The United States scored a big victory this week for its plan to help build Europe’s missile defense shield: Turkey said it has agreed to station a key air defense radar on its territory less than 500 miles from the Iranian border, adding not only a key new part of the sensor net but also sending a signal that it wants to play ball with Europe and the U.S. going forward.
The radar station will irk Iran and it will infuriate Russia, which has been jerking the West around for years about the missile defense shield. It has some good reasons, from its perspective: Russia’s hollow conventional forces don’t play in the big leagues anymore, so it needs to rely on its nuclear deterrent to feel secure, and it worries a European missile shield could spark an “arms race” as Russia builds new weapons or missiles to circumvent it. The American boogeyman also appears to be endlessly useful to Russian politicians, who have gotten great domestic mileage out of rowing back and forth on the missile defense network since the second President Bush abrogated the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty in 2001.
President Obama tried to mollify the Russians by changing the direction for the Euro-missile shield, but it didn’t really work. Still, he and Europe are going ahead with it, and the White House reaffirmed its long-term goals for the system on Thursday. Per the official announcement, here is the latest top-level picture for how the missile-defense shield will go into place:
• Phase One (2011 timeframe) will address short- and medium-range ballistic missile threats by deploying current and proven missile defense systems. It calls for the deployment of Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD)-capable ships equipped with proven SM-3 Block IA interceptors. In March of this year the USS Monterey was the first in a sustained rotation of ships to deploy to the Mediterranean Sea in support of EPAA. Phase One also calls for deploying a land-based early warning radar, which Turkey recently agreed to host as part of the NATO missile defense plan.
• Phase Two (2015 timeframe) will expand our coverage against short- and medium-range threats with the fielding of a land-based SM-3 missile defense interceptor site in Romania and the deployment of a more capable SM-3 interceptor (the Block IB). This week, on September 13, the United States and Romania signed the U.S.-Romanian Ballistic Missile Defense Agreement. Once ratified, it will allow the United States to build, maintain, and operate the land-based BMD site in Romania.
• Phase Three (2018 timeframe) will improve coverage against medium- and intermediate-range missile threats with an additional land-based SM-3 site in Poland and the deployment of a more advanced SM-3 interceptor (the Block IIA). Poland agreed to host the interceptor site in October 2009, and today, with the Polish ratification process complete, this agreement has entered into force.
• Phase Four (2020 timeframe) will enhance our ability to counter medium- and intermediate-range missiles and potential future inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) threats to the United States from the Middle East, through the deployment of the SM-3 Block IIB interceptor. Each phase will include upgrades to the missile defense command and control system.
The White House concludes its statement thus:
Moving forward, the administration will continue to consult closely with Congress and with our NATO allies to implement the vision the president set forth in September 2009. We will also continue to rigorously evaluate the threat posed by ballistic missiles and the technology that we are developing to counter it. The United States remains committed to cost-effective and proven missile defenses that provide flexibility to address emerging threats.
This reaffirmation of support for the Euro-missile shield is telling: Despite the obligatory mention of “cost effectiveness,” there is no mention here of the need to wait for DoD’s “comprehensive strategic review,” or concessions to “tough fiscal realities,” or any other code for “we might not do this because of budget cuts.” The Obama administration is locked into European missile defense, which implicitly means that everything is not “on the table,” vis a vis budget reductions — the Navy’s Aegis warships, Lockheed’s radars, Raython’s SM-3 missile family, the work of the Missile Defense Agency? All that has just been quietly taken off the table, because the U.S. needs it to fulfill this commitment.