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Missile Defense

NATO Fields Interceptors Without Russia

Tom Z. Collina

NATO now has an “interim capability” for its U.S.-built missile interceptor system, the alliance announced at its May 20-21 summit in Chicago, but the future of NATO-Russian cooperation on missile defense remains uncertain.

The announcement of NATO’s capability, which is part of the so-called European Phased Adaptive Approach, was expected, as was Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision not to attend the summit in protest. (See ACT, April 2012.) Russia had wanted the cooperation agreement to be worked out before NATO went ahead with the interceptor system.

When NATO leaders first endorsed U.S. missile interceptor plans for Europe in late 2010, NATO and Russia agreed to explore ways to cooperate on missile defenses. Since then, however, the two sides have been unable to agree on the specifics of that cooperation, with Moscow seeking binding assurances that the system would not undermine its security, which Washington refused to provide. Although there has been no agreement in this area, both sides say that the door to cooperation remains open.

According to a May 20 White House summary, “interim capability” means that, in a crisis, NATO could assume operational command of the U.S. missile interceptor system in Europe, currently composed of an Aegis-equipped ship with Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) IA interceptors in the Mediterranean Sea, an AN/TPY-2 radar in Turkey, and a command and control center in Germany.

The U.S. Department of Defense has been directed to transfer operational control of the radar to NATO, but SM-3-armed ships in the area would operate under NATO control only “when necessary,” the summary said. NATO designated its most senior military commander, U.S. Adm. James Stavridis, to oversee the missile defense mission, the White House said.

Future phases of the European system include increasingly capable SM-3 interceptor deployments at sea and on land in Romania (2015) and Poland (2018). The current interim capability would be followed by “initial operational capability” in 2015 and “full operational capability” in 2018, the White House said. Phase four of the system, including SM-3 IIB interceptors with some capability against long-range missiles, would be deployed in 2020.

“NATO will now have an operationally meaningful ballistic missile defense mission. It will be limited in the initial phase, but it will expand over time,” U.S. Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder said at a May 20 press briefing at the summit. “It will, as of today, provide real protection for parts of NATO Europe against ballistic missile attack,” he said. Daalder declined to specify which nations in southern Europe would be protected, explaining that “a wide variety of places” could be protected because “the ship can be moved.”

The next SM-3 interceptor to be deployed, the IB, hit its target in a May 10 test, according to the Missile Defense Agency (MDA). Last September, the system failed in its first intercept test. This interceptor would be deployed on land in Romania by 2015 and on ships at sea.

Richard Lehner, an MDA spokesman, declined to say whether the test included countermeasures such as decoys that an enemy likely would use to try to overwhelm the defense. “We don’t divulge presence of countermeasures for any missile defense tests,” he told Reuters May 10.

Moscow’s Concerns

Russia has repeatedly expressed concern that the SM-3 IIB, which is supposed to be deployed in 2020 and is still on the drawing board, could fly fast enough to threaten its intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) based in western Russia. At a May 3-4 missile defense conference in Moscow, Nikolai Makarov, chief of the general staff of the Russian armed forces, raised the possibility of delivering pre-emptive strikes against NATO missile defense systems if the alliance goes ahead with current plans. In addition, Russia tested a new ICBM on May 23 that the military said was designed to evade U.S. defenses.

In its declaration at the Chicago summit, NATO sought to reassure Russia by stating that “NATO missile defense is not directed against Russia and will not undermine Russia’s strategic deterrence capabilities.” The declaration said the allies regretted “recurrent Russian statements on possible measures directed against NATO’s missile defense system” and welcomed Russia’s willingness to continue dialogue “on the future framework for missile defense cooperation.”

In addition to the legally binding commitment that NATO missile interceptors would not be targeted at Russia, Moscow has been seeking limits on numbers, velocities, and deployment locations of SM-3 interceptors. In one of the Russian presentations at the Moscow conference, Col. Evgeny Ilyin said ship-based interceptors in the Baltic Sea or Norwegian Sea traveling at speeds greater than five kilometers per second would be “a real threat to the Russian deterrence capability.” Slower interceptors do not pose the same level of concern, Ilyin said.

House Pushes East Coast Site

Meanwhile, on May 18, the U.S. House of Representatives passed its version of the fiscal year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, which would increase spending on the U.S. Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system by $460 million above the $903 million requested by the Department of Defense. Of that additional amount, the bill would authorize $100 million to study the deployment of missile interceptors on the U.S. East Coast by late 2015. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that this new project would cost $3.6 billion over five years.

Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), the chairman of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee and the leading proponent of an East Coast site, based his position on a forthcoming report by the National Research Council, an independent advisory group to the U.S. government. However, a summary of the report states that the current West Coast interceptor system “has serious shortcomings” and would have to be completely redesigned, retested, and rebuilt before it could be installed on the East Coast, making the 2015 time frame appear unrealistic.

The main conclusions of the council’s report, called “Making Sense of Ballistic Missile Defense: An Assessment of Concepts and Systems for U.S. Boost-Phase Missile Defense in Comparison to Other Alternatives,” were made public in an April 30 letter from report co-chairs L. David Montague and Walter Slocombe to the chairman and ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee.

The United States already has one site in Alaska and one in California, with a total of 30 deployed interceptors, to handle potential future attacks from Iran and North Korea. The GMD system has not had a successful intercept test since 2008, with two failures in 2010. Neither Iran nor North Korea has yet deployed long-range missiles that could reach the United States.

The Pentagon did not request funding for an East Coast site, and on May 10, the nation’s top military officer said there was no need for a third site. The current program “is adequate and sufficient to the task,” Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a Pentagon news briefing. “So I don’t see a need beyond what we’ve submitted in the last budget.”

The Senate Armed Services Committee, in preparing its version of the fiscal 2013 defense bill, did not authorize an East Coast site.

NATO now has an “interim capability” for its U.S.-built missile interceptor system, the alliance announced at its May 20-21 summit in Chicago, but the future of NATO-Russian cooperation on missile defense remains uncertain.

ACA Senior Fellow speaks at Brookings on Missile Defense



Missile Defense: Cooperation or Contention?  Ballistic Missile Threats to NATO and U.S. Response

Prepared Remarks by Greg Thielmann, Senior Fellow, Arms Control Association
Brookings, Washington, D.C.
May 17, 2012

Now that NATO has achieved the first tangible step toward the missile defense goals it established at Lisbon, I want to take a close look at the threat that inspired it.

Missile Threat and Missile Defense Response Not New

The threat to NATO Europe and to the U.S. mainland from ballistic missile attack by hostile countries is hardly new.  It existed throughout most of the Cold War.  The U.S. twice adopted programs to provide for defense of its population from missile attack, and twice abandoned this objective.

Cost-benefit analysis showed that such defenses could be defeated by relatively inexpensive counter-measures and proliferation of warheads.  The Nixon administration also realized that limiting Soviet defenses by treaty would head off a potential threat to the credibility of the U.S. nuclear deterrent.  For three decades, the 1972 ABM Treaty limited the number and location of strategic ballistic missile defenses and prohibited deployments designed to defend the national territory.

The New Threat

There was, of course, a new ballistic missile threat that arose in the late 1990s -- from newly emerging states of proliferation concern.  At the top of our list, were North Korea, Iran, and Iraq – later dubbed “the axis of evil” by the George W. Bush administration.  The 1998 Rumsfeld Commission on the Foreign Ballistic Missile Threat had identified each country as being capable of building an ICBM within five years of a decision to do so.  A 1999 National Intelligence Estimate projected that North Korea would test an ICBM by the end of that year, and that within the next 15 years, North Korea, probably Iran, and possibly Iraq would pose an ICBM threat.

Amplified by a North Korean satellite launch attempt in 1998, these grim assessments created a political tidal wave that profoundly affected the course of U.S. strategic and arms control policies for years to come.

In the Missile Defense Act of 1999, the U.S. Congress committed the nation to “deploying an effective national missile defense system (against a limited missile attack) as soon as technologically possible.” In the wake of 9/11, President Bush secured strategic missile defense procurement and accelerated deployment.  He also announced U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty and voiced a commitment to activate strategic defenses by 2004.

In providing more than $8 billion per year over the last decade, the Congress has not challenged the dubious technological premises of the strategic missile defense program, which have been exposed in numerous studies.  (For example: by the GAO (Government Accountability Office); the National Academy of Sciences; the Defense Science Board; the Pentagon’s own Director for Operational Test and Evaluation.)

It’s all about us

For many members of the U.S. Congress, missile defenses in Europe are “all about us,” and based on an ahistorical understanding of the offense-defense relationship and a superficial analysis of actual threats.

Declining Threat

In spite of the ubiquitous rhetoric about the “growing ballistic missile threat,” the threat posed by Moscow has actually decreased dramatically from its Cold War peak and the large ballistic missile inventories of the Warsaw Pact Allies are gone.  Also gone are the fears of Iraqi nuclear-tipped ICBMs appearing by the end of this decade.  As for North Korea, it has just suffered the fourth consecutive long-range missile launch failure over a 14-year period.  It will be years before North Korea poses a direct threat to the U.S. continent – or to Europe.

And let us not forget the end of the missile threat from Libya, the only country, which ever launched a ballistic missile attack on a NATO member.


The only country that could pose a new potential missile threat to Europe in the foreseeable future is Iran.  Although it has demonstrated satellite launch capabilities, it hasn’t yet conducted any long-range missile flight tests and is not likely to have an operational ICBM before 2020.

Iran is currently concentrating on medium- and short-range missiles.  Their presumed targets would be Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, or U.S. forces in the Middle East.

Without nuclear warheads, or improved guidance systems, Iranian missiles pose a very limited threat to military bases, oil facilities, and cities in the region, and virtually no threat to specific point targets like the Israeli nuclear reactor at Dimona.  Against short- and medium-range missiles with conventional warheads, missile defenses can limit damage and casualties and, even if technically deficient, can provide a psychological boost to threatened populations.

Strategic/Non-Strategic Missile Defense Distinction

There is an important distinction between strategic and non-strategic missile defenses.  For strategic, successful intercepts are much harder; the consequences of failure much more catastrophic; and the impact on strategic arms control often fatal.

Once upon a time, Washington and Moscow took great pains to differentiate these categories.  U.S. and Russian delegations even negotiated language in an ABM Treaty protocol in 1997 demarking the boundary between the two.

For proponents of strategic missile defenses, there was a reason to blur the distinction.  Conflating “strategic” with “theater” prejudiced the ABM Treaty, obscuring the fact that most of the things we wanted to do to defend against actual rogue state missile threats were already permitted by the treaty.

Theater and Tactical Missile Defenses Beneficial

This ancient history is relevant to our discussion this morning because the tactical and theater missile defenses NATO is deploying benefit Europe without damaging arms control.  Patriots, THAADs, and SM-3 Bloc I interceptors correspond to the threat NATO faces and the potential threat on the horizon.  While some of the locations for basing these systems may be politically unpalatable to Moscow, they are not militarily threatening.

The mobile and networked anti-ICBM capabilities intended for EPAA phase 4 are another matter.  And when U.S. officials reaffirm our commitment to timely deployment of all four phases, it raises questions about whether the schedule would really be adapted to any diminution of the threat.

I’m concerned about NATO heading into a cul-de-sac with plans for achieving full coverage and protection for all NATO European populations, territory and forces.”

Historical Rhyme

This language takes me back to my days in high school.  In 1967, Secretary of Defense McNamara announced plans for building the Sentinel ABM system, to protect the U.S. population from the emerging nuclear threat of a rogue and unpredictable China.  Sentinel lasted 18 months, before being replaced by the Nixon administration’s Safeguard ABM system, oriented toward the protection of U.S. ICBM sites from counterforce attack.

Safeguard used the same interceptors and the same radars as Sentinel, but the new U.S. administration had changed the ABM mission, virtually overnight from population protection to ICBM protection, and the target set from a small number of unsophisticated future Chinese missiles to the enormous ICBM/SLBM arsenal of the superpower Soviet Union.

Now fast forward.  The Republican candidate in our current presidential race, who opposed the New START treaty and still regards it as a mistake, has just asserted that Russia is “without question, our number one geopolitical foe.”  Senator Kyl, the GOP’s leading spokesman on strategic issues said this week that: “The Obama administration should make no pledge that would pre-empt a U.S.-led shield capable of thwarting any missile ‘that might be launched at us,’ not just an accidental launch or one from a nation like Iran or North Korea.”

We have another potential change in administrations coming.  How should Moscow evaluate U.S. assurances on missile defense in Europe?

With that rhetorical question hanging, I will yield the mic to David [Hoffman].


Prepared remarks by ACA Senior Fellow Greg Thielmann at Brookings on May 17, 2012 on "Missile Defense: Cooperation or Contention?  Ballistic Missile Threats to NATO and U.S. Response."

Subject Resources:

Experts Available to Comment on NATO Nuclear Policy Review, Tactical Nuclear Arms Control



For Immediate Release: May 14, 2012

(Washington, D.C.) At the May 20-21 NATO summit in Chicago, the alliance is expected to approve and release its Deterrence and Defense Posture Review (DDPR) report. The DDPR was launched following the previous NATO summit to determine the proper mix of nuclear, conventional and missile defense assets for the alliance.

Unfortunately, the DDPR report will not directly lead to changes in the deployment of some 180 U.S. nuclear gravity bombs in five European NATO countries. Senior U.S. officials have stated that "whatever military mission" tactical nuclear weapons serve "could of course also be accomplished through the use of systems that are not tactical systems based in Europe."

However, the DDPR may provide some refinement of NATO's policy for when and why those nuclear weapons might be used, outline concepts for working with Russia to account for U.S. and Russian tactical bombs left over from the Cold War, and establish a body for future NATO deliberations on arms control. The document has been described by one official familiar with the deliberations as the foundation for change, but not the change itself.

Arms Control Association and other NGO experts will be available to comment on these and other issues:

Daryl G. Kimball
, ACA Executive Director (202) 463-8270 x107

Oliver Meier
, ACA International Representative (in Berlin) +49-171-359-2410

Paul Ingram
, Executive Director, British American Security Information Council +44-790-870-8175

Additional Resources:

"The NATO Summit: Recasting the Debate Over U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Europe", by Oliver Meier and Paul Ingram, Arms Control Today, May 2012.

"NATO's DDPR: What to Expect and What Needs to Be Done After the Chicago Summit," by Paul Ingram and Oliver Meier, ArmsControlNow, May 3, 2012.

"NATO's Incredible Nuclear Strategy: Why U.S. Weapons in Europe Deter No One,"by Edmund Seay (former principal arms control adviser to the U.S. Ambassador to NATO from 2009 to 2011), Arms Control Today, November 2011.

"Strategic Choices on Tactical Weapons," Daryl G. Kimball, editorial, Arms Control Today, November 2011.





The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the threats posed by the world's most dangerous weapons.


(Washington, D.C.) At the May 20-21 NATO summit in Chicago, the alliance is expected to approve and release its Deterrence and Defense Posture Review (DDPR) report. The DDPR was launched following the previous NATO summit to determine the proper mix of nuclear, conventional and missile defense assets for the alliance.

Reports Raise Missile Defense Concerns

Tom Z. Collina

As the Obama administration moves ahead with its missile defense plans in Europe, the Middle East, and the Asia-Pacific region, questions are being raised about the military effectiveness of planned missile interceptors and sensors, such as the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) system deployed on Navy ships.

In particular, three recent reports point to concerns about the Department of Defense’s high-risk acquisition strategy, shortcomings of the system’s radar, and the system’s inability to discriminate real warheads from fakes.

In September 2009, the Obama administration announced its plan for missile defense in Europe, called the Phased Adaptive Approach, and NATO is expected to announce at its May 20-21 summit in Chicago that the first phase of the system has established an “interim capability” involving SM-3 IA interceptors deployed on an Aegis-equipped cruiser in the Mediterranean Sea and a radar in Turkey. (See ACT, April 2012)

One of the most significant challenges to a successful intercept of a target warhead in outer space, known as midcourse intercept, is that the attacker can add numerous decoys or other countermeasures to confuse and overwhelm the defense. If the defense cannot distinguish a real warhead from a fake, then it must shoot interceptors at all of them. Interceptor missiles would be in limited supply and are much more expensive to produce than decoys.

The Defense Science Board, an advisory group to the Pentagon, addressed this issue in a little-noticed September 2011 report, saying that “the importance of achieving reliable midcourse discrimination cannot be overemphasized.” Missile defense is “predicated on the ability to discriminate” real warheads from other targets, “such as rocket bodies, miscellaneous hardware, and intentional countermeasures,” the report said.

One way to pre-empt this challenge is for the defense to try to intercept a target missile before it has released its warhead and decoys. Intercepting missiles in their boost phase, while the rocket booster is still firing, is “currently not feasible,” according to the report. Instead, the report considers “early intercept,” defined as the interval between boost and warhead release. That phase, according to the report, lasts about 100 seconds.

The report concludes that early intercept “requires Herculean effort and is not realistically achievable, even under the most optimistic set of deployment, sensor capability, and missile technology assumptions.” The main problem is that defensive missiles would not be able to reach the target quickly enough. “[I]n most cases 100 seconds is too late” to prevent the release of decoys, the report found, and “intercepts would have to be achieved well inside this timeline.”

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) responded to the report in November, saying that the early-intercept phase actually would last about 500 seconds and that the report ignored the benefits of forcing an adversary to deploy countermeasures earlier than “their optimum deployment timeline.”

‘Shooting at Missile Junk’

The Defense Science Board report goes on to say, “If the defense should find itself in a situation where it is shooting at missile junk or decoys, the impact on the regional interceptor inventory would be dramatic and devastating!” If the defense cannot prevent the release of decoys, it must be able to distinguish real targets from fakes. However, according to the report, “discrimination in the exo-atmosphere [i.e., space] is still not a completely solved problem.”

J. Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon’s director of operational testing, seemed to confirm that point when he testified before the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee on March 6 that “complete quantitative assessments” of the SM-3 system, the centerpiece of U.S. plans for Europe and other regions, “are still a number of years away.” The last test of the SM-3 IB missile, in September 2011, failed against a simple target with no decoys.

Gilmore testified before the same subcommittee last year that the closest the MDA has come to conducting a test against decoys was the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system test in December 2008, which was labeled FTG-05. “Although simple countermeasures were planned for FTG-05,” he said, “a malfunction prevented deployment.” The next two tests, FTG-06 and FTG-06a, successfully deployed simple countermeasures; but the “kill vehicles malfunctioned before they could complete their intercepts in the countermeasures environments,” he said. Both the GMD and the SM-3 systems are designed to intercept targets in space.

MDA spokesman Rick Lehner told the Associated Press on April 21 that identifying warheads is a difficult task but the current technology is adequate to address the threat from “rogue nations” and will improve over time.

Buying Before Flying

In an April report focusing on a different aspect of the missile defense effort, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which produces nonpartisan reports for Congress, found that the MDA undertakes “highly concurrent acquisitions,” meaning the agency often has started to produce key hardware before “critical technologies were fully understood” and before it completed flight tests to verify performance.

For example, the GAO found that, in order to meet “challenging deadlines” such as the 2015 target date for SM-3 IB missile interceptor deployment in Europe, the MDA is planning to buy additional SM-3 IBs in 2012 before the cause of the September 2011 flight-test failure has been confirmed. This practice can result in “performance shortfalls, unexpected cost increases, schedule delays, and test problems,” the GAO found.

Another GAO report, released in January, found that a planned sea-based radar upgrade that is central to the regional missile defense approach is not powerful enough to meet program needs, but the planned next generation of Arleigh Burke-class destroyers cannot accommodate a larger radar without substantial redesign. The GAO found that depending on the extent of the redesign, “the Navy may need at least $4.2 billion to $11.4 billion more” than the current estimate of $60 billion to procure the new ships with the new radar, called the Air and Missile Defense Radar. The Navy plans to start buying the new radars and ships in fiscal year 2016.

As the Obama administration moves ahead with its missile defense plans in Europe, the Middle East, and the Asia-Pacific region, questions are being raised about the military effectiveness of planned missile interceptors and sensors, such as the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) system deployed on Navy ships.

U.S. Pushes Missile Defense in Mideast

Tom Z. Collina

As part of a broader U.S. effort to focus on Middle Eastern security, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said March 31 that “it is a U.S. priority” to help Persian Gulf states build regional missile interceptor systems to counter missiles from Iran.

Speaking in Saudi Arabia at a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) forum, Clinton said the United States believes “strongly” that “we can do even more to defend the Gulf through cooperation on ballistic missile defenses.” The Department of Defense had announced the broader Middle Eastern security effort in January as part of a new guidance document, “U.S. Priorities for 21st Century Defense.”

According to the 2010 “Ballistic Missile Defense Review Report,” the Obama administration is pursuing missile defense plans in particular regions, such as Europe, called the Phased Adaptive Approach. In that case, the United States is spending billions of dollars to deploy an array of missile interceptor systems, such as the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) interceptor based on Aegis-equipped ships at sea and at two land-based sites in Romania and Poland, in four phases through 2020. NATO is expected to announce at its May 20-21 summit in Chicago that the first phase of the system has established an “interim capability.” (See ACT, April 2012)

The Asia-Pacific region and the Middle East will be among the regions of focus for U.S. missile defense efforts, according to the January Defense Department document. In contrast to U.S. missile defense cooperation with NATO, it does not appear that the United States is offering to pay for land-based missile interceptor deployments or, so far, long-term sea-based deployments in these regions.

In the Middle East, the United States is focused on selling its missile interceptor systems to Gulf states. A number of states in the region already deploy U.S.-supplied Patriot short-range missile interceptors and are considering buying longer-range systems under the U.S. Foreign Military Sales program, administration officials have said.

On Dec. 25, 2011, for example, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) became the first country to buy the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense intermediate-range interceptor system, for $3.5 billion. Buying from the United States ensures “interoperability” with U.S. forces and highlights the “strong ties” between the United States and the UAE, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance Frank A. Rose said April 12 at a missile defense symposium in Abu Dhabi.

As more Gulf states buy U.S. missile interceptor systems, Rose said, the United States will “work to promote interoperability and information sharing” among those states. This aspect of the plan is similar to the one for Europe, where NATO is integrating the new, U.S.-supplied interceptor systems with existing NATO short-range interceptors and sensors.

In the future, as the United States deploys additional Navy ships with SM-3 interceptors, it could assign some of those ships to the Gulf. According to Rose, U.S. mobile systems “can be relocated to adapt to a changing threat, or provide surge defense capabilities where they are needed most.”

In Asia, Japan has purchased U.S. Aegis-equipped ships with SM-3 interceptors, Patriot interceptors, early-warning radars, and command and control systems. The United States and Japan are co-developing the SM-3 IIA missile, which would be deployed in phase 3 of the NATO system. Rose said the United States “stands ready” to work with South Korea on missile defense, “recognizing the North Korean missile threat.”

As part of a broader U.S. effort to focus on Middle Eastern security, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said March 31 that “it is a U.S. priority” to help Persian Gulf states build regional missile interceptor systems to counter missiles from Iran.

East Coast Missile Defense? First, Solve the Decoy Problem

By Tom Z. Collina As the House Armed Services Committee marks up its version of the fiscal 2013 defense authorization bill, some strange proposals are emerging. Perhaps the oddest, from Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), chair of the strategic forces subcommittee, is to build another ground-based missile defense (GMD) site on the east coast by 2015 . But wait. The United States already has two GMD sites on the west coast, with 30 interceptors deployed in California and Alaska, to handle an attack from North Korea. And the Obama administration is building another interceptor system in Europe, known...

NATO to Declare Missile System Ready

Tom Z. Collina

NATO allies plan to announce at their May 20-21 summit in Chicago that the European missile interceptor system has reached an “interim capability,” a senior U.S. official said on March 26.

Meanwhile, Russian officials said in March that President-elect Vladimir Putin is not expected to attend the summit because a year-long effort to reach agreement on NATO-Russian missile defense cooperation has not succeeded.

Speaking at a Washington, D.C., missile defense conference, the U.S. official, Department of State Special Envoy for Strategic Stability and Missile Defense Ellen Tauscher, said that the Aegis-equipped ship USS Vella Gulf “is providing our at-sea Phase 1 missile defense presence” along with the AN/TPY-2 radar in Turkey. “We expect NATO to announce that it has achieved an ‘interim capability,’” she said, according to a text of her remarks released by the State Department. “That basically means that Allies will start operating under the same playbook.” Although a Navy ship and the radar have been deployed for months, this would mark their integration with NATO’s existing systems. (See ACT, November 2010.)

The European missile interceptor program is being deployed in phases. The first phase is now operating, with ship-based Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) interceptors in the Mediterranean Sea and a tracking radar in Turkey. Subsequent phases include the stationing of land-based SM-3s of increasing capability and number in Romania (2015) and Poland (2018) and the 2020 deployment of the SM-3 IIB, which is advertised to have some capability against long-range ballistic missiles.

NATO and Russia agreed at the alliance’s Lisbon summit in November 2010 to seek ways to cooperate on a Europe-wide missile interceptor system, such as by sharing information on missile threats. Russian leaders, however, are concerned that the latter phases of the system would have the ability to intercept Moscow’s long-range missiles, possibly undermining its nuclear deterrent. Russia has asked for a legally binding agreement that would prevent the United States from aiming its interceptors at Moscow’s offensive missiles. The United States has refused, and no cooperation agreement has been reached.

Last November, Moscow openly threatened to boycott the NATO summit and take other retaliatory measures, such as deploying short-range missiles in its Kaliningrad enclave to destroy NATO interceptors and withdrawing from the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). U.S. and NATO officials said their plans to deploy a missile interceptor system in Europe under the Phased Adaptive Approach would proceed regardless of Moscow’s concerns. (See ACT, January/February 2012.)

U.S. Rejects Limits

In her remarks at the missile defense conference, Tauscher said that Russia has “raised the issue of a legal guarantee with a set of ‘military-technical criteria’ that could, in effect, create limitations on our ability to develop and deploy future missile defense systems.” She said that Moscow wants “a piece of paper they can point to when a U.S. ship enters certain waters or when an interceptor has a certain speed.”

Tauscher said the United States could not “accept limitations on where we deploy our Aegis ships,” as they are used for a variety of missions around the world in addition to missile defense. “We also will not accept limitations on the capabilities and numbers of our missile defense systems,” she said.

Tauscher said the United States would agree to a political statement that “our missile defenses are not directed at Russia.” She also said that building cooperation with Russia may require the United States to be more transparent about its missile interceptor systems. Responding to congressional criticisms that the administration might provide classified information to Moscow, Tauscher said that the United States “would not give away ‘hit to kill technology,’ telemetry, or any other types of information that would compromise our national security.”

The United States has offered Russia the opportunity to view ship-based SM-3 flight tests in international waters, giving Moscow the time of launch of the target, which is typically provided to the public. Such transparency would be a good first step with Russia, “allowing them to see for themselves, what we are saying about our system is accurate,” said Tauscher, who led a U.S. delegation to Moscow on March 13.

Putin, who currently is prime minister, is to be sworn in as president on May 7. He will travel to the United States 11 days later to attend the Group of Eight summit at Camp David, but does not plan to go to the NATO summit that takes place immediately afterward in Chicago, the Interfax news agency reported March 23.

Open Mic Slip

There had been speculation that Putin’s March victory in Russia’s presidential election might increase the odds that Moscow would agree to cooperate with the United States on the European missile interceptor system. Similarly, there is speculation that Obama might be more open to compromise after the U.S. elections in November. Obama turned speculation into controversy March 26 at the nuclear security summit in Seoul when a private conversation with outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was caught on a live microphone.

Obama said that the missile defense situation “can be solved” but that it would be important for Putin, once in office, to give him “space.” “This is my last election,” Obama said, adding, “After my election, I have more flexibility.”

After Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said the incident was “an alarming and troubling development,” Obama told reporters March 27 that he meant that the current political environment is not conducive to bipartisan compromise. “The only way I get this stuff done is if I’m consulting with the Pentagon, with Congress, if I’ve got bipartisan support, and frankly, the current environment is not conducive to those kinds of thoughtful consultations,” Obama said.

NATO allies plan to announce at their May 20-21 summit in Chicago that the European missile interceptor system has reached an “interim capability,” a senior U.S. official said on March 26.

Op-Ed: U.S. should cut nuclear stockpile



By Daryl G. Kimball and Dr. Ira Helfand

The following piece was originally published at Newsday on March 29, 2012.

This week at an international nuclear security summit in South Korea, President Barack Obama's private request to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for "space" on his proposal for cooperation on missile defense was overheard from a live microphone and grabbed the headlines.

The president's public remarks on the nuclear threat, however, were far more noteworthy. "The massive nuclear arsenal we inherited from the Cold War is poorly suited to today's threats, including nuclear terrorism," he told those in attendance. He announced that the administration is reviewing U.S. nuclear strategy and declared that we can "already say with confidence that we have more nuclear weapons than we need."

Now, Obama should put his words into action by discarding outdated nuclear war planning assumptions and opening the way toward deeper reductions in obsolete Cold War arsenals.

Changes are in order. The current size of both the U.S. and Russian arsenals -- and the fleet missiles, submarines, and bombers that carry them -- far exceeds what is necessary to deter nuclear attack. Both sides can and should go much lower.

Even under the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the United States and Russia can each deploy 1,550 strategic nuclear weapons on as many as 700 missiles and bombers until 2021 or beyond. Thousands of additional warheads are in reserve. Unless they adjust their thinking, both countries will spend hundreds of billions of dollars to modernize and maintain similar nuclear force levels for decades to come.

Obama shouldn't settle for marginal adjustments. Given that no other country deploys more than 300 nuclear weapons -- China possesses just 40 to 50 warheads on intercontinental-range missiles -- he should implement a significant reduction of the U.S. nuclear stockpile to just a few hundred deployed warheads.

During the Cold War, the United States and Russia amassed huge stockpiles to "prevail" in a protracted nuclear war. But such a conflict is extremely unlikely today -- and the size of the nuclear force required to deter an attack is also far smaller. Joseph Stalin or Mao Zedong might have been willing to sacrifice tens of millions of their countrymen in a nuclear exchange, but Vladimir Putin andHu Jintao are not.

Speaking of the United States and the Soviet Union in his 1984 State of the Union address, President Ronald Reagan said, "The only value in our two nations possessing nuclear weapons is to make sure they will never be used. But then would it not be better to do away with them entirely?"

Until we eliminate nuclear weapons altogether, the United States can deter a nuclear attack with a smaller, but still lethal force of 500 or fewer strategic warheads.

A reliable and credible U.S. nuclear deterrent doesn't require immediate retaliation capabilities, but only the assurance that U.S. nuclear forces would survive a nuclear attack. As Obama correctly said in 2008, this requirement for prompt launch is "a dangerous relic of the Cold War. Such policies increase the risk of catastrophic accidents." He should eliminate the prompt launch requirement, which requires U.S. strategic nuclear forces to be prepared to retaliate in response to a nuclear attack immediately.

By discarding outdated nuclear thinking, the president can open the way for lower U.S.-Russian force levels, either through a new treaty or reciprocal and parallel cuts. The reductions would also enhance prospects for nuclear reductions involving other nuclear-armed states. And that would bring the ultimate goal -- the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons -- closer to reality.


Dr. Ira Helfand is the North American vice president of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, the organization that recieved the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize. Daryl G. Kimball is executive director of the independent Arms Control Association in Washington.


This week at an international nuclear security summit in South Korea, President Barack Obama's private request to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for "space" on his proposal for cooperation on missile defense was overheard from a live microphone and grabbed the headlines.

Reality Check: Nuclear Weapons Spending and New START



Volume 3, Issue 4, March 19, 2012

In recent weeks, a handful of Congressional Republicans have charged that the Obama administration and the Defense Department are failing to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal and weapons production complex "as promised" in 2010 during consideration of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).

A March 12 Senate Republican Policy Committee paper claims, for example, that the President's FY2013 budget request "broke his promise by significantly underfunding nuclear modernization."

In addition, some House Republicans are threatening to block the implementation of New START through legislation such as H.R. 4178, introduced March 8 by Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee.

Such approaches ignore key facts and, if adopted, would harm U.S. national security interests.

Only In Washington Is More Considered Less

Assertions about "failing to meet funding commitments" ignore the reality that spending for nuclear weapons maintenance and infrastructure programs has increased significantly under Obama's watch.

Actual funding for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)'s nuclear weapons complex has increased by 13% since 2009. The administration's $7.6 billion FY2013 request would boost NNSA weapons programs funding even more-by 5% over last year's appropriation of $7.2 billion-even as other federal program budgets are being downsized.

The critics base their arguments on the fact that the exact funding levels projected in 2010 for NNSA nuclear weapons activities do not match those in the President's FY2013 budget request. As Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said at a March 14 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing: "I don't know exactly what the amount of money [is that] we need.  But the amount that was committed [in 2010] is not provided for in this budget."

That is the wrong metric to use. What really matters is whether the resources are adequate for the stockpile stewardship activities that maintain the effectiveness of the existing U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile. At well over $7 billion per year, the nuclear weapons labs have more than enough to get the job done.

Congress, Not the White House, Appropriates

Congressional critics of the administration's nuclear weapons and arms control strategy also conveniently ignore the fact that it was Congress that decided not to approve the administration's full budget request for higher funding for NNSA weapons work.

In fact, it was the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee that refused to fully fund the administration's nuclear weapons request in the FY2012 budget. Although the committee increased the NNSA weapons activities budget over the previous year, the appropriations bill allocation for fiscal 2012 is $500 million less than the Obama administration's whopping $7.6 billion request.

Budget Control Act Changes Everything

In addition, between the 2010 New START debate and the FY2013 budget request, Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress passed the bipartisan Budget Control Act, which dramatically altered the fiscal environment and forced both sides to reexamine their funding priorities and commitments.

The Pentagon and NNSA are now planning to reduce budget growth by $487 billion in "050" defense-related spending over the next decade, and this cut may double if the current law requiring "sequestration" is not changed before January 2013.

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said at the March 14 hearing that since the New START debate took place "nine months before the Budget Control Act became law, falling 4 percent short of the [2010-derived] target is reasonable given the fiscal reality facing us today."

In this fiscal context, the administration had little choice but to adjust its defense spending projections, as it did in many budget areas. Rather than asking "has the budget changed," the right question is "does the new the budget achieve the mission?" The answer is yes.

The bottom line is that small changes in the defense budget, as mandated by the Budget Control Act, do not alter the fact that the administration is meeting its commitments to the Senate under New START. Planned defense spending for nuclear weapons modernization is more than adequate. Claims to the contrary are incorrect.

The Nuclear Weapons Complex Budget Has Increased Significantly

As required by the Senate's December 22, 2010 Resolution of Advice and Consent to Ratification of New START, the President certified to the Senate on Feb. 2, 2011 that he would:

"...accelerate, to the extent possible, the design and engineering phase of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) building and the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF)..." and request full funding for these facilities upon completion of their design and engineering phase. (Emphasis added.)

The FY2013 budget request for NNSA contains no funding for the CMRR, to be built at Los Alamos National Lab in New Mexico, and deferred work for at least five years. The House Appropriations energy and water subcommittee cut CMRR by $100 million, or 33 percent, as part of the FY2012 budget process, indicating bipartisan concern about the need for CMRR.

With total cost estimates of $6 billion for CMRR and $6.5 billion for UPF, and given current NNSA budget realities, it is simply not possible to build both of these facilities at the same time. The delay of CMRR is a reasonable response to tight budgets given that other NNSA facilities have "inherent capacity" to support ongoing and future plutonium activities, according to NNSA.

As a result, the CMRR deferral will not compromise NNSA's ability to maintain the nuclear stockpile. In addition, the delay allows NNSA to prioritize construction of UPF at the Y-12 Plant in Tennessee, which would be funded at $340 million in FY2013, a $180 million increase over FY2012.

Moreover, NNSA's FY2013 request for weapons activities is $7.6 billion, an increase of $363 million or five percent above enacted FY2012, and $1.2 billion more than FY2010. Historically, this funding level is higher than at any time since the Cold War.

When asked at a February congressional hearing if the FY2013 budget request fully meets the requirements to maintain the nuclear stockpile, NNSA Administrator Thomas D'Agostino said: "...it absolutely does, fully meets the requirements, and we'll be able to take care of the stockpile... So the stockpile is safe, secure, and reliable."

Nuclear Weapons Delivery Systems Are Being Modernized

The Defense Department is also modernizing U.S. nuclear delivery systems, and there is no basis for claims to the contrary.

As also required by the New START Resolution of Advice and Consent, the President certified to the Senate on Feb. 2, 2011 that he would:

"...modernize or replace the triad of strategic nuclear delivery systems: a heavy bomber and air-launched cruise missile, an [Intercontinental Ballistic Missile or ICBM], and a nuclear power-ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) and [Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile or SLBM]..." (Emphasis added.)

It is important to note that the President's commitment does not specify that weapon systems have to be replaced (as opposed to modernized), nor does it specify funding levels, numbers of systems, or production schedules.

As then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stated in 2010, "The studies and development programs for these [nuclear delivery] systems will consider a range of possible options, with the objective of defining a cost-effective approach that supports continued reductions in U.S. nuclear weapons while promoting stable deterrence."

The Pentagon's FY2013 budget request includes:

  • New Bomber: $292 million for a new long-range bomber ($6.3 billion over five years), with plans to produce 80-100 planes at $550 million each starting in the mid-2020s. The existing fleet of 91 B-52 and 20 B-2 nuclear-capable bombers is expected to stay in service into the 2040s and beyond (2058 for the B-2), and is being upgraded at a cost of $4 billion over the next five years.
  • New Cruise Missile: $2 million to study a new air-launched cruise missile.
  • New ICBM: $11.6 million to study a new ICBM; the current force of 450 Minuteman III ICBMs will remain in service through 2030 or longer.
  • New Submarine: $565 million for a new strategic submarine, the SSBN-X, to replace the current 14 Ohio-class subs starting in 2031. The current sub fleet will stay in service through 2040. The FY2013 budget would defer first procurement of the SSBN-X by two years, a reasonable response to budget pressures that will not adversely affect U.S. security, saving $4.3 billion over five years. The existing D-5 SLBM would be maintained into the 2040s.

At over $6 billion per boat and a total life-cycle cost of almost $350 billion for a fleet of 12, concern about the cost of the SSBN-X is shared across party lines. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said March 15 that, "We are getting to a point where more than half of the Navy's total shipbuilding budget will be required to build extraordinarily expensive nuclear submarines. I am worried that funding needed to modernize the surface fleet is being crowded out..."

As former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright's said in July 2011 "... we have to recapitalize all three legs [of the nuclear triad], and we don't have the money to do it." Some on the Hill may share Cartwright's concern, but there is no basis to claim that the administration is breaking promises on delivery systems made in the context of New START, and no reason to jeopardize New START implementation by tying it to unsustainable spending levels outlined two years ago.

The Obama administration remains committed to maintaining a formidable mix of U.S. nuclear weapons delivery systems (submarines, bombers and missiles) in the years ahead, though the ultimate size and cost of that force can and should be reduced given that the current force is based on outdated "requirements" for deterrence and nuclear war fighting developed more than a decade ago.

New START Resolution of Approval Provides the Path Forward

The New START Resolution of Advice and Consent declared a "sense of the Senate" that the United States is committed to providing the resources needed to maintain the weapons production complex at the levels "set forth in the President's 10-year plan provided to the Congress pursuant to section 1251 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 (Public Law 111-84)," otherwise know as the 1251 report.

Just in case Congress did not provide sufficient resources in the future, the Resolution of Advice and Consent states that the President shall submit a report detailing how the administration would address the resource shortfall; the proposed level of funding required; the impact of the shortfall on the safety, reliability, and performance of U.S. nuclear forces; and whether "it remains in the national interest of the United States to remain a Party to the New START Treaty."

It is the responsibility of Congress to fund programs, and Congress did not fully fund the administration's request for 1251 report activities in FY2012, nor is it likely to do so in FY2013. It is now up to the administration to submit the required report on how to deal with the shortfall and whether to remain a party to New START.

New START Still In U.S. Interests

New START remains in the U.S. national interest because the treaty reduces the threat to the United States from Russian nuclear forces, and the administration has managed to reduce its funding request for FY2013 while still achieving its goal of modernizing the nuclear arsenal and production complex.

Some congressional Republicans, by contrast, would like to increase spending on nuclear weapons at the expense of other, higher priorities for national defense. Where exactly would the Senate Republican Policy Committee like the nuclear weapons budget increases to come from? Troop pay, body armor, or ammunition? They do not say. But given the budget crunch, these trade-offs cannot be avoided.

Furthermore, the idea that implementation of New START should be frozen unless every dollar is appropriated by Congress for an outdated budget plan defies common sense and the bipartisan will of 71 Senators who voted to approve ratification of New START.

Bottom Line

Nuclear weapons are simply not the security priority they once were. It is in the U.S. national security interest to verifiably reduce excess, Cold War U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals. As the Pentagon's January 2012 strategy document "Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense" clearly says: "It is possible that our deterrence goals can be achieved with a smaller nuclear force, which would reduce the number of nuclear weapons in our inventory as well as their role in U.S. national security strategy."

The major threats the United States faces today, such as proliferation, terrorism or cyber attacks, cannot be addressed by nuclear arms. Rather than asking American taxpayers to cough up yet more money for yesterday's weapons, Congress needs to focus on more cost-effective solutions that address the nation's future defense needs.--Tom Z. Collina and Daryl G. Kimball



The Arms Control Association (ACA) is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. ACA publishes the monthly journal, Arms Control Today


Volume 3, Issue 4, March 19, 2012

In recent weeks, a handful of Congressional Republicans have charged that the Obama administration and the Defense Department are failing to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal and weapons production complex "as promised" in 2010 during consideration of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).

ACA Senior Fellow speaks about Territorial Missile Defense at Paris Conference



Territorial Missile Defense and
Reassurance of Flank States

Prepared Remarks by Greg Thielmann, Senior Fellow, Arms Control Association

“NATO’s Future Deterrence Posture: What Can Nuclear Weapons Contribute?”
Paris, France
March 6, 2012

The Lisbon Summit Declaration of November 2010 included a decision “to develop a NATO missile defence capability to provide full coverage and protection for all NATO European populations, territory and forces…”  And it invited Russian cooperation in this task.  The stated target of these systems was “the increasing threats posed by the proliferation of ballistic missiles.”

Evolution of U.S. Missile Defense Objectives

I am going to begin with some blunt talk about the achievability of territorial defense against ballistic missile attack, based on the American experience.  The United States has, at various points, vigorously pursued such defenses.

Missile defense was first directed against Soviet attack; then it was reoriented as a defense against a much smaller Chinese attack; then population defense was dropped, in favor of defending ICBM fields.  The U.S.-Soviet ABM Treaty, signed in 1972, limited the number and location of such defenses and specifically prohibited deployments designed to provide defense of the national territory.   Although the U.S. “Safeguard” strategic missile defense system was compliant with that treaty, it was scrapped for cost-effectiveness reasons only nine months after becoming operational.

During his two terms as president, Ronald Reagan revived America’s interest in missile defense with his dream of “rendering ballistic missiles impotent and obsolete.”   Reagan launched his “Strategic Defense Initiative” in 1983 and promised the exploitation of new technologies, including the use of exotic space-based weapons.

His administration buttressed its case for the weapons by pointing to Soviet violations of the ABM Treaty and by portraying Soviet missile defense research and development efforts as evidence that the Soviets were themselves preparing to break out of the treaty.

Soviet Missile Defenses

For their part, the Soviets had long sought to defend their capital and national leadership against U.S. air attack – targeting first bombers, and later ballistic missiles.  In the 1960s, they began deploying a ring of strategic missile interceptors with nuclear warheads around Moscow.  Yet they never succeeded in creating a reliable and effective missile defense; U.S. warheads and the options for countermeasures were too numerous and the radars on which the Moscow system relied too vulnerable.  The Reagan administration’s depiction of Soviet R&D development efforts on energy weapons turned out to be greatly exaggerated.  Moreover, when the Soviets were caught building the Krasnoyarsk radar – a major, albeit technical, treaty violation – they were ultimately forced to dismantle it.

A vestige of Moscow’s ABM system remains to this day, but the Russian Federation is now far behind in strategic missile defense technology and harbors few illusions about the feasibility of territorial defense against ballistic missile attack.

America Keeping the Faith

Not so the United States.  America retains its faith-based approach to strategic missile defense.  Having invested well over $100 billion since Reagan launched what critics dubbed “Star Wars,” total expenditures for missile defenses over the last decade have been running roughly $10 billion per year, even though the stated mission objective is now confined to dealing with “simple” ballistic threats from newly emerging, nuclear weapons states.  The Reagan era program was downgraded under the presidencies of the elder George (H.W.) Bush, and Bill Clinton, who limited yearly expenditures to around $1 billion.

But an alarmist report by the Rumsfeld Commission on ballistic missile threats in 1998 and an attempted satellite launch by North Korea using a three-staged rocket a few months later had a huge impact on public and congressional perceptions.  By March 1999, the U.S. Congress had passed a bill by large margins in both houses, declaring it to be the policy of the United States “to deploy as soon as is technologically possible an effective National Missile Defense system capable of defending the territory of the United States against limited ballistic missile attack.”  Three consecutive U.S. presidents have now embraced this policy.

In the year 2000, President Clinton judged the technology not sufficiently ripe for deployment, but that turned out to be merely a bump in the road toward implementation of a territorial missile defense policy.  Ready or not, the new administration of George W. Bush wasted no time in withdrawing from the ABM Treaty and deploying the first strategic missile defense interceptors in Alaska and California by the fall of 2004.

It is important to note that the threat against which these strategic missile defenses were developed has not materialized.  The Rumsfeld Commission predicted that Iraq, North Korea, and Iran could each have ICBMs by 2003, but nine years later, none of them do.

Where are the ICBMs? -- In Russia and China, of course!

Not in Iraq.  Saddam’s ballistic missile threat had already been cut short by the First Gulf War.  Even before the March 2003 invasion, Saddam was being forced to destroy the most capable ballistic missiles left in his inventory – the short-range  al-Samouds.

Not in North Korea.  The DPRK has conducted two flight tests of the Taepo Dong 2 ICBM class system.  The first flight in 2006 failed shortly after launch.  An attempt to launch a satellite with the same booster rockets failed in 2009.  Last week, North Korea announced agreement to a moratorium on further long-range missile launches.

Not in Iran. The Islamic Republic has not yet conducted any flight tests of an ICBM.  Senior U.S. military officials have indicated Iran is currently concentrating on development and deployment of medium-range ballistic missiles with ranges of roughly 2,000 km.  Iran’s last MRBM test occurred more than one year ago.

Current ballistic missile threats from hostile proliferants come not from long-range systems, but from those with ranges below 3,000 km.  Theater ballistic missile defenses are potentially useful against such shorter-range missiles topped with high explosives – to mitigate losses to civilian populations, military forces, and infrastructure – but they do not affect the strategic balance.

Opportunity Costs

Unfortunately, U.S. determination to protect the option of deploying strategic ballistic missile defenses of the national territory, has not only diverted attention from acute threats to U.S. forces and regional allies, it has also carried heavy opportunity costs.  The United States missed two chances to negotiate significant cuts in strategic offensive arms – with the Soviet Union at Reykjavik in 1987 and, with Russia in the late 1990s during efforts to bring START II into effect.  Depending on how we handle missile defenses in the months ahead, we may be on the verge of missing a third chance.

I’ve tried to be frank in describing the nature of the ballistic missile threat we face, taking note of the exaggerations that plague our public discussion of the issue.  I must be equally frank in acknowledging that delusional thinking about strategic missile defense is now deeply engrained in U.S. declaratory policy and public consciousness.

Articles of Faith

The Missile Defense Act of 1999 remains our political charter, even if its evidentiary foundations are built on sand.  Domestic political dynamics are conspiring against rational course correction.

Opponents of New START ratification found missile defense an effective line of attack against the treaty.  Even the treaty’s recognition of “the interrelationship between strategic offensive and strategic defensive arms,” was depicted as a shameful concession to Russian negotiators.

Every defense policy shift or budget reduction is now judged by according to whether it implies a failure of commitment to the cause of strategic missile defense.  Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney last week accused President Obama of just such a failure.

But would they work?

Last October, Secretary of Defense Panetta referred to the existing strategic missile defense system as “very remarkable.”  Senior military figures have joined the official chorus attesting to its effectiveness against future Iranian or North Korean missiles.

Yet none of the ongoing tests of these systems have occurred under operationally realistic conditions. U.S. intelligence officials have acknowledged that any state capable of building an ICBM can also build simple decoys to spoof missile defenses.  But U.S. strategic missile defenses have never demonstrated the ability to discriminate decoys and other clutter.  The Pentagon’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation reported in January: “To date [the system] has demonstrated a limited capability against a simple threat.”  He also noted that the last two flight tests had failed.  The last successful test under carefully controlled conditions was in 2008; the next test has been postponed to allow for causes of the last failure to be addressed.

Russian Concerns

Moscow does not seem particularly troubled by the 30 U.S.-based strategic interceptors.  However, the advanced Aegis systems planned for the later phases of Obama’s European Phased Adaptive Approach have caused acute concerns.  Whether real or feigned, Russia has reacted with alarm to the prospect of seeing European-based and highly mobile strategic interceptors on its periphery by the end of the decade.

Moscow has demanded legal assurances that U.S. missile defenses are not intended to threaten Russia’s strategic deterrent.  For the reasons to which I alluded, such formal assurances have not been forthcoming, and if they were, they would probably be rejected by the Senate.

Presidential campaigns in the United States and Russia have not created a propitious climate for reaching political compromise.  But it may yet be possible to secure agreement on a blueprint for cooperation prior to NATO’s Chicago Summit in May.  The more cooperation that can be achieved, the less threatening U.S. missile defenses will seem to the Russians.


NATO’s upcoming Deterrence and Defense Posture Review provides an opportunity for progress.  Several of you were involved in drafting a joint letter to NATO Secretary General Rasmussen last July.  Among other things, the letter suggested the DDPR reiterate NATO’s assurance that its current and future missile defense capabilities are not “targeted” at Russia’s strategic forces and that NATO member state missile interceptor deployments would be designed and configured to address third party missile threats as they emerge.  Such a written assurance could form the basis of a missile defense cooperation framework.

There have been a number of creative ideas for making cooperation concrete.  A Euro-Atlantic Security Initiative (EASI) Working Group chaired by former senior officials of the United States, Russia, and Germany, have recommended pooling and sharing data and information from early-warning radars and satellites in Cooperation Centers staffed by U.S., NATO, and Russian officers working together.  The latest issue of Arms Control Today features in its cover story a proposal by Dean Wilkening to build a joint ballistic missile early warning radar in central Russia.

Guidelines to Consider

Let me end by listing my own conclusions on the subject of our panel.

All NATO states have enormous stakes in the success of U.S.-Russian negotiations to further reduce nuclear weapons stockpiles.  U.S. missile defense forces are more likely to be an obstacle rather than an inducement to Russian movement in the desired direction.

Russia’s attitude is not pathological.  Russia is doing what the United States did when the tables were reversed.  During the Cold War, U.S. fears about Soviet ABM systems helped stoke the large increase in U.S. ballistic missile warheads.  It was only after the 1972 ABM Treaty capped strategic missile defenses that the path was opened toward eventual reductions in deployed offensive warheads.

Russia responded favorably to Obama’s European Phased Adaptive Approach as a substitute for Bush’s “Third Site” plan.  Future deployments were tied to actual rather than theoretical ballistic missile threats and strategic missile defenses in Europe were not anticipated before the end of the decade.

But if phases 3 and 4 of Obama’s plan are truly “adaptive,” then they must be contingent on the actual progress and intent of Iran’s ballistic missile program.  This link must be made convincing and explicit to the Russians. Moscow must be able to see something other than immovable dates for the deployments and vague place-holders in the matrix showing the number of interceptors to be deployed.  As it is, Moscow sees the quantity of advanced SM-3 interceptors as infinitely expandable and NATO’s “territorial defense” language as pointing toward Russia’s strategic forces – not those coming from Iran during the next 6-8 years.

If U.S. missile defense deployments in Europe are tied to the level of threats from the Middle East, then they should not be expected to address other security concerns.  European flank states should enhance their security through other measures, which do not gratuitously provoke their large eastern neighbor.

Alternative ways to strengthen the alliance bond might include: periodic presence of U.S. and other NATO troops for training purposes; active participation in alliance institutions and activities; and greater political integration within the EU.

Reasons for Hope

U.S. missile defense efforts have the potential of derailing continued progress in reducing the bloated nuclear arsenals of the Cold War.  But I see two reasons to hope for a different outcome:

-- First, fiscal pressures on the U.S. defense budget will force the Administration and the Congress to get off the Cold War autopilot.  They will create strong incentives for the U.S. military to shift resources away from political programs like strategic missile defense toward those, which can increase military capabilities that count in the real world.

-- Second, Europe is now a player at the missile defense table.  NATO has offered political support, real estate, and financial resources for the Phased Adaptive Approach.  Europe therefore has a new ability to tame some ill-considered American instincts.   I hope it will actively seek to influence U.S. policy when that policy veers in a direction, which provides a net loss to the security of the alliance.

I’ve seen it happen before with regard to INF in the 1980s.  The Europeans – particularly the basing countries (Germany, the UK, Italy, Belgium, and the Netherlands) – made it very clear to a reluctant Reagan administration that it could not have one part of the Dual-Track Decision (deploying new weapons) without the other (seeking to reduce that category of weapons through arms control).

I think we need Europe’s help again.

Thank you for your attention.


Prepared Remarks by Greg Thielmann, Senior Fellow, Arms Control Association, delivered March 6, 2012 at the Salle de la Commission de la Defense in Paris at a conference sponsored by the: Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg; Institut de Relations Internationales et Strategiques; British American Security Information Council; and Arms Control Association.

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