On Missile Defense

November 16, 2009 at 10:59 am (tWP guest) (, , , , , , , )

missile launch

By M. Duncan*

Given changes in U.S. intelligence assessments about Iranian ballistic missile (BM) capability and technological developments, the president decided to change the focus of the U.S. missile defense (MD) architecture. The new phased adaptive approach (PAA) will enhance the U.S. ability to counter current threats to U.S. forces deployed abroad and U.S. Allies and adapt to meet future changing threats.

The new system provides a layered defense in Europe against incoming BMs from Iran, and provides the opportunity for global burden-sharing with U.S. Allies and partners. The improved system incorporates Ground Based Interceptors (GBIs) deployed at Ft. Reilly, AK and Vandenberg AB, CA; sea and land-based Standard Missile-3s (SM-3s); Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missiles; Patriot-missile batteries, and sensors.

The enhanced architecture does not require the deployment of GBIs to Poland or a single, large, fixed radar in the Czech Republic. The U.S. is under no legal obligation to continue these deployments because the requisite Status-of-Forces-Agreements (SOFAs) were not ratified by the intended host governments. However, given Polish and Czech willingness to participate in the previous program of record, they will be given the right of first refusal to hosting elements of the new system. Press reports from Vice-President Biden’s recent trip to Poland and the Czech Republic indicate they intend to participate in the PAA.

Beginning in Phase II of the deployment (2015), SM-3 IB interceptor missiles and sensors necessary for detecting and tracking a BM launch, will deploy to Allied host countries in Europe. The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) has determined that part of the PAA architecture must be deployed in southeastern Europe. After presentations made by the head of the MDA, LTG O’Reilly, and Under Secretary of Defense (Policy) Flournoy, at NATO, it is clear that all NATO-allies are supportive of this new approach.

missle_defenseGiven the across-the-board support by NATO Allies, it will be easier to find willing hosts for the architecture that meet geographic requirements. The difficulty in selecting sites will come down to political-military concerns of the potential host countries.

The many landmines to this policy will be political and diplomatic in nature. Russia’s reaction and posture will certainly be an issue, though the system is not designed as a threat to them. Public opinion in Europe and the United States could make implementation of the policy difficult. Finally, Congress must be willing to accept this change in MD and appropriate sufficient funds for the new architecture, as well as the necessary defense assistance to Romania.

Russia: Initial reaction to the new PAA in Russia was jubilant and victorious. The government of Russia perceived the previous program of record as a threat to Russia’s own BMs and had placed short-range missiles in Kaliningrad. Due to the poor rollout of the phased adaptive approach, Russia and others were able to spin the decision as a copout to Russian demands, and one official even suggested they would pull their missiles out of Kaliningrad. According to press reports, upon learning more about the system, the government of Russia is no longer displaying a jubilant and victorious posture. The statement was later retracted, saying that it was premature to make the decision on pulling missiles out of Kaliningrad.


The rollout of the presence options must be managed with Russia in mind. U.S. policy cannot be seen as “giving in” to Russia, though it would not hurt to win Russia over to the U.S. position and develop a new partner for MD.

Public Opinion: The views of European and American publics will be important in making these programs succeed. Governments can be convinced by technology transfers and assurances to remain supportive, but a solid public diplomacy campaign is necessary to win the public’s approval. The U.S. has to demonstrate that it is committed to the new program through investment and implementation. It must demonstrate the value a PAA shield adds to the population. This may be challenging given the lack of common threat-perception vis-à-vis Iran. The same is true for the U.S. domestic audience, who will shape the way Congress approaches the issue. The PAA must demonstrate that it is protecting Americans, first and foremost, from a dangerous threat. The White House and the Department of Defense should explore ways to declassify more intelligence to indicate the level of threat posed by Iran, and relate how protecting U.S. forces and Allies around the world ensures American security.

Congress: Though the Democrats control both houses of congress, and are likely to do so through the next election cycle, it is important to unify congressional support. The linkages between continuous technological development of antiballistic missiles, funding modernization of Eastern European air defense forces, deploying secure MD in Europe, and protecting from BM threats from Iran and North Korea must be made crystal clear to the members. These are funding priorities for the U.S. military against current and future threats, and are vital to U.S. national security and diplomatic relations.

*M. Duncan is a Master’s Student in International Relations at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, currently focusing on Global Security.

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