In September 2009, the “kényian d’Indonésie” scrapped the plans of the George Bush administration to deploy elements of the shield in the Czech Republic and Poland aka the New Europe. Over the course of the recent weeks, there was a plethora of news related to quest for a new missile defense architecture. Let’s try to cast some light on this obfuscated issue by taking off to a trip through Eastern Europe.
Poland – the old ally
Under the duumvirate of the Kaczynski brothers, Poland was a steadfast yea-sayer in the framework of the GBMD plan and accepted willfully to host ten interceptor missiles. This attitude has changed when Donald Tusk took over the position as prime minister. He remained noncommittal: “We must know the answer to the question whether [missile defense] increases or decreases Poland’s safety,” he said upon assuming office.
Poland tried to extract concessions from the Bush administration, including the deployment of Patriot missile batteries and in early December 2009 after some hiccups, Poland and the United States signed a deal that paved the way for the deployment of a PAC battery in Morag in northern Poland. The site is about 50km southeast of the Baltic Sea and 65km southwest of the Russian city of Kaliningrad. The choice of site is said to have everything to do with infrastructure and nothing to do with Russia.
While the 10 interceptor missiles negotiated under the Bush administration found their way only into history books but not to Redzikowo where they were inteded to be deployed, Poland is on schedule for its deployment of Patriot missiles, despite grumblings from Moscow. American troops should be manning the new missiles sites by the start of April.
The Russian reaction to this was not hard to predict: saber-rattling and mawkishness! Nikolay Makarov, Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation complained that the Europeans are ungrateful because Russia “actually carried out the demilitarization of Kaliningrad Oblast [while] the countries of the West began to increase their arsenal, including batteries of Patriot air defense complexes in Poland.”
The purpose of the interceptors was in between discussed by RIA Novosti which came up with a very poignant argument: “Given the lack of critical facilities in the vicinity, the current position of the [Morag] Patriot battery renders it essentially useless as a means of missile defense, which confirms that Warsaw’s foreign policy is directed against Russia and that Washington backs this policy.”
Viktor Litovkin, Editor-in-Chief of the Независимое Военное Обозрение (Nezavisimoye Voyennoe Obozreniye, Independent Military Review), elaborated further on that:
“Iran does not have missiles that could fly to Poland. It is not likely that [such missiles] will emerge in the Islamic Republic of Iran in the next 20-30 years. There is a technological gulf between the missiles, which Teheran has at the present time, and missiles that would be able to strike the territory of Poland.”
Litovkin definitely had a point when he asserted:
“Patriot missiles are used against air targets and tactical and operational-tactical missiles that fly over distances from 150 kilometers to 300 kilometers. Consequently, it is clear that the Patriot batteries are intended for counteracting missiles which may fly to Poland from territories of its immediate neighbors—Kaliningrad Oblast and Belarus.”
This viewpoint is also shared by Riki Ellison, Chairman and Founder of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, who said in a statement:
Contrary to the [U.S.]Administration’s decision, the President’s new missile defense plan and its sensitivity to Russia to withdraw long-range ballistic missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic to defend Europe and the United States from Iran, this decision is directly providing Poland a capability with deployed U.S. troops to defend Polish military against Russia with no intention of the future threat from Iran to Europe. [...] This decision would also seem to be against the Administration’s goodwill and intention to move forward with Russia on the START Follow-On Treaty.
Aleksandr Khramchikhin, Deputy Director of the Institute of Political and Military Analysis in Moscow, kept cool(er) than Litovkin and said that
“…it is necessary to keep in mind that [the PACs] are exclusively defensive in nature. Simply put, they can be used against Russia only if Russia attacks Poland. I do not understand why the General Staff is overreacting to the sending of American missile interceptors to Poland.”
While the PACs are ill-suited to defend Poland or the United States from a hypothetical Iranian attack with (currently non-existing) IRBMs or ICBMs, the SM-3s that are scheduled to be deployed in 2015 are better suited to do so. Warsaw agreed on March 2 to a new version of a deal on stationing SM-3s, a government statement said, adding it would be aimed essentially at potential threats from Iran. Other sources report that the missile silos in northern Poland are not likely to come online before 2018.
The necessary Status of Forces Agreement has already been signed by President Kaczynski on February 27. The agreement will make it possible to establish a periodic, and then – in accordance to U.S. declarations, by the year 2012 – permanent base of a Patriot air defense missile battery, and in the future also a base of SM-3 missiles.
In short: in spite of the change from the Bush to the Obama missile defense architecture, nothing has changed in terms of the role that Warsaw plays in this system. It is still a reliable partner. Let’s see what the next country has to offer.
Czech Republic – vacillating but on board
Originally, the Czech Republic was chosen as partner to host the X-band radar in Brdy, southwest of Prague. In March 2009 the Czech government withdrew treaties committing the country to the US’ missile defense shield from parliament. In the recent weeks the Czech Republic has appeared to be sidelined from missile-defense developments which was perceived by Czech officials as a payback for the withdrawing.
Senior U.S. and Czech officials discussed in January 2010 Prague’s potential role in the updated U.S. plan for European missile defense. In February, a high-level defense policy expert with ties to Washington D.C. said the Czech Republic is in discussions with the Obama administration to host a command center for the United States’ altered missile-defense plan. However, these discussions are in the early stages. A Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman refused to come up with detailed information and simply said that “no concrete proposal has been mentioned yet.”
The Czech Foreign Minister Kohout was more outspoken when he praised the fact that the new U.S. project of anti-missile defense embraces all NATO allies and that the Prague will play an active role in it. He said on March 4, however, he does not expect a command post to be established in the Czech Republic, but rather a post serving information exchange.
“We are expected to shoulder responsibility for our own security and Europe to invest means into becoming a partner of the United States,” not a client, Kohout said.
We will have to wait for more information to see whether Kohut’s statement will have a real impact or if it was only a kind of re-labeling intended to soothe the Czech population that vehemently opposed the original missile shield plans. What other tasks does a command post have than the exchange of information?
However, there was only one source that reported recently that Czech participation would exceed the role of a information broker / command center host: according to UPI SM-3 systems will also be based in the Czech Republic from 2015 on.
Romania –new best buddy
After having scrapped the Bush missile defense plan, Obama came up with a scaled-back successor plan called for Mediterranean Sea-based radars to monitor potential projectiles launched by Iran, and shorter-range missiles to be deployed in an southeast European country, that was at the time of the announcement undisclosed. This changed in February 2010 with a beat of the drum: the Romanian President Traian Băsescu announced on February 4 that he had received a formal proposal from U.S. President Barack Obama to participate in the deployment of an American missile defense system. Romania’s Supreme Defense Council has already approved the plan to host 20 SM-3 interceptors (other sources speak of 24 interceptors) but according to Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi, negotiations alone might last a year and a half and the agreement will be implemented after it is ratified in Parliament. The installations are scheduled to become operational by 2015.
Ellen Tauscher, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, specified the new proposal and highlighted that it is limited to hosting a land-based site SM-3. She said the U.S. had no plans to deploy Aegis ships and there are no sea-based missile defence elements in the Black Sea.
MDAA’s Rikki Ellision analyzed the capabilities of Romanian site:
Placing the proposed capability by 2015 in Romania with the current sea -based defensive missiles (SM3 Block 1A) [...] can only technically provide fixed protection of a few nearby countries from an Iranian ballistic missile threat. Iran’s intermediate-range missile system currently in development, the Shahab-3 (with a 1200 mile range), will severely challenge the system in Romania as projected. This is due to the narrow defended area that its capability can provide. Requirements for the proposed site in Romania and the Land -based Aegis Ashore system have not been set. [...] Future adoption and integration of remote sensors coupled with the future capabilities of faster and more adept interceptors could lead to a much more enhanced site. This could lead to a system with the potential to have more capability than the canceled site in Poland or the current capabilities our country now has in place. Because of time and development this would most likely be a decision made by the next Administration.
Romanian officials are delighted by the increased attention their country receives. Gabriel Obrea, Romania’s Defense Minister, said: “Romania becomes an important landmark within NATO and EU and brings more security not only to the Romanian people but also to the entire south-east Europe.” While Romanian Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi said the defense system will provide the protection of the entire national territory and it will not have significant costs for the Romanian side, rumors emerged that Romania would have to pay half of the allegedly €4 billion cost ($5.4 billion).
It is surprising that even a couple of days after Băsescu’s announcement the topic hardly made it into the news in spite of all the controversial issues that it contains. One analyst noted that the response in Romania will clearly depend on the stance of the various political parties. Chances are that only marginal nationalistic parties, plus pacifist groups, will vocally oppose the missile system.
In spite of all the excitement of Romania’s new grandeur, Bucharest is aware of the fact that the United Sates has also other options:
“Romania is closer to Iran, of course, than Poland or the Czech Republic,” the channel said. “However, Turkey, an old member of NATO, is even closer,” [Romania’s NTV channel] noted, adding that the Americans are negotiating the issue with the Turkish authorities.
Regardless of how far these negotiations with Ankara have matured, the adoption of the Armenian Genocide Resolution by the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee on March 4 deferred the discussions indefinitely.
As always, there is also a grain / pinch / package of salt. Vesti TV Channel highlighted that it is still unclear if the new missile shield system will be effective, how real the Iranian threat is, and how the news plans will influence relations of the U.S. and Romania with other countries, first of all, with Russia. Moscow indicated what kind of impact the new plans might have on international relations. Russian officials reacted coolly to the news that Romania had agreed to host American missile interceptors, with a top envoy saying that the announcement could directly affect Moscow’s position as negotiations to replace START reach their conclusion. Though the general outlines of the new missile defense plan were made public months ago, Russian officials made it clear that they were taken aback by the announcement of Romania’s role. Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov said the Russian and American presidents had agreed that the “threats and risks of missile proliferation will be assessed jointly as a first step.”
Aleksandr Khramchikhin doubted that the Romanian president’s words could guarantee that “the U.S. missiles will be deployed in that country.” He continued: “I think Băsescu statement does not mean anything. [...] It is clear that such decisions are taken in Washington rather than in Bucharest,” the analyst noted, adding that the case of Warsaw and Prague shows that the decision may be reversed.
RIA Novosti came up with its own theory of what will be deployed: “…it is reasonable to assume that the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) mobile ground-based radar system will be deployed in Romania instead of the SM-3 missile system, which hasn’t been created yet.” But THAAD is not all:
One has to admit that deploying elements of the U.S. missile defense system in Romania will neither pose a threat to Russia nor change the strategic balance between Moscow and Washington. However, the U.S. plans to deploy more powerful anti-ballistic missiles in Europe by 2018-2020. These will probably be silo-based missiles, for example upgraded SM-3 missiles with high runway speeds and interception altitudes exceeding 1,000 kilometers, making it possible to destroy not only ICBM warheads but also ballistic missiles launched by Russia.
We will see what half-life the current plan has and if it will be reversed just to become a footnote in the Molvanîa guidebook.
Bulgaria was also among the list of countries that expressed interest in hosting a base. This interested was welcomed inter alia by U.S. ambassador to Bulgaria, James Warlick who said that Bulgaria “has a place in the U.S. missile defense shield”. Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov stressed he would not be alone in making the decision on whether his nation would play a role in the missile shield, but said that, as a European Union and NATO member, Sofia should “show solidarity.”
Russia reacted surprised when Bulgaria was named as a potential interceptor host and has submitted a formal request to Bulgaria for information on reports that it is in talks with the United States on hosting elements of a planned European missile defense shield: “We have already asked our partners in Washington … what does this all mean and why after the Romanian ‘surprise’ there is a Bulgarian ‘surprise’ now,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in an RIA news agency report.
Bulgaria’s president, Georgi Parvanov backpaddled somewhat trying to soothe Russia’s concerns. He was quoted saying that there had been no official talks between Bulgaria and Washington on hosting the missile shield. This was echoed by the United States that said it has not yet asked Bulgaria to host any missile interceptors.
Again, RIA Novosti’s assumptions of what will be deployed in Bulgaria are “special”: the news agency reported that Bulgaria could host a THAAD radar station with a direction range of 1,000 kilometers.
One has to wait for the official talks to get more insight … unless RIA Novosti provides us with more information ahead of these meetings.
Russia – on the other side of the iron curtain
Like his counterparts in the other countries, Romanian President Traian Băsescu highlighted from the very beginning that the new system is not directed against Russia but “against other threats.” Unfortunately, he did not elucidate which other threats he had in mind. Mr. Băsescu reiterated this peaceful character several times and added recently that the system is only “offensive [for] propaganda reasons.”
These reassurances obviously had an effect on some analysts who believed that Moscow might not be irritated with the new deployment plans:
When the U.S. wanted to deploy elements of the missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, “Russia stressed that if they are still to be deployed somewhere, then Romania and Bulgaria could be the best place,” Aleksandr Khramchikhin, deputy director of the Institute of Political and Military Analysis [in Moscow], told Gazeta daily.”
In retrospect, this analysis was definitely far out. If Russia indeed said such things, Moscow obviously forgot about it. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Ivanov said the new plan is very familiar to the old one from the Bush-era:
“It is still unclear what infrastructure and weapons systems are concerned. If they are identical to those the Bush administration planned to deploy in the Czech Republic, then it’s just trading one problem for another,” Ivanov said.
Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Russia’s mission to NATO, even said that Romania’s decision only confirms the fact that “there is no difference between the race for anti-ballistic missiles and strategic offensive weapons.” This is a quite bizarre line of the thought of the ambassador who is not known for a restraint way of speaking. It seems that his skills lie rather in the field of the use of metaphorical language: on his Twitter feed he said that the proverbial Russian bear would “kick the ass” of the United States and its allies if cornered by a new U.S. missile shield.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev referred already last November to one element of what Rogozin referred to as “ass-kicking”: Medvedev threatened to retaliate if the U.S. missile shield plans go ahead by deploying Iskander-M missiles in the country’s westernmost exclave of Kaliningrad, which borders NATO members Poland and Lithuania. Russia’s foreign minister Lavrov reiterated this threat by saying that Moscow would be forced to position missiles on the EU border if U.S. missile defense components were deployed in Central Europe. The Russian defense minister Anatoliy Serdyukov also echoed the threat but came up with one condition for the deployment: if Moscow felt directly threatened. It was not the first time the threat has been reiterated. This is the reason why some analysts take do not take it overly serious:
In politics, failure to appreciate the importance of acting quickly invariably creates problems, the above situation being a vivid example. The Iskanders are a remarkably potent weapon but it appears that Moscow risks playing the card as a minor element in the diplomatic game. One gets an impression that the threat to deploy the missiles in the Kaliningrad region has been aired too long for NATO on the whole or even Poland and the Czech Republic to take it seriously.
It seems that either not even the own military is convinced by the constantly reiterated threat or that – once again – there is a lack of coordination inside the Russian military. Col. Gen. Alexander Postnikov, Russia’s newly appointed chief of Ground Forces, denied that his country’s plans to equip units in the northwestern military district with Iskander missiles later this year have anything to do with U.S. missile deployment in Europe. Maybe someone should have told him…
Kaliningrad is not the only region where Russia could deploy missiles. Luckily, the cornered and threatened Russia has powerful allies: Moldova’s rebel region of Transdniestria said on February 15 it was ready to host Russian Iskander missiles if the Kremlin were to ask. Some analysts already said that the deployment of Iskander missiles would serve as the guarantee of normal coexistence of Russia and the “Atlantist Europe”. Hooray, happy cold-waring. And so the story continues: if you deploy your missiles in your satellite state, I will likewise deploy my missiles on the soil of my satellite state. Maybe nowadays sattelite states should be called partners, but that is a side issue for those people. However, Transdniestria linked the offer to the possible deployment of U.S. interceptor missiles to neighboring Romania.
Another rumor came up but was revoked: RIA Novosti news agency had quoted a high-ranking official in the Baltic Fleet as saying Russia would be boosting the weaponry of the fleet’s ships, submarines and aircraft in response to the Polish announcement. The Russian Defense Ministry stated shortly afterwards that Russia had such plans.
If one reads some more extreme comments, the Iskander deployment in the Kaliningrad Oblast or the boosting of the navy seem totally harmless: Alexander Pikayev, a government employed expert, announced that Russia may respond to a launch of a BMD interceptor with a nuclear attack on Romania, believing it is not an interceptor, but a ballistic missile aimed at Russian territory.
Another way that Russia uses to put pressure on the United States is to threaten to walk away from the START+ negotiations. Armed forces chief of staff Makarov said differences over missile defense were among reasons “why we have not yet reached a signing of this agreement,” RIA-Novosti reported. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in an Interfax report that the planned Romanian involvement in the U.S. missile shield is “influencing” final talks on the START successor agreement “In the most immediate sense”.
A senior Russian lawmaker indicated that Russia’s parliament is unlikely to ratify a START successor deal that does not include a link to missile defenses. Earlier, his U.S. colleagues warned such a link would not get past the Senate. This seems to be another sheer show of non-existent force. Despite the warnings of obstacles in getting a treaty through the Russian parliament, Konstantin Kosachyov, head of the State Duma committee for international relations, hinted that the concerns of the U.S. Senate meant the linkage between arms cuts and missile defense was unlikely to be included in the new pact.
However, not everyone is convinced by the threat scenario that Russian comes up with:
Former President George W. Bush’s plans for a limited strategic BMD deployment in the Czech Republic and Poland did not actually threaten Russia, but Russian political and military leaders deliberately created a standoff. The same process appears to be unfolding with the potential Romanian and Bulgarian BMD deployment plans.
It seems that this perception is shared by several U.S. officials. The United States is – or pretends to be – optimistic that the Russian rumbling will not last for a long time. Alexander Vershbow, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, believes that discussions with Bulgaria and Romania about future missile sites should not have a long-lasting adverse affect on US-Russia negotiations.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov summed up the present state of U.S.-Russian relations: “I will not say we are enemies, and I will not say we are friends.” Russian-U.S. friendship is not conditio sine qua non for having a working relationship based on trust and mutual interests. Washington took a step into the right direction when it called on Russia to participate in the missile defense endeavor. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in an interview: “While Russia faces challenges to its security, NATO is not among them […] We want a cooperative NATO-Russia relationship that produces concrete results and draws NATO and Russia closer.” Building a chain of missile defense bases around Russia’s borders and confronting Moscow with a fait accompli – like it seems that Washington did especially in the case of the Romanian base – is detrimental to the effort to build cooperative relationships. This is what irked Moscow most.
Likewise, Russia’s Rocket Rumbling does not help Moscow to be perceived as a partner on an equal footing. It only cements what the former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt once said: “The Soviet Union is like Upper-Volta with missiles.”