December 21, 2010
Why Obama Surrendered the Missile Shield
Documents from the State Department published by WikiLeaks show that the Obama administration surrendered the missile shield previously planned by the Bush administration to Europe because of Russian demands, not because of any supposed intel reports.
The original missile defense scheme was devised by the Bush administration, which persuaded Poland and the Czech Republic to authorize missile defense systems (ten unarmed interceptors and a radar) to be deployed on their soil. In April 2008, Bush outmaneuvered Vladimir Putin by obtaining an endorsement of this scheme from all NATO allies before the Russian leader reached Bucharest for the NATO-Russia summit.
Russia has always opposed this scheme, putatively because the scheme would undermine Russia's nuclear deterrent (which it wouldn't -- ten unarmed interceptors can't undermine an arsenal of hundreds of ICBMs and SLBMs as well as 113 strategic bombers). Really, Russia is in the middle of selling a nuclear reactor and tons of nuclear fuel to Iran, and the Kremlin doesn't want the West to be able to defend itself against the incipient Iranian nuclear threat. Russia is also eager to claw Central Europe back into its sphere of influence.
Bush wisely chose not to succumb to Moscow, but he was replaced in 2009 by Barack Obama.
The leaked documents indicate that Obama's first eight months as president boiled over with Russian threats not to cooperate with the U.S. on any issue whatsoever (be it Iran, North Korea, space exploration, START negotiations, or anything else) barring cancelation of U.S. missile defense plans. During meetings with American officials, the Russians would repeatedly interrupt American diplomats who tried to discuss anything but missile defense.
The Kremlin's message was this: you must capitulate on missile defense (and strategic arms), or else we won't even discuss (let alone cooperate on) other issues. Eager to appease Russia, the Obama Administration naïvely surrendered missile defense plans on September 17, 2009.
Administration officials, including Obama and Bob Gates, are now falsely claiming that their surrender had nothing to do with Russia and was instead dictated by claimed new intel. Supposedly, Iran's priority is now the development of short- and medium-range ballistic missiles rather than IRBMs and ICBMs (against which the Bush missile shield was designed to be effective).
But the leaked documents, reproduced by the NYT, show that the Iranians still prioritize the development and acquisition of long-range ballistic missiles.
The documents say that before Obama made his decision, Iran acquired BM25 (Rodong) IRBMs from North Korea. These can reach Western Europe and Moscow. Other publicly available intel reports say that Iran aims by 2015 to acquire ICBMs meant to reach the U.S. Iran also has R-27 Zyb SLBMs bought from North Korea (with a range of 3,000 kilometers; Rodong missiles were derived from them) and is reportedly now developing Shahab-4 IRBMs and Koussar missiles that could fly as far as 5,000 kilometers. And Iran possesses missiles that can deliver satellites into the Earth's orbit -- missiles that can reach Europe just as easily. Iran's Fajr-3 and Sajjil missiles can fly as far as 2,500 kilometers. So the Iranian long-range-missile threat is growing, not declining.
Moreover, thanks to geography, long-range ballistic missiles are the only ones which could ever reach Western Europe. Iran is too far away from Western Europe for its SRBMs and MRBMs to reach the Old Continent, let alone the U.S. Its Shahab-3 MRBMs can fly no farther than 2,000 km, meaning it can reach only Eastern Europe (Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, etc.).
Whoever wants to protect Europe and the U.S. should first and foremost provide defenses against long-range ballistic missiles.
Obama's putative replacement for the Bush missile defense plan (which, for the record, was based on a proven technology designed against a real threat) is a fantasy scheme partially based on technology that doesn't even exist. Obama plans to first deploy Burke- and Ticonderoga-class BMD-capable warships to Europe. The problem is that the Navy has only 24 BMD-capable combatants. The deployment would strain the BMD ship fleet (which must also defend Gulf states and eastern Asian countries) and would be more expensive than the deployment of ten interceptors and a radar on land.
The second and third phases, Obama says, would be to deploy a ground version of the SM-3 interceptor missile (which doesn't exist) in Romania and later Poland, plus "enhanced sensors" that will be inferior to the radar Bush planned to deploy.
In the fourth phase, Obama says, SM-3s will be upgraded to become able to intercept long-range missiles, and such interceptors might be deployed to Europe. Of course, that would be contingent on the Congress and whatever government succeeds the Obama administration (assuming he will even be reelected in 2012) providing the necessary funding. Moreover, it would emerge five years after Iran is projected to acquire ICBMs. This means that even if such an interceptor was ever developed, produced, and deployed in Europe by 2020, the U.S.* and Europe would totally lack any defense against Iranian LRBMs for five years! And even if Iran does not acquire ICBMs by 2015, it will still have much time to construct them before any defensive systems go up in Europe.
The Heritage Foundation and the nonpartisan CBO say that the deployment of ten interceptors in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic would be only half as expensive as the deployment of Aegis-type warships to Europe. And these Bush-planned defensive systems would protect Europe much better against Iranian missiles than the systems Obama has offered.
Nor has Obama's concession to Russia been reciprocated. Russia has not stopped backing Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, and Syria. It has not allowed any serious sanctions to be approved by the UNSC. Putin hasn't even toned down his comments about the U.S.
In short, Obama has succumbed to Moscow for nothing. Now he is advertising a pseudo-missile-defense scheme which is decisively inferior to the Bush plan. It is time for the Congress and GOP presidential candidates to review this issue.
*Even the U.S. is unprotected against Iranian missiles. The interceptors stationed in California and Alaska can protect only against missiles flying over the Pacific Ocean, e.g. from North Korea or China. They cannot protect the U.S. against missiles from over the Atlantic Ocean.