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U.S. missile defense in Europe becomes a reality

MOSCOW. (Yury Zaitsev for RIA Novosti) - On August 14, Poland and the United States signed an agreement on the deployment of 10 ground-based missile interceptors (GBIs) on Polish territory.

The timing of the event leaves little doubt that it is linked with the recent conflict in the Caucasus. Like Washington, Warsaw unreservedly backed Tbilisi at all levels, and eventually agreed to host U.S. missile defense. Thus, a third positioning missile defense area has become reality.

Despite Russia's repeated appeals to the United States to clarify the status of missile defense, Moscow has not yet received a meaningful answer. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the "U.S.-promised transparency and confidence-building measures have not yet become reality."

Russia has serious differences on missile defense with NATO, which cannot decide on its format in Europe. Will Russia be included in European missile defense, or will it be merely a segment of U.S. national missile defense?

These questions became urgent in 2007, when the Americans started carrying out their plan of deploying radars and interceptor missiles by launching geodesic and surveying work at the future sites on Polish and Czech territory. They also began intergovernmental talks to draft agreements on their legal status.

The Czech Republic will host a radar station, in exchange for which it is hoping to get some benefits, primarily participation in military R&D, and access to any information received through the radar.

Warsaw has won a promise from Washington to augment its armed forces in exchange for placing 10 GBIs on Polish territory. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk also demanded additional security guarantees for his country from the United States.

Washington will not hesitate to give such guarantees, but what are they worth? Russian missile defense systems will not be able to distinguish missile interceptors launched from Polish territory from ballistic missiles. Any launch of an interceptor will automatically result in retaliation, and not only at the interceptor deployment site. A Soviet warning system once mistook a Norwegian-launched high-altitude weather rocket for a ballistic missile.

It is clear that the Americans will not limit themselves to Poland and the Czech Republic. Experts believe that after refining the technology of creating a missile deployment site in Poland, the United States will be able to build one positioning area per year. In the near future, Russia will face dozens of positioning areas along its borders.

Russia is also concerned over possible deployment of U.S. missile defense elements in Ukraine. U.S. officials consider Ukraine to be well-versed in missile technologies. This is a major difference from Poland and the Czech Republic, and makes it an even more attractive host for missile defense elements. That would bring U.S. missile defense even closer to Russia's borders.

An analysis of America's global missile defense system shows that Washington is deploying its elements primarily in Eastern Europe rather than Japan, other Asian countries or Australia.

This is probably because Washington does not want to irritate China, which could respond by stepping up the development of its own missile program and increasing the number of intercontinental ballistic missiles on combat duty. On the other hand, Russia's opinion, in line with the stereotype of the last 15 years, may be ignored - at worst it will reply with "yet another serious warning." In line with this thinking, it seems strange that the Russian leaders have finally given an adequate response to the Georgian aggression in South Ossetia, despite the Western reaction.

Russia does not want to be dragged into another arms race, but it should not ignore the emerging threats. Its most obvious reply to the U.S. missile defense deployment would be equipping its Topol-M missiles with supersonic maneuverable warheads, using jammers, and reducing the boost phase of Russian missiles. It is also important to equip the armed forces with new MIRVed missiles.

Russia could also revive its program to develop global missiles, which could be put into near-Earth orbits and directed at enemy territory while bypassing missile defenses.

It may be worth revising the role of tactical nuclear weapons. First of all, Russia should give up its unilateral commitments to reduce them, separate warheads, or redeploy in the middle of the country. Maybe it should even station them as far out as possible, say, in the Baltic enclave of the Kaliningrad Region. Currently Tochka-U tactical missiles with a range of 120 km are stationed there. Russia could also deploy Iskanders, with a range of up to 500 km, there. Initially any missiles in Kaliningrad would be strictly non-nuclear, but they could be equipped with nuclear warheads when Poland hosts the interceptors, and the radar starts monitoring Russian territory from the Czech Republic.

START-I, the strategic arms control treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union, expires in the end of next year. Foreign Minister Lavrov believes no vacuum should be allowed to develop in the sphere of arms control, and so a replacement treaty is likely to be negotiated. However, for obvious reasons reducing the number of strategic offensive arms enhances the role of missile defense systems - their combat effectiveness is inversely proportional to the number of attacking missile warheads they are meant to defend against. Therefore, Russia should keep an adequate nuclear deterrent in the next few decades, which must become one of the most important military and political tasks. The new treaty should not be one-sided, as START-I was.

We are facing real threats. We are tolerated and sometimes even taken into account primarily because of our nuclear missile shield. No matter what U.S. military leaders may say, neither Russia nor the United States can fully protect itself against a missile strike. Therefore, now that the United States is deploying its missile defense in other countries and in space, Russia should make sure that its retaliation would still deal unacceptable damage to the enemy.

Yury Zaitsev is an academic adviser at the Russian Academy of Engineering Sciences.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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