Obama’s Critics on Missille Defense Shield Cancellation Are Wrong

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BROOKS FOREIGN POLICY REVIEW ANALYSIS

September 27, 2009

“President Bush was right that Iran’s ballistic missile program poses a significant threat. That’s why I’m committed to deploying strong missile defense systems which are adaptable to the threats of the 21st century. This approach is also consistent with NATO’s missile defense efforts and provides opportunities for enhanced international collaboration going forward and we are bound by the solemn commitment of NATO’s Article V that an attack on one is an attack on all.”                                                                                 

Critics charging that President Obama’s cancellation of the missile defense shield system in Poland and the Czech Republic marked capitulation to Russia and weakened Europe’s defense against Iranian and Russian missile attacks are dead wrong. Quite the opposite, the President’s new plan deploys a more potent, high tech, land, sea and space-based system to defend all of Europe and the Caucuses. Obama’s revised “Star Wars” plan is more mobile, less detectable and will be deployed faster than the original plan for ten ground-based interceptor missiles in Poland and forward-based X-band missile radar in the Czech Republic. Arguably, the Obama-Gates universal interceptor missile system will put the United States on the cusp of uncontested global military superiority by making itself and its allies highly impenetrable to Russian, Chinese, North Korean and Iranian missile attacks.

Appearing with President Obama at the September 17 announcement, Defense Secretary Gates stated that “We have now the opportunity to deploy new sensors and interceptors in northern and southern Europe that in the near term provide missile defense coverage against more immediate threats from Iran or others.” Given that Iran is nowhere close to fielding long-range missiles, Gates reference to “others” was obviously directed at Russia. Gates outlined the new plan that will deploy Aegis class warships equipped with SM-3 mobile missile interceptors that can be moved from one region to another. The U.S. has fifteen destroyers and three cruisers equipped with the Aegis combat system which is being developed into a worldwide, sea based, rapid deployable missile shield structure. These new capabilities are being coordinated with Norway, Spain, Australia, Japan and South Korea. Indeed, in February 2008, the USS Lake Erie, an Aegis class guided-missile cruiser, shot down an American satellite in space in its testing phase.  Further, Gates said Phase 2 of the universal interceptor missile system will include “upgraded land-based SM-3s” by 2015.

In addition to deploying the universal interceptor missile system, the Obama Administration and NATO are upgrading the integrated European Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) with current Patriot and Nike Hercules components.  MEADS will include forward-based X-band radar, 360 degree surveillance radar, missile launchers and next-generation Patriot interceptor missiles. MEADS will be interoperable with other defense systems, including the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system and the Aegis sea-based missile defense systems. Obama has requested and will receive $600 million in funding from Congress for MEADS in the next fiscal year. Doubters concerned about President Obama’s commitment to missile defense should also take comfort in the August announcement of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency that its modified Boeing 747-400F airplane was successfully deployed with a laser weapon that “found, tracked, engaged and simulated an intercept with a missile seconds after liftoff.’ This fall the first live attempt to bring down a ballistic missile will be tested. As for the “defenseless” Czech Republic and Poland, the Pentagon has already opened talks with both countries about hosting a land-based version of the SM-3 missile interceptors and other components of the system. American plans call for 96 Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missiles in Poland, capable of selecting targeting and homing in on the warhead portion of an inbound ballistic missile. 

Obama’s detractors that claim Poland and the Czech Republic were betrayed in exchange for Russian support for sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program should think again. It’s true that Russian President Medvedev applauded President Obama’s decision to “cancel” the missile defense shield system. After all, he’d look foolish criticizing what Russia had so publicly demanded. On September 22, Medvedev also suggested Russia would consider supporter tougher sanctions against Iran. But behind the walls of the Kremlin there are growing concerns about Russia’s encirclement by the U.S./NATO buildup of a global missile interceptor system. Moscow has seen this movie before. President Reagan’s original Star Wars plan set off a run of defense spending in the USSR that contributed significantly to the economic hollowing out of the Soviet state. When Russia responded to the Poland-Czech Republic missile defense shield by threatening to place Iskander ballistic missiles in Kaliningrad on Poland’s border, it evoked a sense of an escalating Cold War buildup. If Russia ultimately supports damaging sanctions against Iran it won’t be because they feared ten fixed-site land based missile interceptors and a radar installation outside of Prague; Putin and company have a larger strategic problem to counterbalance.  

It must also be said that after all the rhetoric about the Polish and Czech people being abandoned to the Russians, surveys consistently demonstrate that a majority of Poles opposed the stationing of American missiles inside their borders. In the Czech Republic, over two-thirds of the public opposed the basing of the interceptor missile radar. For those who are still not clear about President Obama’s capacity for flexing American military might, he defended his vision of the Star Wars 2 universal missile interceptor system by saying, “President Bush was right that Iran’s ballistic missile program poses a significant threat. And that’s why I’m committed to deploying strong missile defense systems which are adaptable to the threats of the 21st century. This approach is also consistent with NATO’s missile defense efforts and provides opportunities for enhanced international collaboration going forward and we are bound by the solemn commitment of NATO’s Article V that an attack on one is an attack on all.”  Commenting on the new missile defense system the conservative Wall Street Journal recently stated that “Never has Ronald Reagan’s dream of layered missile defenses – Star Wars, for short – been as close, at least technologically, to becoming realized.”

America’s military buildup of ground forces and the largest CIA station in Afghanistan and its aggressive push to place military installations across Central Asia are exerting enormous pressure on Russia, China and Iran. In the final analysis, President Obama will not be able to stop Iran’s drive to master the uranium enrichment cycle or develop a nuclear weapons program. What we witnessing now with the deployment of Obama’s Star Wars 2 missile defense system is a rapid buildup to contain the emerging Eastern Axis in Tehran, Beijing and Moscow.

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