U.S. Is Proposing European Shield for Iran Missiles


Richard Moore

Original source URL:
New York Times

May 22, 2006
U.S. Is Proposing European Shield for Iran Missiles


WASHINGTON, May 21 ‹ The Bush administration is moving to establish a new 
antimissile site in Europe that would be designed to stop attacks by Iran 
against the United States and its European allies.

The administration's proposal, which comes amid rising concerns about Iran's 
suspected program to develop nuclear weapons, calls for installing 10 
antimissile interceptors at a European site by 2011. Poland and the Czech 
Republic are among the nations under consideration.

A recommendation on a European site is expected to be made this summer to 
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. Pentagon officials say. The Pentagon has 
asked Congress for $56 million to begin initial work on the long-envisioned 
antimissile site, a request that has run into some opposition in Congress. The 
final cost, including the interceptors themselves, is estimated at $1.6 billion.

The establishment of an antimissile base in Eastern Europe would have enormous 
political implications. The deployment of interceptors in Poland, for example, 
would create the first permanent American military presence on that nation's 
soil and further solidify the close ties between the defense establishments of 
the two nations .

While the plan has been described in Congressional testimony and in published 
reports, it has received relatively little attention in the United States. But 
it is a subject of lively discussion in Poland and has also prompted Russian 
charges that Washington's hidden agenda is to expand the American presence in 
the former Warsaw Pact nation.

Gen. Yuri N. Baluyevsky, the chief of the Russian military's general staff, has 
sought to stir up Polish opposition to the plan.

"What can we do?" General Baluyevsky told the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza 
in December. "Go ahead and build that shield. You have to think, though, what 
will fall on your heads afterward. I do not foresee a nuclear conflict between 
Russia and the West. We do not have such plans. However, it is understandable 
that countries that are part of such a shield increase their risk."

The proposed antimissile site is the latest chapter in the long-running saga of 
the United States' missile defense program, which began with President Reagan's 
expansive vision of a space-based antimissile shield.

More than 20 years and billions of dollars later, the Bush administration is 
proceeding with a limited antimissile system, one that is no longer intended to 
make nuclear weapons "impotent and obsolete," as Mr. Reagan famously put it. 
Instead, it is designed to counter prospective dangers from nations like North 
Korea and Iran.

President Bush made the program a top priority soon after taking office and 
cleared the way for antimissile deployments by withdrawing from the 
Antiballistic Missile Treaty with Russia.

Nine interceptors have already been installed at Fort Greely, Alaska, and two at
Vandenberg Air Force Base in California as part of a broader, multilayered 
system planned by the Pentagon. An interceptor consists of a rocket that carries
a 155-pound "kill vehicle," which is designed to seek out and collide with an 
enemy missile warhead. While the program is still being tested, the Pentagon 
says that the interceptors could be pressed into service in a crisis.

The program's numerous critics say that it is behind schedule and not up to even
this challenge. "It has been doing very poorly," said Philip Coyle, the former 
head of the Pentagon's Office of Operational Test and Evaluation. "They have not
had a successful flight intercept test for four years."

Lieutenant General Henry A. Obering III, chief of the Pentagon's Missile Defense
Agency, said that none of the technical problems have been show-stoppers. 
Several tests in which a target is to be intercepted are scheduled for this year
and early next year.

The Pentagon is seeking $9.3 billion for its missile defense work for the 2007 
fiscal year. About $2.4 billion is to go for fielding new systems and 
maintaining existing ones. The remainder is for additional development and 

Given the many technical challenges, the House Armed Services Committee has 
refused to approve the $56 million for the initial engineering work for the new 
antimissile field. The Senate Armed Services Committee, however, has supported 
the initiative, and the Pentagon is pressing Congress to approve the funds to 
install in Europe the same type of interceptors that are in Fort Greely.

As the debate continues over the technical capabilities of the system, the 
Pentagon has pushed to expand it. The Fort Greely and Vandenberg sites are 
primarily oriented against potential missile threats from North Korea.

"We have a limited capacity today, and it is certainly focused against the North
Koreans initially," General Obering said in an interview. "We are worried about 
what is happening in the Middle East. We want to make sure that we have coverage
from those approaches."

To improve the coverage against a potential Iranian threat, the Pentagon is 
upgrading a radar complex at Fylingdales, a British air base, and plans to begin
similar work at the American Thule Air Base in Greenland. By building an 
antimissile base in Europe, the Pentagon is seeking to position the interceptors
close to the projected flight path of Iranian missiles that would be aimed 
toward Europe or continue on a polar route to the United States.

General Obering said the system would complement any NATO efforts to develop 
antimissile defense.

Iran does not currently possess intercontinental-range missiles and has yet to 
conduct a flight test of a multistage rocket. There has been concern that Iran 
might develop the technology it needs to build such a weapon in the guise of a 
civilian space program. But some experts believe it is a long way from 
developing such a system.

"As far as we can tell, Iran is many years away from having the capability to 
deliver a military strike against the U.S.," said Gary Samore, vice president of
the MacArthur Foundation and a former aide at the National Security Council. "If
they made a political decision to seriously pursue a space launch vehicle it 
would take them a decade or more to develop the capability to launch against the

Still, Iran has long seen ballistic missiles as an important weapon. Iran fired 
Scud missiles at Baghdad and Kirkuk during its war with Iraq and later embarked 
on an effort to secure additional missiles and missile technology from foreign 
suppliers, including North Korea. Iran's Shahab-3, a liquid-fueled missile that 
is based on North Korea's No-dong missile, has the range to strike Israel, 
Turkey and other countries in the region.

Defense Department officials argue that Iran could collaborate with North Korea 
to speed up the development of long-range systems. Given the time it would take 
the United States to install an antimissile site in Europe, some officials said 
it is not to soon to begin work.

"Iran understands the use of ballistic missiles to change strategic geography," 
said a senior American Defense official who asked not to be identified because 
he did not want to be drawn into the public debate. "This is a long lead-time 
item. We would much rather be a couple of years early than a couple of years 

In the meantime, the Bush administration has resumed its efforts to sound out 
support abroad. In early April, Pentagon and State Department officials visited 
Warsaw to renew discussions about the project, which has been talked about for 
years. American officials said the Polish government has been receptive.

"They asked us officially if we were still interested in discussing the issue," 
Poland's deputy foreign minister, Witold Waszczykowski, said last month. "Of 
course we said yes and we are awaiting details." Poland's defense minister, 
Radoslaw Sikorski, said recently that he has submitted questions for the 
Pentagon to answer before formal talks could be convened. Mr. Sikorski, who 
declined to be interviewed for this article, met in Washington with Mr. Rumsfeld
last week to discuss an array of security issues.

In an effort to build support for the potential project, American diplomats in 
Warsaw have been meeting with opposition parties to keep them informed on the 
process of picking a site. According to a Polish press report, the Boeing 
Company, the prime contractor for the program, has made it clear that it would 
use Polish subcontractors. A Boeing spokesman declined to comment on the report.
The Czech Republic has sought to avoid public discussion of the project, fearing
it could become an issue in June parliamentary elections. As a result, American 
officials have refrained from talking openly about a potential site on Czech 
territory. But it remains an option that both sides intend to discuss privately,
an American official said, who was granted anonymity because of the 
confidentiality of the discussions.

The United States already has a very close military relationship with East 
European nations. The United States Army rehearsed helicopter attacks in Poland 
before the invasion of Iraq, and Poland later sent troops to Iraq. Exiled Iraqi 
fighters opposed to Saddam Hussein were trained in Hungary. Poland and the Czech
Republic, along with eight other East European nations, are NATO members.

With the political fortunes of Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain in decline 
and controversy at home over his decision to join the American invasion of Iraq,
there is no serious discussion about installing antimissile interceptors in 
Britain, the American official said.

The installation of 10 interceptors in Eastern Europe would have no significant 
capability to defend against Russia's sizable nuclear arsenal. American 
officials say that the Bush administration sought to assure the Russians that 
the system is not aimed at Moscow by keeping it informed about the recent visit 
by American officials to Warsaw. But the Russians are unhappy with the idea and 
have portrayed it as a step that would jeopardize cooperation between NATO and 
Russia, including on antimissile systems.

The development of an antimissile site in Poland would have a "negative impact 
on the whole Euro-Atlantic security system," Sergei Ivanov, the Russian Defense 
Minister, told a Belarus newspaper. "The choice of location for the deployment 
of those systems is dubious, to put it mildly."

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