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ISSN 1213-1792


Jan Čulík


Karel Dolejší


Michal Panoch, Jan Panoch

Grafický návrh:

Štěpán Kotrba

ISSN 1213-1792
deník o všem, o čem se v České republice příliš nemluví
photo Jan Piňos, GP
14. 1. 2008

Formerly the Pentagon's chief weapons tester, senior advisor Center for Defense Information

Coyle: The Obstacles to the Proposed U.S. Missile Defense Systems in Europe

Philip E. Coyle III.

At the G-8 Summit in early June, 2007, the difficulties and complexities of proposed U.S. missile defenses in Europe were on full display.  In the weeks preceding the G-8 Summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin had set the Bush administration – and the world – back on its heels with talk of Russian missiles aimed at Europe in retaliation for proposed U.S. missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic.  This set the stage for what the Bush administration thought might be a G-8 confrontation over its proposed missile defense system.  Then on June 7, Putin proposed a smart missile defense technical and policy solution that the Pentagon should have thought of first: establishing a missile defense radar site at the existing Qabala early warning radar station in Azerbaijan.

< Philip Coyle in Rokycany, Czech Republic photo: Jan Piňos, GP

Immediately following Putin’s surprise proposals, the question was how the Bush administration would react?  

President George W. Bush said the proposal was an “interesting suggestion,” and seemed to welcome the policy shift, but his administration appeared to immediately reject the offer. "One does not choose sites for missile defense out of the blue," snapped Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice in an interview with the Associated Press. "It's geometry and geography as to how you intercept a missile." [1]

But in that short comment, Secretary Rice showed that she understood neither the geometry nor the geography of the U.S. missile defense plans, nor of Putin’s proposal.

Russia had done its homework and proposed a site that was better for missile defense from both American and Russian technical and policy points of view.

Because of its location farther south, relative to the original sites proposed by the Bush administration in Poland and the Czech Republic, the Azerbaijan option has several advantages.  At that location, the proposed missile defenses could "defend" all of Europe, including south-eastern Europe.  The Poland/Czech Republic arrangement cannot cover all of Europe, and would leave Greece, Turkey and other nations to the southeast outside the umbrella of the proposed Ground-Based System.  Also, a radar at the Azerbaijan site would not be able to “see” Russian missile launches going over the pole towards America, which means that it could not be used to defend America from Russia.

Also, in an actual missile-vs.-missile battle, the originally proposed sites in Poland and the Czech Republic could result in debris falling on Russia if U.S. missile defense interceptors sent hypothetical Iranian missiles careening off course.  The Azerbaijan site would minimize that problem as well.

Within a week, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates also quashed Putin’s ideas, saying that the Azerbaijan radar site could complement but not replace the proposed site in the Czech Republic.

Gates did, however, commit to work with Russia on optimizing the coverage of Europe from short-range missiles, although the arrangements for a U.S.-Russia experts meeting and other forums to further explore U.S.-Russian missile defense cooperation could take months.  

Russia got the message of the cold shoulder immediately and Gates reported on June 15 that in his meeting with Russian Minister of Defense Anatoly Serdyukov, the subject didn’t even come up.

Two weeks later, during his visit with President Bush in Kennebunkport, Putin proposed locating a search radar in southern Russia near Armavir, about 450 miles north of the Iranian border. Putin also proposed involving other countries through the NATO-Russia council established in 2002, thereby eliminating the need for facilities in Poland or the Czech Republic. Again, President Bush seemed to respond open mindedly, but still claimed the sites in Poland and the Czech Republic were required. [2]

The Impact of the Putin Proposals

By putting forward his proposal to locate U.S. missile defenses in Azerbaijan or in southern Russia, Putin questioned the technical efficacy of the proposed sites in Poland and the Czech Republic, and justified recent cuts by Congress in the budget for construction at these sites.  Congress had been skeptical anyway, and Putin showed that they had reason to be.

Under the agreements the Bush administration is seeking with Poland and the Czech Republic, the proposed missile defense sites, if located there, would essentially be sovereign U.S. territory, like an embassy.  It remains to be seen if Poland or the Czech Republic will agree to this, and perhaps neither Russia nor Azerbaijan would agree to that either.

At the G-8 Summit, Putin also proposed locating the U.S. missile defense systems in Turkey, Iraq, or even on sea-based platforms, but this had the effect of undermining his original proposal.  The initial reaction from Iraqi officials noted that a U.S. missile defense site in Iraq could provide a new target, and new motivations, for insurgents.

To complicate the picture further, on June 17, Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said that Russian officials had indicated to Tehran that Putin did not intend for his Azerbaijan proposal to provoke Iran.

"It seems Russia does not plan to make decisions that may cause instability and insecurity in the region, where it (Russia) is located," Hosseini said, reminding all concerned that Azerbaijan shares borders with both Russia to the north and Iran to the south.

Putin understands there is no rush to deploy U.S. missile defenses in Eastern Europe to defend against an Iranian threat, and if there were, the U.S. missile defenses that could be established in the near term would not be effective under realistic operational conditions anyway. The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA) says that at best they can only handle what they call “an unsophisticated threat,” that is, just one or two missiles from Iran, with no decoys or countermeasures, not because that is a realistic threat, but because that's the toughest threat the MDA can claim to be able to deal with.  It's like a flat-footed soccer team hoping to defend against an imaginary opponent with no players who can maneuver, feint, or kick goals. The MDA definition of the supposed threat raises the question: would Iran attack Europe, or the United States, with a single missile and then sit back and wait for the consequences?

Thus, Iran does not have a sufficient capability to attack Europe or the United States, and if it did, the U.S. proposed U.S. missile defenses couldn’t deal with it.

Shooting down an enemy missile going 17,000 mph out in space is like trying to hit a hole-in-one in golf when the hole is going 17,000 mph.  And if an enemy uses decoys and countermeasures, missile defense is like trying to shoot a hole-in-one in golf when the hole is going 15,000 mph and the green is covered with black circles the same size as the hole.  The defender doesn't know which target to aim for.

Decoys and Countermeasures

Decoys and countermeasures are the Achilles heel of missile defense, and also of the proposed missile defense system in Europe.

To use a popular analogy, shooting down an enemy missile going 17,000 mph out in space is like trying to hit a hole-in-one in golf when the hole is going 17,000 mph.  And if an enemy uses decoys and countermeasures, missile defense is like trying to shoot a hole-in-one in golf when the hole is going 15,000 mph and the green is covered with black circles the same size as the hole.  The defender doesn't know which target to aim for.

Decoys can include objects which provide a close representation of the attacking enemy missile or its warhead encased in a re-entry vehicle. For example, a simple balloon in the shape of a cone – the shape of a re-entry vehicle – would travel out in space as fast as the RV itself and might be confusing to the defender. An enemy missile could carry many of these balloons that are inflated at the time of stage separation and travel along with the re-entry vehicle, and other objects such as the “bus” that first housed all these objects, and debris from stage separation.

In fact, the debris from stage separation itself could act as a kind of decoy as that debris might reflect, turn, or tumble in a manner resembling the target re-entry vehicle.

Countermeasures could include chaff or debris deliberately scattered by the attacker with the target missile or warhead to reflect the search radar of a missile defense system. This might be short metal rods – like paper clips - of the proper length, or bits of metal foil to reflect the radar, or to cloud the view the radar might otherwise have of the target.

For missile defense systems that operate in the infrared, infrared burning pellets can be released by the attacker to confuse the defender.

Different missile defense systems have different sorts of decoys or countermeasures. For example, the laser being developed for missile defense, the Airborne Laser, is a high power laser carried in a jumbo 747 aircraft. But if the enemy paints their missiles with an ordinary white paint, that white paint is 90% reflective to the laser. and 90% of the laser energy bounces off. To compensate for this, the Airborne Laser would need to be ten times more powerful and would need an aircraft bigger than a Boeing 747.

For radars, jamming or electronic interference with the radar is another common countermeasure. Also, an enemy can apply radar absorbing materials to the attacking missiles or re-entry vehicles to reduce their radar cross-sections and make them “stealthy” and less easily detected by radar.

Of course, in all out battle, missile defense radar and interceptor sites would be prime targets for an enemy.

The Cuban Missile Crisis Redux?

For the outset, the Poland/Czech Republic arrangement had raised questions about who exactly it was defending against?  Was it really to defend against Iran, as advertised, or was it an attempt by the United States to locate missile defenses close to Russia to defend the U.S. from Russia? Or both?

In October, at a news conference following Russia-EU summit in Portugal, President Putin drew the analogy with the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 when the Soviet Union based missiles in Cuba that could easily reach the U.S.

"The situation is quite similar technologically for us. We have withdrawn the remains of bases from Vietnam and Cuba, but such threats are being created near our borders," Putin said. [3]

Just as 46-years ago America saw Russian missiles in Cuba as an alarming threat, Russia clearly feels that the proposed U.S. missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic are too close to its territory.

Of course, the Soviet missiles in Cuba were offensive, and the proposed U.S. interceptors in Poland are to be defensive. Nevertheless the U.S. proposal is in direct violation of the Joint Declaration issued in conjunction with the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty – also known as the Moscow Treaty – signed by Presidents Bush and Putin on May 24, 2002. That Joint Declaration calls for joint research and development on missile defense technologies, and U.S./Russian cooperation on missile defense for Europe. The Bush proposal to establish U.S. missile defenses in Europe was neither joint or cooperative, and was undertaken unilaterally almost before the ink had dried on the Joint Declaration.

Putin also noted that the U.S. decision to deploy missile defenses close to Russia was presaged by the unilateral withdrawal in 2002 of the United States from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which President Nixon and Soviet Communist Party Secretary Leonid Brezhnev signed together in Moscow in 1972.

Given the duplicity of the U.S. relative to the aforementioned accords, it is not surprising that Russia might regard the proposed U.S. interceptors as potentially offensive. The proposed U.S. interceptor missiles are two-stage variants of a proven launch vehicle, Pegasus missiles, which have enough payload and thrust to carry satellites into low-earth orbit. Accordingly, these missiles could easily carry nuclear warheads aimed at Russia. Russia may not be willing to take the Pentagon’s word that these missiles are for defense only, and do not carry a lethal offensive payload. If Russian verification and inspection provisions are to accompany the deployment of U.S. missile defenses in Europe, those agreements themselves could take years.

Also, since the proposed GMD missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic could not cover all of Europe, some members of Congress raised questions about why the United States would chose to "defend" some European countries and not others.

U.S. Administration Concerns

If the United States had accepted the Putin proposal, it probably would have derailed the establishment of U.S. missile defenses in Eastern Europe beyond the time remaining for the Bush administration.  It has taken MDA five years of efforts with Poland and the Czech Republic to obtain their cooperation, and yet questions still remain with only 9 months left in the Bush administration.

Accepting the Putin proposal would have left it up to the next U.S. president to decide whether to establish U.S. missile defenses in Europe, but the Bush administration has wanted to get concrete poured before its term is up.

In addition, the Pentagon may feel that Azerbaijan is too close to Russia for comfort, too "under the thumb" of Russia from a military standpoint.  

And Putin's references to the existing Azerbaijan radar site may have meant that Putin intended for it to be a Russian-managed or -controlled site which the Pentagon might not accept.   The current arrangement with Russia at the Qabala radar station in Azerbaijan is a 10-year lease which expires in 2012, but with an option for renewal.

However, Putin’s proposal opened up new options for U.S. cooperation that America may need. For example, a second radar site is needed for a powerful, transportable Forward-Based Radar whose location is yet to be determined but is intended to be closer to Iran than the site in the Czech Republic. Negotiations over this second radar site could bring additional Russian objections.

As for the ten new interceptors the administration proposes to base in Poland, they are not yet developed or tested, and are not scheduled to be tested until 2010. [4]

During a Senate Armed Sevices Committee hearing with Senator Bill Nelson (Florida) on April 11, 2007, Lt. Gen. Henry “Trey” Obering, head of the Missile Defense Agency, explained that the MDA was requesting money for 10 interceptors for Europe or, if not in Europe, for U.S. locations.  Obering said that if agreement on the European sites takes too long to wrap up then MDA wanted to buy ten interceptors for the US instead.

"Why?" asked Senator Nelson.

"We don't want to loose the money," responded Obering.

Concerns for Poland and the Czech Republic

In 2002 the Bush administration approached Poland and the Czech Republic over the possibility of siting U.S. missile defenses in those countries. Existing military installations were examined on a preliminary basis to ascertain if suitable locations and support facilities existed.

In January, 2007, the Bush administration requested that formal negotiations begin with both countries.

Poland and the Czech Republic each have their own point of view, but they share some concerns in common. Neither country faces a threat from Iran, but by hosting U.S. missile defenses in their territory they could motivate new animosity in Iran and other Muslim populations towards Poland and the Czech Republic.

In an actual ballistic missile defense battle, Poland and the Czech Republic would become the first targets that an enemy would attack, as simply a matter of ordinary military tactics.

By attacking the X-band radar, an enemy could blind the system so that it could not see attacking missiles, and by attacking the interceptors in their silos, an enemy could disable the interceptors themselves.

This means that beyond the threat that other European countries might face, Poland and the Czech Republic might need special missile or other defenses designed to protect those two sites, assuming that such defenses were effective. Poland and the Czech Republic might also need other security guarantees for taking on the new risk of becoming targets themselves. However, Lt. Gen Obering has told Congress that MDA had no plans to put Patriot or Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) systems at the proposed European sites.  Not that Patriot or THAAD could necessarily be depended upon, but the Missile Defense Agency does not plan to deploy Patriot or THAAD at the European sites "for deterrence," as they have in Japan.

Taken more broadly, Europe as a whole also does not face a threat from Iran, but by cooperating with the U.S., Poland and the Czech Republic might cause Europe to become a more frequent target of terrorists or even to be viewed less favorably by Iran.

Also, to the extent that Russia sees the proposed U.S. missile defenses as a threat, Russia might retaliate in some ways towards Poland or the Czech Republic, especially if U.S./Russian relations turned unusually sour. For example, President Putin indicated last year that Russia might target Poland and the Czech Republic, and threatened to deploy Russian medium-range offensive missiles in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad on the Polish border. [5]

Cost, Schedule, and Congressional Actions

Under the current administration the Department of Defense has been spending about $10 billion per year on missile defense. 

The Missile Defense Agency requested $310.4 million in FY-2008 to begin site preparation and construction of the missile defense sites in Eastern Europe, supposedly to defend Europe and the United States from missiles from Iran. The European sites are sometimes called the “Third Site,” following the first two major U.S. missile defense installations at Fort Greely in Alaska, and at Vandenberg AFB, in California.

Deployment of the Third Site systems is scheduled to begin in 2011 and to be completed by 2013 at a total cost of $4.04 billion.

While observers of U.S. defense spending may not regard this as a significant sum, for the Missile Defense Agency it represents a major commitment to the European deployment.

In the April 11, 2007, Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, referred to earlier, Brian Green, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategic Capabilities, OSD Policy, said the Third Site agreements will be executive agreements and will not require congressional approval.

Apparently the Congress does not agree. In its actions on the FY-2008 budget, the U.S. House of Representatives cut out all funds for site preparation and construction at the European sites, about $85 million. However, the House did support $42.7 million for the development of the new two-stage interceptors needed for the site in Poland.

The Senate also cut all funds for site preparation and construction.

In the same hearing, Mr. Green said that though the Administration will be consulting with NATO, the agreement on the interceptors and radar will be bilateral agreements, and require US ownership.

Senator Nelson asked Green what would happen if either European nation decided not to go forward.  Green had no answer.

The Congress understands that many Czech and Polish citizens oppose the proposal as does the government of Russia.  The Congress also has seen Russia reacting to the proposed U.S. missile defense sites so close to its borders.

Russia has announced the successful development of new ICBMs, warned that its nuclear weapons might have to be aimed at Europe, put its strategic bombers back in the air on training flights, and threatened to pull out of the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. On December 12, 2007, President Putin also announced that Russia had suspended its participation in the treaty restricting deployments of Conventional Forces (CFE) in Europe, potentially firing up the Cold War or worse.  By cutting funds for site construction in Europe, the Congress was telling President Bush that he needs to sort out this mess.

The Threat from North Korea and Iran

From its first days in office the current administration has been touting North Korea and Iran as dire threats to America. In response to the threat from those countries, as well as from other nations possessing ballistic missiles, the Pentagon wants a layered missile defense system, with interceptors launched from land, sea, from aircraft (the Airborne Laser), and from space, capable of shooting down enemy missiles of all types: short range, medium range, long range, and intercontinental ballistic missiles. Furthermore, the DOD wants the system to be capable of shooting down enemy missiles in all phases of their flight: in the boost-phase ascending, in the mid-course of flight, and in the terminal phase, coming back down.  It’s called a “layered defense.” The idea is that if one layer misses, the next layer won't, and so forth.  Pentagon briefings picture giant glass domes covering the United States, and we are meant to imagine that enemy missiles will bounce off these glass domes like hail off a windshield.  And one of those glass domes - one of those layers - is to be in space.

When discussing the proposed missile defense system for Eastern Europe, it's best to put the word "defend" in quotes.  This is because the missile defense hardware United States is deploying in Alaska and California, and is proposing to deploy in Eastern Europe, has no demonstrated capability to defend Europe, let alone the United States, from an attack by Iran (or North Korea for that matter) under realistic operational conditions.  For this reason, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency has "dumbed down" the supposed threat from Iran (and North Korea) by definition to be just one or two missiles with no decoys or countermeasures.  And yet still the MDA has not been able to demonstrate the effective capability to stop even that idealized threat under realistic operational conditions.  Seven of the 13 flight intercept tests conducted with the Ground-based Midcourse Missile Defense system have resulted in successful intercepts, but six have failed for one reason or another.  And none of those tests have been conducted without advance information about the mock attack, information that no real enemy would willingly provide. Because of the expense of these tests, and the embarrassment when one fails, the tests are conducted with enough information provided about the enemy attack to maximize the chances of success, and yet in spite of this they sometimes fail.

It is not credible that North Korea would attack the U.S., or that Iran would attack Europe, constrained to one missile with no countermeasures, and then just sit back to see what retaliation would follow.  Nor would Iran likely attack Europe, no matter how many missiles it had, but if Iran had many missiles the U.S. missile defense system could be overwhelmed.

Fortunately, since early 2007, steady progress has been made in negotiations with North Korea, and North Korea has agreed to halt their nuclear weapons programs and dismantle their nuclear weapons related facilities.

Iran's behavior on the international stage has sometimes not been helpful, and they have not consistently cooperated with the IAEA.  Nevertheless, why would Iran chose to threaten the whole of Europe?  For what purpose?

Ironically, the missile defense systems being proposed for Europe depend for their justification on Iran behaving badly from time to time.  If through creative diplomacy, undoubtedly with help from Europe, Iran and the U.S. would actually sit down together face-to-face and settle their differences, as North Korea and the U.S. have begun to do, there would be no justification for presumed-to-be-effective missile defense systems in Europe.

On January 25, 2007, MDA’s Lt. Gen. Obering, held a reporters' roundtable where reporters could ask Obering questions via conference call.


One reporter asked Obering what would be the point of the European site if the so-called Iranian threat went away, and he couldn't come up with one.  Where missile defense spending for Europe is concerned, the Pentagon has been dependent on the idea that Iran is or would soon become a threat.

The scenario behind that reporter’s question has now come true. In its latest National Intelligence Estimate released on December 3, 2007, the Director of National Intelligence reported that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program five years ago in 2003. [6]

The same question could be asked of North Korea, the threat from which of course is now in doubt because of recent diplomatic success.

The Capability of the U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense System

Some would argue that if not a realistic threat today, North Korea and Iran may become a real threat in the future. But if they do, the limitations of the administrations planned initial missile defense capability were revealed by an unusually candid admission in the MDA FY-2008 budget request, "This initial capability is not sufficient to protect the United States from the extant and anticipated rogue nation threat." [7]

This remarkable statement comes from the first sentence in the following paragraph which is worth reading in its entirety:

"Close Gaps and Improve this Capability.

This initial capability is not sufficient to protect the United States from the extant and anticipated rogue nation threat.  We therefore must close the gaps in the system and improve its capability to keep pace.  Three key elements of this effort are additional Aegis BMD sea-based interceptors, the introduction of four transportable Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) fire units consisting of radars and interceptors, and the introduction of a land- and sea-based volume kill capability (Multiple Kill Vehicle program) to address potential countermeasures.  Additionally, to ensure full coverage of the United States against threats from the Middle East, we will upgrade an Early Warning Radar in Thule, Greenland.  This radar, in conjunction with the radar at Fylingdales, UK provides the ability to track threats to the U.S. and Europe from the Middle East.  Because we must protect these radars or risk losing the “eyes” of our system, we are planning to field ground-based interceptors and an associated ground-based midcourse radar site in Europe.  This achieves four goals: protecting the foreign-based radars, improving protection of the United States by providing additional and earlier intercept opportunities; extending this protection to our allies and friends; and demonstrating international support of ballistic missile defense."

This paragraph also reveals that the MDA sees the proposed missile defenses in Europe as a first line of defense to protect existing radar sites in Greenland and the United Kingdom necessary to defend the U.S., not first and foremost to defend Europe.

And it certainly justifies the statement in the Union of Concerned Scientists report, Technical Realities, now nearly four years ago, "The ballistic missile defense system that the United States will deploy later this year will have no demonstrated defensive capability and will be ineffective against a real attack by long-range ballistic missiles."

Indeed, today the GMD system still has no demonstrated capability to defend the U.S., let alone Europe, against enemy attack under realistic operational conditions.

Eight years ago President Clinton established four criteria against which he would make a deployment decision.  The Clinton criteria, announced by the White House in December 1999, a year before he would make a decision, were:


1.  "Whether the threat is materializing;

2.  the status of the technology based on an initial series of rigorous flight tests, and the proposed system's operational effectiveness;

3.  whether the system is affordable; and

4.  The implications that going forward with NMD deployment would hold for the overall strategic environment and our arms control objectives." [8]

But at that time there had only been a very few tests, and because of failures in those tests, the missile defense system was not shown to be effective.

As a result President Clinton did not have to spend much time considering the cost or the international relations aspects of his decision to not deploy the system.  The system simply had not been shown to be effective, and that was that.

The Nitze criteria were shorter and even tougher.  During the Reagan years, Paul Nitze, the highly regarded scholar and statesman whose name graces this institution, presented three criteria that any - in those days it was SDI - missile defense system must meet before being considered for deployment.  Nitze's criteria were formally adopted as National Security Directive No. 172 on May 30, 1985.  The Nitze criteria were:


1.  “The system should be effective;

2.  Be able to survive against direct attack; and

3.  Be cost effective at the margin - that is, be less costly to increase your defense than it is for your opponent to increase their offense against it.”


The proposed U.S. missile defense system for Europe meets none of the above criteria, not the Clinton critieria and not the Nitze criteria.

In making his decision in December, 2004, to deploy the GMD system in Alaska and at Vandenberg AFB in California, President Bush appears to have had no criteria other than an ideological commitment, some might say a "Faith-based" commitment to missile defense.


But when it comes to missile defense faith is not enough.


Missile defense is the most difficult development the Pentagon has ever attempted, more difficult than any Army tank, Navy ship, high performance jet fighter or helicopter.  And those developments often take 20 years or more.  With missile defense, the United States has been trying for 40 years.

The Worldwide Threat

Beyond the proposed U.S. missile defense sites in Europe, the administration is proposing an immense build up of missile defenses around the world, citing missile proliferation as the justification.

The Pentagon isn't content without a good threat, and to justify its missile defense systems both the Pentagon and the White House have been emphasizing the worldwide threat from the proliferation of ballistic missiles.

To defend the need for missile defenses, in October 2007, the White House announced, "America faces a growing ballistic missile threat.  In 1972, just nine countries had ballistic missiles.  Today, that number has grown to 27 and it includes hostile regimes with ties to terrorists."

Similarly MDA’s Obering has a briefing that claims the threat from enemy missiles is growing and shows missiles in 20 countries.   But all but two of those 20 countries - Iran and North Korea - are either friends, allies, or countries from which we have no missile threat, e.g. Israel, India, Pakistan, Vietnam, South Korea, Moldova, Ukraine, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, etc.  

Moldova???  Yes, and recently Venezuela was added to the list.

With the exception of Russia and China, none of those 20 countries - including Iran and North Korea - have missiles that can reach the United States anyway.

Because of the number of ICBMs Russia and China have, and because they use decoys and countermeasures - the Achilles heel of missile defense - the most futuristic missile defenses we can imagine would not be dependable against the ICBMs in Russia and China.

Surely the Russian military and scientific establishment knows this.  After all, Russia has tried to develop missile defenses also and knows how truly difficult it is.  In any case, Russia has so many ICBMs it can overwhelm even the most futuristic missile defenses the United States can imagine.

That's why the US Congress shut down the Safeguard ABM system in the 1970's, just one day after it was declared operational because the Congress knew that Russia could overwhelm it.

China currently has about 20 missiles that could reach the U.S.  Some of those have countermeasures which would confound U.S. missile defense systems.  However, in response to U.S. missile defense efforts, China could decide to build up their stockpile of ICBMs to Russian levels, so that China also could overwhelm our defenses.  If China does that, U.S. missile defenses will have destabilized the international situation.

In 1999, former Secretary of Defense William Perry made what must have been an exhausting series of diplomatic trips to convince North Korea to stop developing and testing long-range missiles.  He was remarkably successful.  In fact, as news of his success reached the Pentagon, officials there joked: "There goes the threat!" The joke underscored that the most effective route in dealing with nuclear and missile proliferation threats can be through creative diplomacy, not military technology. 

Dollar for dollar, Dr. Perry was the most cost-effective missile defense system the United States ever had, and he showed that effective diplomacy is hard to beat.

Unfortunately, the Bush Administration did not sustain and support that agreement, especially that the U.S. would stop threatening North Korea, and so North Korea went back to developing long range missiles.

Now that Ambassador Christopher Hill has achieved diplomatic success with North Korea, not unlike Dr. Perry’s success eight years earlier, people in the Pentagon must be saying, "There goes the threat," once again.

If North Korea and the U.S. continue to make progress in face-to-face negotiations and in the 6-party talks, there will be no justification for the presumed-to-be-effective missile defense systems in Alaska, California, and Japan, either.

The Future of U.S./Russian cooperation

Ever since President Reagan famous “Star Wars” speech in 1983, the U.S. has been saying it wants to cooperate with Russia on missile defense but through six administrations under Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton, and Bush 43, real cooperation has not been realized.  Putin’s proposal opened up new avenues for U.S./Russian cooperation.

In any case, if Russia is not an enemy, as Bush says, he should be willing to support serious U.S/Russian cooperation.

Perhaps Russia and the United States will cooperate on missile defenses, but if they acknowledge that these missile defenses are not effective under realistic operational conditions, then the real benefit would be to show that Russia and the United States can cooperate closely on a difficult matter, not to actually defend Europe from Iran.

And if the MDA will not acknowledge that missile defenses are not effective under realistic operational conditions, pretending that U.S. missile defenses actually might work in an all-out war, then they are also pretending that those U.S. missile defenses might work against Russian missiles.  If those defenses are located where they might be effective against Russia, this is something which Russia cannot accept.

Russia has indicated strongly that it will not accept U.S. missile defenses being deployed in Eastern Europe.  Russia has threatened to pull out of the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, potentially restarting the Cold War; Russian has resumed strategic bomber training flights; Russia has threatened that it may have to aim offensive missiles at Europe; and Russia has announced the successful development of new offensive ICBMs with maneuvering Re-enetry Vehicles that U.S. missile defenses could not stop.

Russia has also said they want the U.S. to stop the deployment of attack weapons in space, which they also find threatening.

The Russian test on September 17, 2007, of the “ Father Of All Bombs,” claimed to be four times more powerful than the conventional U.S. 20,000 pound Massive Ordnance Air Burst bomb, also called the “Mother Of All Bombs,” was interpreted by many as yet another message to the U.S. that the proposed missile defenses are unacceptable.

If, as Russia claims, the FOAB is more powerful than the U.S. MOAB, then it is indeed a new technological accomplishment, with the explosive force of a small nuclear weapon.

Russia seems to be going through a new period of nationalistic expression with military accomplishments - such as those mentioned above - being the vehicle for this nationalistic expression.

Some would say that this is to impress Russian voters, more than to impress America, and secure President Putin's future should he decide to run for president again after sitting out for a term as can be done under Russian law, unlike the U.S.  Undoubtedly, President Putin would not mind if he impressed Russian voters and secured his future, but these developments are aimed more at the U.S. than at Russian voters.

Options for Europe, Poland and the Czech Republic

Given the many complications already surrounding the U.S. European missile defense proposal, the Poland or the Czech Republic could follow Canada's example.  Three years ago, Canada - surely one of America's closest allies - decided not to participate in the U.S. missile defense system.  While expressing its continuing commitment to NORAD, the Canadian government said it would not join the Pentagon's missile defense program.  Why?  Why did one of our closest partners, and neighbors, take this strong step?  Because Canadian citizens were justifiably skeptical of U.S. missile defense plans.  Canadians questioned that the United States can develop missile defenses that will be effective against enemy missiles under realistic operational conditions.  They were concerned about the costs, and they didn't want to participate in creating a new arms race in space. Canada understood correctly that U.S. missile defense represent the first wave in which the United States could introduce attack weapons into space, that is, weapons with strike capability - shooters, if you will - and Canadians did not want to contribute to that.

While the militarization of space is already a fact of life, the U.S. military relies on space satellites for military communications, for reconnaissance and sensing, for weather, and for targeting, the weaponization of space hasn't happened. There are no strike weapons deployed in space. So deciding not to deploy strike weapons in space was a practical place to draw the line, exactly what Canada did.

Another admirable example of restraint is South Korea. While sharing a border with North Korea, and always mindful of a threat from North Korea, South Korea has opted to take a very different path than Japan. In Japan, political pressures have led to a major build-up of missile defenses. Not that those missile defenses would actually defend Japan from North Korea, but Japan has found U.S. missile defense systems irresistible as a way to show Japanese voters that they are doing something about North Korea. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, Japan is in the process of deploying Patriot missile batteries, and soon THAAD missile batteries, all across the country, and supporting U.S. efforts to deploy sea-going Aegis missile ships in the Sea of Japan.

By contrast South Korea, will deploy relatively few short range and very short-range missile defenses under the Korean Air and Missile Defense command they decided to establish in late 2006. [9]

Where Japan will soon be bristling with missile defenses of questionable effectiveness, South Korea has opted to continue its Sunshine Policy of reducing tensions and building up trade and diplomatic ties with the North.


The level of debate both in America and in Europe has not been adequate to inform the public about the limitations and liabilities of missile defense.

Thanks to belated but successful negotiations with North Korea, and a new National Intelligence Estimate for Iran, there appears to be no urgent threat, and if there were U.S. missile defenses are not adequate to the task, because of the artificial constraint that an enemy would only attack with one or two missiles, and using no decoys or countermeasures.

The U.S. proposal to establish missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic has alienated Russia to a degree not seen since the height of the Cold War, and for no good purpose since the proposed U.S. system in Europe has no demonstrated capability to defend the United States, let alone Europe, under realistic operational conditions.

It is a truism that Americans and the U.S. military have a tendency to count on technological breakthroughs to solve thorny national security problems.  Europeans could hope that technology could be relied upon to solve international conflicts, too. Technology has produced some amazing advances, such as personal computers and the Internet which have changed our lives at home and at work.  But too often America relies on technology as the first, best hope to save us from our problems.  This is apparent in fields as diverse as defense, medicine, and the environment.   By appealing to a single-point technological fix, we hope we can avoid dealing with the long-term problem.  In national security, as in other fields, we use our hope for technological relief as an excuse to avoid accommodating or dealing with our adversaries – sometimes at a very high cost in political and economic terms; sometimes in dangerous self-delusion about our own military capabilities in the global environment in which we all exist.

End Notes

[1] “Rice: Russia's softening on missile defense won't alter US plans,” 
by Matthew Lee - Associated Press, USA Today and other newspapers, June 8, 2007.

[2] “Putin Expands on his Missile Defense Plan,” New York Times, July 3, 2007; “Putin Proposes Broader Cooperation on Missile Defense,” Washington Post, July 3, 2007; “Russian Experts to Visit Missile Defense Base in Alaska,” RIA Novosti, August 1, 2007.

[3] RIA Novosti, October 26, 2007

[4] “Long Range Ballistic Missile Defenses in Europe, updated July 15, 2007, Congressional Research Service, RL-34051.

[5] IBID

[6] “U.S.: Iran Halted Nuclear Weapons Program in 2003 -

Officials Say Iran Continues With Uranium Enrichment”

by Walter Pincus
, Washington Post, Monday, December 3, 2007.

[7] Missile Defense Agency FY-2008 Budget Estimates, Overview, page 5, January 31, 2007.

[8] The Quest for Missile Defenses - 1944-2003, by Richard Dean Burns and Lester H. Brune, Regina Books, Claremont California, 2003, pages 97 and 178.

[9] South Korea Takes Different Path To Japan For Missile Defense

by Martin Sieff, Washington (UPI) Dec 28, 2006.

Autor, Philip E. Coyle, III is Senior Advisor Center for Defense Information

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