressure on not only Poland and the Czech Republic but also on the Congress is in the Pentagon's statement above.  Note that the missile defense shield is not just to protect our homeland and Europe, but is also needed to cover our new bases in Southeastern Europe.  The US is now in the process of establishing a forward troop presence in Romania and Bulgaria on a rotational basis.  These facilities are wide open to ballistic missile attack; something that even Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher (D-CA), and leader of the House obstructionists recognizes is a valid reason to adopt a missile defense shield.

Last Spring, she said concerning the defense system that,
Our focus needs to be on deploying near-term capabilities that can respond to real threats to our homeland, our deployed forces and our allies.
As the US pushes its troop presence into the Balkans and the Black Sea area, two pressure points can be applied to solve the missile shield impasse.

First, a domestic line of attack should be pursued to challenge the Democrat Congress to restore funds in order to cover our own troops and their bases in Southeastern Europe.  The American left is fond of chastising the administration and the Pentagon about "protecting the troops."  Put them in the hotseat and show the American public just how serious they are - or not - about defending "our deployed forces" as Tauscher suggests.

Second, reach out to Bulgaria and Romania about hosting the system.  They have enthusiastically supported development of our forward land and sea bases, so permission to construct sites for 10 interceptors and the radar is certainly not an impossible task.  This would probably bring the Poles and the Czechs back to the bargaining table and help speed up negotiations.  Deliberately throwing away a huge amount of US dollars and a small but important troop presence is no way to go through life while also trying to get out from under Putin's dominance as a former Warsaw Pact member.

One last thing:  The Iraq War should have taught us that there is no such thing as a "slam dunk" in the intelligence community.  Sometimes, we just need to do the right thing without "proof" that the world's greatest sponsor of terror and its nutty leader wouldn't incinerate the West if they had the means to do it.

Now is one of those times.

Douglas Hanson is national security correspondent of American Thinker.

A convergence of foreign and domestic political maneuvers, and a puzzling statement from US SecDef Robert Gates have led to a potential delay in getting the strategically important European ballistic missile defense shield up and running.  President Bush hoped to have the deal signed before the end of this year and have the system operational by 2011.

Recent elections in Poland, which is scheduled to host 10 missile interceptor sites, have apparently sent both sides back to the negotiating table.  The conservative Parliament was ousted by the opposition Civic Platform Party, which is likely to demand more concessions from the US to begin construction of the missile sites.  Translation: they want more money.

Meanwhile, the Czech Republic, which was designated as the home of the system's advanced radar, continues to support the US and the missile defense system, but argues that the negotiations will not be completed this year.  Early this week, Czech Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tomas Pojar, said that despite the Czech public's seeming opposition to the US presence in their country, that,
...his government's support for the defense plan is based not only on a shared worry about future missile threats but also a "moral, historical" sense of appreciation for American support for Czech democracy.
Nevertheless, Pojar said that the Czech parliament will not be rushed in completing the deal and that it will take "a few more months" to gain parliamentary approval.

Gates' gaffe

In response to these roadblocks, and while trying to appease Russian concerns about the shield, US SecDef Robert Gates said that the US would delay activation of the system until there was "definitive proof" of an Iranian missile threat.  Elaborating in a press conference:
"We would consider tying together activation of the sites in Poland and the Czech Republic with definitive proof of the threat - in other words, Iranian missile testing and so on."
Careful parsing of his words may soften the impact of this amazingly naïve and goofy offer.  That is, the term "activation" implies that the system will be established, but will not go operational until intelligence says the Iranians have a ballistic missile capability.  This is a very iffy proposition from someone who should know better than anyone that intelligence in the best of circumstances offers no guarantee of accuracy and that some of our agencies are so politicized and adversarial that Gates would likely never get the "proof" required until a mushroom cloud appeared over Prague.

This entire discussion outwardly kowtows to Russian President Vladimir Putin's opposition to the shield, and his desperate attempts to remain relevant on the world stage.  This is a complete 180  from Gates' earlier statement to Russia, essentially telling Putin to butt out of our affairs with the new Europe.

The next day, the White House sought to reel in the SecDef by further laying out the case for the shield during a speech by the President at the National Defense University.
"The need for missile defense in Europe is real, and I believe it's urgent.  Today, we have no way to defend Europe against the emerging Iranian threat, so we must deploy a missile defense system there that can."
Minimizing the seeming divergence between the White House and the SecDef, White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said there is no doubt that "the program will go forward."  Let's hope the SecDef gets the same message.

Democrats cut missile shield funds

Meanwhile, the US Congress continues to obstruct our long-term strategy in the Global War on Terror.  DoD was forced to appeal (subscription required) Congressional cuts to the U.S. Missile Defense Agency's 2008 budget request.  The House cut $160 million and the Senate cut $85 million from the original $310.4 million request for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense budget.  Piling on the developments in Eastern Europe, the Democrat-controlled Congress emphasized that Poland and the Czech Republic were balking at hosting the missile sites.

The Pentagon has come out strongly against the cuts, and said,
"These reductions will significantly delay the department's ability to extend ballistic missile defense coverage of the United States homeland and protection to our allies and deployed forces in Europe, and to counter a growing Iranian missile threat, by slowing the planning and preparatory measures that will take place while the requisite international agreements are secured."
A possible counter-maneuver

A clue to putting pressure on not only Poland and the Czech Republic but also on the Congress is in the Pentagon's statement above.  Note that the missile defense shield is not just to protect our homeland and Europe, but is also needed to cover our new bases in Southeastern Europe.  The US is now in the process of establishing a forward troop presence in Romania and Bulgaria on a rotational basis.  These facilities are wide open to ballistic missile attack; something that even Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher (D-CA), and leader of the House obstructionists recognizes is a valid reason to adopt a missile defense shield.

Last Spring, she said concerning the defense system that,
Our focus needs to be on deploying near-term capabilities that can respond to real threats to our homeland, our deployed forces and our allies.
As the US pushes its troop presence into the Balkans and the Black Sea area, two pressure points can be applied to solve the missile shield impasse.

First, a domestic line of attack should be pursued to challenge the Democrat Congress to restore funds in order to cover our own troops and their bases in Southeastern Europe.  The American left is fond of chastising the administration and the Pentagon about "protecting the troops."  Put them in the hotseat and show the American public just how serious they are - or not - about defending "our deployed forces" as Tauscher suggests.

Second, reach out to Bulgaria and Romania about hosting the system.  They have enthusiastically supported development of our forward land and sea bases, so permission to construct sites for 10 interceptors and the radar is certainly not an impossible task.  This would probably bring the Poles and the Czechs back to the bargaining table and help speed up negotiations.  Deliberately throwing away a huge amount of US dollars and a small but important troop presence is no way to go through life while also trying to get out from under Putin's dominance as a former Warsaw Pact member.

One last thing:  The Iraq War should have taught us that there is no such thing as a "slam dunk" in the intelligence community.  Sometimes, we just need to do the right thing without "proof" that the world's greatest sponsor of terror and its nutty leader wouldn't incinerate the West if they had the means to do it.

Now is one of those times.

Douglas Hanson is national security correspondent of American Thinker.