The once in a lifetime look behind the curtains of international diplomacy provided by Wikileaks and their inside source is proving to be highly volatile for international relations. Even though to date only a few of the uncovered cables come from and went to the US embassy in Moscow they have provided a deeper understanding of the new ‘Phased – Adaptive Approach’ to missile defense.
The Bush plan called for 10 or so interceptors along with a hi-tech radar facility in Eastern Europe. The secret cables clearly show that Russian resistance to this plan was almost entirely with the new radar facility. To understand why such resistance you need to know that the odds of shooting down an ICBM are significantly better if you know exactly where it was launched. You can shoot it down on the way up when it hasn’t reached full speed, still has limited defensive capabilities and hasn’t split off into multiple warheads raining down over a wide area. Further if you can pinpoint launch locations you can direct your retaliation efforts much more accurately. A radar facility in the Czech Republic would cover the entire western and more importantly north-west portion of Russia where it is believed at least hundreds of missiles are stationed. That is a serious concern for Russia of course.
Obama’s change to the ‘Phased, Adaptive Approach’ to missile defense has met with little resistance from Moscow to date. The radar facility will be moved farther south to possibly Turkey or Bulgaria but that is yet to be decided. Interceptors will be located in Romania as well as on war ships apparently. Given the range and sophistication of the X band radar system that can track a baseball from 4,700 km away it’s unclear if moving the radar station as mentioned would hide Russian missile activities anyway.
However Wikileaks has just released the fact that the Phased, Adaptive Approach will target ‘hundreds of missiles’ Iran is scheduled to deploy in the coming years, not the few ICBM’s that was initially targeted under the Bush plan. The September 17, 2009 cable to the US embassy in Moscow clearly states,
“We believe that Iran plans to deploy hundreds of these short-range and medium-range ballistic missiles. Our old plan was designed to intercept only small numbers of ICBMs.”
“There is no doubt that Iran is developing these missiles to arm them with a nuclear warhead. There is NO OTHER REASON to spend so much time and effort into developing these missiles. They are not useful weapons if only armed with a conventional warhead.”
“The new plan for European missile defense is better designed to protect Europe from this Iranian threat that is emerging.”
So the new missile defense shield for Europe is planning to handle hundreds of missiles, not the 10 or so that was initially planned. The system hasn’t even been put into place yet and it has already expanded significantly. What its actual capabilities will be when fully operational in more than 5 years is unclear. The US cable states that the SM-3 intercept missile it plans to use is no threat to Russian ICBM’s however that is doubtful. The SM-3 is one of the best intercept missiles in the world today and could easily target Russian ICBM’s after launching and before they escape the range of the SM-3. The new START treaty signed on April 8, 2010 limited Russia and the US to 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads. Clearly missile defense when fully operational could conceivably cover Russia’s entire deployed nuclear arsenal.
The silence from Moscow on missile defense now is deafening. It is obvious that the US and NATO are 100% committed to developing missile defense. Thanks to Wikileaks it is now known how robust that missile shield will be when operational. Clearly Russian military and political thinkers are working overtime to formulate new strategies. President Putin’s threat to put missiles in Kaliningrad simply isn’t going to stop missile defense and may in fact speed up any expanded capabilities. A more thoughtful strategy will surely emerge from Russia but what that might be even Wikileaks doesn’t know yet.