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European Missile Defense Sites Expand Deterrence, Obering Says

By | September 24, 2007

      By Ann Roosevelt

      Emplacing European missile defense sites in Europe would add to global deterrence of ballistic missile proliferation, according to the director of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA).

      "We think there are nations around the world that could be deterred by offensive capability, but we have to recognize in this day and age that there may not be, that there may be the nation-state equivalent of a suicide bomber that wants to strike a blow for their cause or their position, whatever," Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry "Trey" Obering III said at a European Institute luncheon discussion of transatlantic cooperation on missile defense, in Washington, D.C. If the missile defense capability exists, "we’re morally obligated to at least try to offer that protection."

      The United States is proposing a site in Poland for 10 silo-based interceptors, with a radar to be located in the Czech Republic. Obering’s remarks came as an agency team is inspecting an Azerbaijan radar site Russia has proposed as an alternative site.

      "We’re trying to engage our Russian friends to try and collaborate as well," in the U.S. effort to expand ballistic missile defense to its friends and allies, Obering said.

      Russia proposed the Gabala radar site in Azerbaijan as an alternative to a European missile defense site. Pentagon, Russian and Azerbaijan teams were taking a technical look yesterday at whether the radar could be part of a missile defense system. Obering will hear more when the team returns.

      Obering said his current understanding is that the Russian radar is good for "long-range surveillance and detection." At present the United States proposes a precise tracking radar, a narrow band radar that must be cued to look in a specific direction, for the Czech Republic.

      "If we had the Russian radar tied into the system, that could be very much support," to a burgeoning ballistic missile defense system, Obering said at the roundtable supported by Finmeccanica’s Alenia North America, EADS North America and Thales.

      Obering also criticized a recent analysis saying interceptors based in Europe could intercept Russian ICBMs. Interceptors based in Poland couldn’t catch them, he said. Even if they could, against that nation’s hundreds of ICBMs and thousands of warheads, "10 interceptors wouldn’t make a difference, and I think the Russians do understand that." The analysis was wrong, with the wrong numbers and wrong speeds, he added.

      While Europe has long been less enthusiastic about missile defense, preferring classic deterrence, Obering said consider the context: Poland and the Czech Republic are both members of NATO, and its overall protection, including Article 5, which says an attack on one member is an attack on all. The U.S. missile defense system command and control system was technically and specifically designed to accommodate NATO, something that will be demonstrated soon.

      Obering offered a chilling scenario: "Let’s suppose Europe opts out of participating in missile defense. Let’s suppose there is a shooting war between Iran and the United States involving ballistic missiles. Not every missile that Iran fires is going to make it to the United States. We know that from our own test program…And we also believe you’re going to need to protect yourself even from that type of scenario…where from a malfunctioning missile you’re going to have a nuclear detonation on European soil."

      Missile defense is also a stabilizing influence for those concerned that a third missile defense interceptor site potentially could drag Europe into any U.S. preemptive strike, Obering said.

      However, offering a real world example, he cited those in Washington who advocated a preemptive strike against North Korea last summer when it prepared missiles for launch. The concern was that the missile defense system would not work. Obering said the administration’s confidence in missile defense defused pressure for a preemptive strike.

      Congress, meanwhile, offers strong bipartisan support for missile defense, he said. While the president’s budget requested $8.9 billion, he expects the final result to come in around $8.6 billion to $8.7 billion. As to extending the layered missile defense system to Europe, MDA requested $310 million for the European sites, interceptors and components. Obering said he expected when the dust cleared to receive the majority of the funds, which would be contingent upon a host nation agreement.

      "I don’t see any show stoppers with respect to what congressional actions have been and what are plans are for European sites," he said.

      There could be a delay of six months or so depending on when agreement is reached and when construction can start.

      Obering noted that the sites are not massive. The interceptor-site would be about the size of a European football–or for Americans, soccer–field with about 200 contract employees.

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