The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) is a corporation in the United States whose members serve as “advisers to the nation on science, engineering, and medicine.” The Washington based group is expressing concern as to the Obama administration’s Europe-based missile defense shield future plans, and has detailed a plan of its own which scraps key parts of the Obama plan.
Since 2009, President Obama has been intensely involved in a missile defense system that will protect American and allied troops in Europe and, within a few years, protect the continental United States as well. That year, Obama announced that the United States had overhauled Bush era missile defense plans which Russia had fiercely opposed. The new plans at that time were at least partially based on analysis of Iranian offensive capabilities. In Obama’s words, “The new missile defense architecture in Europe … will provide capabilities sooner, build on proven systems and offer greater defenses against the threat of missile attack than the… program that former President George W. Bush proposed.”
On September 18, 2009, an article in the Washington Post detailed parts of the new plan, quoting Obama as saying that a shield based on the Navy’s Aegis system will be geographically closer to Iran, will be deployed sooner and will be more cost effective than the land-based system put forward by the Bush administration. The Post editorial continued,
The abrupt reversal of U.S. defense policy immediately brought plaudits from Russian officials, who had viewed the prospect of an American missile shield system on their country’s western border as an affront. The shift raised the possibility of greater cooperation between the two powers on containing the Iranian threat and in negotiating an extension of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START, which expires in early December.
At this time, ongoing discussion of the Obama defense plan is heated, from all those involved. On May 3, The Moscow Times published an article by Ruslan Pukhov, editorialist and director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies. Pukhov is also publisher of Moscow Defense Brief:
There is a huge amount of mutual mistrust between Russia and the United States on missile defense. Nevertheless, there are still several possibilities for cooperation on the project.
…Moscow has proposed various plans for creating some kind of a common European missile defense system that would involve Russia. The new radar facilities in Gabala, Azerbaijan, which Russia leases, and the new Voronezh-DM radar in Armavir in the Krasnodar region offer an excellent opportunity for U.S.-Russian cooperation on missile defense.
…There are three main options for joint missile defense:
1. Information sharing. Russia could share with the United States the data provided by its south-facing missile-attack early warning radars in Gabala and Armavir. There are several possible variants of this option, including a permanent data link from the Russian radars supplying information to a joint U.S.-Russian missile threats center that could be located in the Moscow area.
2. An integrated information system. This could include the sharing of integrated information provided by the entire Russian missile-attack early warning system. The geographic scope of such cooperation could involve monitoring the territory of not just Iran, but nearly the entire Northern Hemisphere. This option would essentially mean the two countries operating a joint missile-attack early warning system. The downside to this option is that it would require an extremely high level of trust, which is unlikely to be achieved any time soon — especially since the main objective of the two countries’ missile-attack early warning systems is to monitor each other’s offensive missile activity.
3. Sectoral missile defense. Moscow has been pushing this option as the official alternative to the U.S. missile defense plans in Europe. The idea is that Russia would be responsible to intercept any missiles originating from pariah states, such as Iran or North Korea, that fly over Russian territory toward its target. Moscow argues that if Russia were to operate such a sector, it would become unnecessary for the United States to deploy its missile defense system in Europe.
But the sectoral missile defense proposal is completely unrealistic and unacceptable to the United States — and for good reason. Any missiles launched from Iran against most of the targets in the United States and Western Europe would inevitably fly over Russian territory. If Washington were to accept Russia’s sectoral plan, it would essentially delegate to Moscow all responsibility for protecting the United States and Europe against missile threats. That is absolutely unacceptable to the United States and NATO for political, security and even psychological reasons.
However, Pukhov goes onto concede that any bilateral missile defense project faces sharp criticism from conservative factions in Russia’s political and military establishment. The Minister of Defense, Anatoly Serdyukov, said talks had reached a dead end. Defense Ministry General Staff Chief, Nikolai Makarov warned that Russia might even launch a preemptive strike against NATO.
Factions in Moscow balk at the NATO-backed U.S. plans to deploy a system of radar and interceptors to protect European allies from attacks by states like Iran, saying the plans could neutralize Russian military capabilities. Any joint project on missile defense, even in a limited form, faces sharp criticism from conservative factions in Russia’s political and military establishment.
Pukhov is quoted extensively characterizing the situation and the polarization from Russian factions as being linked to a thinking that there is no threat from “pariah states.” He sees the Russian defense ministry viewpoint as a spoiler position to paralyze or slow down the deployment of the US missile defense system in Europe, or as a bargaining chip to get “something valuable” from the United States. Pukhov concludes:
Washington is clearly aware of Russia’s ambiguity on missile defense. It is therefore far from obvious that the United States will earnestly try to achieve some kind of balance between its missile defense effort and cooperation with Russia.
The level of mutual trust between Russia and the United States on missile defense remains critically low. It is compounded by the apparent lack of consensus on the issue within the military and political establishment of the two countries. In other words, there is absolutely no certainty about the long-term intentions of the opposite side. Unfortunately, this lack of trust makes substantial cooperation on strategic issues like missile defense highly unlikely.
In today’s news (May 4), the National Academy of Sciences has voiced criticism of the administration plan for European missile defense. Republicans are expected to focus on the criticism in support of their argument that Obama’s plan is designed to appease Russia.
The Academy says that proposed system could effectively defend Europe and US troops based there against short and medium range missiles from Iran, if it fields an interceptor that is fast enough. Obama’s plan, however, calls for slower interceptors at the onset, to be gradually upgraded in four phases, culminating in 2020. The academy plan would include faster interceptors to take down intercontinental missiles launched from Iran. The National Academy of Sciences plan would abandon a satellite tracking system now in development, calling radars in that system too weak to effectively track missiles. The Academy says the satellites under that plan would be too far away from the threat to provide useful data.
Key to the Obama plan are the conclusions of intelligence reports that Iran and North Korea are both several years away from comprising a viable nuclear threat to the US; but Iran is moving toward intimidation of Israel and the UK. Obama has been working with Russian leaders to establish mutual trust and cooperation. The lack of agreement between Russian power groups has caused uncertainty about their long term intentions. A clear and useful missile defense system is needed, and will require time to develop.