European Missile Defense Plan Is Focus Of U.S.-Russian Talks
American and Russian negotiators are attempting to work out their deep and bitter conflict over U.S. and European plans to install a U.S. ballistic missile defense (BMD) system in the Czech Republic and Poland.
The talks are taking place in Paris, with further talks this month set for Azerbaijan.
Russia alleges the radar in Czech territory and the interceptors in Poland would threaten Russian ICBMs, a claim that Pentagon leaders term ludicrous, given that there would be just 10 interceptors and they aren’t capable of chasing and intercepting the ICBMs.
The talks in Paris come after Russia has threatened to destroy any interceptors and silos placed in Poland, threatened to target Russian ICBMs against European cities in a manner reminiscent of the Cold War, and told the Czech Republic that it would be a mistake to agree to have a powerful tracking radar sited on its territory.
However, both the Czechs and Poles have continued talks on the planned European BMD system, with an expectation that various issues can be resolved to clear the way for the installation to begin.
At issue here is a U.S. plan to expand its Ground-based Midcourse missile Defense (GMD) system, now located in Alaska and California, to a third site in Europe.
The aim would be to protect European nations, U.S. troops there and the United States mainland from attacks by missiles launched by rogue Middle Eastern nations such as Iran.
The threat from Iran has been growing, with that nation staging multiple missile-test launches; launching a missile from a submerged submarine; and obstinately continuing to produce nuclear materials in defiance of Western nations urging an end to the program, which the United Nations fears may lead to production of nuclear weapons.
Not only might an Iran with nuclear-tipped missiles threaten Europe and/or the United States, an Iranian leader said that Israel should be wiped from the map.
Russia, a nation with close links to Iran, scoffs at concerns that Iran might attack European nations, but Moscow asserts if U.S. leaders wish to erect a shield against Iranian missiles, then Russia would be willing to offer use of a radar in Azerbaijan in place of the radar to be installed in the Czech Republic.
That facility, the Russians argue, could be linked to a U.S. sea-based BMD system, such as the Aegis weapon control and air defense system.
Although President Bush at one point termed the offer "interesting," Pentagon leaders say the Azerbaijan radar lacks the capabilities required to track and coordinate interception of incoming Iranian missiles.
Meanwhile, however, the U.S. position here is muddied by actions of some members of Congress.
While the Bush administration and many Republican lawmakers in Congress strongly favor installation of a BMD system in Europe, some Democrats oppose it, or at least wish to cut funds for European system.
Critics have said such moves play into hands of the Russians, and make it more difficult for U.S. negotiators to work out siting deals with the Czechs and Poles. (Please see separate story in this issue.)
One such Washington lawmaker is Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), who delivered a recent keynote address at an international conference in Maastricht, the Netherlands, during the Year 2007 Multinational Ballistic Missile Defense Conference.
He said that the United States cannot rely on the concept of mutual assured destruction to deter rogue nations or terrorists that obtain nuclear weapons and wish to employ them against American targets. "Unlike the Soviet threat, Jihadist terrorism is one that cannot be deterred by fear of retaliation," Franks said, terming that nuclear menace "an existential threat to human peace."
Others have made that unpleasant assessment as well.
For example, a Washington think tank, the American Enterprise Institute, later today will consider a new work asserting that Iranian leaders aren’t rational people easily deterred by the threat of a U.S. nuclear strike. (Please see separate story in this issue.)
Franks noted that U.S. intelligence estimates place an Iranian nuclear missile capability as seven to eight years distant, but Israeli intelligence estimates peg it at half that, on the order of three or four years.
And that assumes that there wouldn’t be any unpleasant surprises, such as the United States suddenly finding that North Korea and Iran have far greater capabilities than suspected. If North Korea completes development of its long-range Taepo Dong missile, then the isolated communist regime will command "an ability to hurl a 200 kilo warhead onto the shores of the United States," Franks said.
He urged U.S. negotiators to press for a swift agreement with the Czechs and Poles to form the European ballistic missile defense shield.
That would place pressure back on Congress to fund the shield fully, Franks said. Currently, proposals in Congress would cut requested funding for the system. (Please see separate story in this issue.)
Franks also counseled Russian leaders to curb their "saber rattling," saying that rather than opposing the European BMD installation, Russia should welcome it, since Russia some day also may face "the threat of nuclear Jihad."