Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Downgrading Missile Defence

Aviation Week carries an article entitled Europe Warms to Missile Defense as US Cools. Based on interviews with primarily European industry people, it is somewhat pessimistic about the prospects for further developments of continent-wide missile defences.

.. for European missile defense efforts, the summit had been regarded as a key venue in which to urge members to embrace the concept of continental defense. The Pentagon’s push for a European site for the ground-based midcourse system—with a radar in the Czech Republic and interceptors in Poland—would be the centerpiece. But the Obama administration has yet to articulate a clear path forward on the third site, which Russia has strenuously opposed. As a result, the Czech government this month decided not to seek parliamentary endorsement for the radar construction. In addition, it was hoped that working groups would be asked to study architectures for expanding the alliance’s current emphasis on theater missile defense into a network covering all of Europe, and to begin cooperatively developing key new components such as early warning systems and interceptors.

Both Congress and the Obama administration are, at best, now sceptical about the need for or value of the deployment of the mid-course BMD system to Europe. Indeed, last year Congress passed legislation prohibiting spending on the European sites until the Missile Defense Agency could prove that the system worked under operationally realistic conditions, and would provide value for money.

Eastern Europeans in particular are now discovering that it is not enough, when dealing with the US, to know the position of the administration. The wishes of Congress must also be taken into account. And, it isn't wise to make deals on controversial programmes with administrations in the final months before they leave office. The Obama administration now has to make sure that its slowing of the BMD deployments do not antagonise European allies too much, and that means making sure that they understand their security is being provided for in other ways. An emphasis on non-proliferation, arms control and disarmament (the direction the administration anyhow wishes to take) is more sensible than spending billions on a last-ditch defence that probably wouldn't work anyway.

And of course, what the Eastern Europeans are really nervous about is Russia. Slowing or stopping the BMD deployment will improve relations with Russia in the short term. In the longer term, it has to be about building trust. and that is the best kind of security to have.

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