Missile defence in Europe
The next salvo
Feb 18th 2010
From The Economist print edition
America’s reconfigured anti-missile shield still irks Russia
READ the small print. That would have been good advice for foes and allies alike when America announced in September last year that it would abandon its plans for anti-missile defences in Poland and the Czech Republic, in favour of a new system initially based on ships.
Some saw that as a sell-out. Russia was being appeased as part of President Barack Obama’s “reset” of relations with the Kremlin, and the ex-communist countries were being punished for supporting the Bush administration. Five months later, that reading of events looks mistaken.
The new system, the Obama administration officials said at the time, will be more flexible and will have a land component from 2015. Poland will eventually host one base. And earlier this month Romania—after the briefest of talks—announced that it would be the site for interceptors. American officials are trying to find a consolation prize for Bulgaria, the runner-up, which says it would like a base too.
This has annoyed Russia. Its foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said the Kremlin had complained to America about the Romanian “surprise” followed by a Bulgarian one. In fact, America itself seems to have been caught unprepared by the enthusiasm of its allies. It had expected protracted negotiations, of the kind it had pursued with Poland. This would have provided a chance to soothe Russian feelings at a time when America is seeking its help to impose sanctions against Iran.
Echoing earlier Russian threats (now rescinded) to deploy nuclear missiles in the Kaliningrad enclave, a Russian-backed separatist enclave in Moldova has offered to host Russian Iskander short-range rockets in response to the planned base in Romania. That may have more to do with wrong-footing the new pro-western, pro-Romanian government in Moldova than pleasing Russia, which declined the offer.
If American technology develops as expected, by 2018 the new shield would cover almost all of NATO’s European members against an Iranian attack—only a small part of Turkey would be exposed. That is a big change from the previous scheme, which was intended mainly to protect America from an intercontinental threat, leaving chunks of Europe unprotected. The new system poses even less of a threat to Russia’s nuclear arsenal (the Americans say neither ever did). The SM-3 interceptors now planned have a shorter range and fly less quickly than the rockets proposed by the Bush administration. Moreover, much of the system—the tracking radars and the Romania-based interceptors—will be deployed further south, unable to interfere with Russian missiles heading for America over the Arctic.
The main basis for the Kremlin’s complaint is political. Though Russia grudgingly accepted that ex-communist countries could join NATO, it sees the creation of American bases there as a breach of a promise made when the Soviet Union consented to German reunification. (American officials insist no such promise was ever given.)
Regardless, America is making other security arrangements. It is placing Patriot anti-aircraft missiles in Poland. More significantly, it has pushed NATO into agreeing to draw up military contingency plans to defend the Baltic states. It will hold drills there later this year. Russia’s growling may have brought results—but probably not the ones that Moscow wanted.
Saturday, February 20, 2010
Missile defence in Europe