Obama Scraps Land Missile Shield in E. Europe, says Iranian Missile attacks (?) can be Deterred by Sea

President Barack Obama has scrapped an expensive ($56 bn so far) and probably useless “missile shield” program in the Czech Republic and Poland to which Russia had vehemently objected, and which had increasingly been described as aimed not at Russia but at Iran. In fact, the proposed ten anti-missile missiles in Poland the proposed radar station in the Czech Republic were part of wide-ranging push by Washington to encircle Russia while it was weak. Russia had indicated that the missile shield plan was an obstacle to further talks on nuclear disarmament.

Instead, Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates say that they will conduct missile defense from aircraft carriers at sea– that they haven’t given up on the principle, but are just doing it smarter. They are even cleverly turning the bizarre Iranian argument against its Republican inventors, pointing out that if the fear is really (wink, wink) Tehran, well it doesn’t have ICBMs or anything and the anti-missile batteries such as the Patriots on US naval vessels would be more effective.

Aljazeera English has video:

The so-called shield on land was causing a lot of trouble for no good reason. AFP notes, “Critics argued the system could not be proven to work, was focused on a non-existent threat from Iranian long-range hardware and needlessly angered Russia.”

It is controversial among scientists whether missile defense is practical. I can’t imagine why in the world Iran would fire a missile at the Czech Republic or any other European country (Iran’s military budget is comparable to that of Norway or Singapore– it isn’t exactly a hulking behemoth stalking Europe). The US policy establishment has a long history of using euphemisms. Thus, Washington types often say “North Korea” when they actually mean China, because no one cares if they p.o. Pyongyang, but angering Beijing is unwise. Obviously, the Bush administration was talking about an Iranian strike on Europe as a symbolic way of speaking of a Russian attack.

But despite White House denials, surely the cancellation of the system is mainly about Obama’s hope for a more positive engagement with Russia. The Afghanistan War lurks in the background; Russia’s willingness to allow NATO to transship materiel for Afghanistan by rail is crucial now that the Karachi-Khyber Pass route in Pakistan is problematic. If you fight a war in a landlocked country, you need the help of neighbors for logistics. In Afghanistan’s case, that means Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in the first instance, and beyond Central Asia (itself landlocked), the Russian Federation. Fred Weir at CSM wonders if the cancellation will convince Russia to be more willing to see UN Security Council sanctions on Iran increased (personally, I doubt that).

Aljazeera English discusses what Obama might get for the move from Russia:

The rightwing squawkers at this move should explain how, practically, they would supply US troops if Russia were to turn hostile to such transshipment. The American Right is responsible for putting the US in this position of weakness by miring it in two Asian land wars and deregulating the economy into collapse. That they attack Obama for doing what is necessary to extricate us is mere posturing and hypocrisy.

They should also explain why America’s closest allies– Britain, France and Germany– all greeted the decision with effusive praise and hopes that it would contribute to better relations with Russia.

Still, the decision was received with dismay by some Polish and Czech politicians, who fear it will embolden Russian reassertion. (The Czech left, in contrast, was delighted). Again Aljazeerah English has a good reporet:

Obama’s smart move is a form of social intelligence– he has reversed Bush’s cowboy go-it-alone-ism, and is creating the conditions for US ‘resource cumulation’– getting others to cooperate in achieving shared goals.

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2 Responses

  1. [Note: I see the comment I dashed off last night hasn't been posted. Here is a more polished version, if it's of any interest]

    Much as I respect Juan Cole on mideast politics and related matters, I have a somewhat different interprestation of events described in this post, on the cancellation of the Polish-Czech-based ABM system.

    The SM-3 missiles which are to replace the land-based interceptors slated for Poland are not deployed in aircraft carriers, but rather in more conventionally configured warships (variously labelled "destroyers", "frigates", or "cruisers" by the world's navies) which incorporate the U.S. Navy's Vertical Launching System (which system can also launch missiles of other kinds, such a cruise or anti-submarine missiles). While such warships are the major part of a carrier battle group, they can also operate independently in an anti-aircraft or anti-missile role (Japan has several such warships, and no carriers).

    The SM-3 is an upgrade of the SM-2 (Standard Missile, version 2), which since the 1990s has been the U. S. Navy's workhorse missile to protect against threats from aircraft and Exocet-type anti-ship missiles. The upgraded SM-3 has some anti-ballistic missile and even anti-satellite capability; it incorporates a third stage to reach stratospheric altitudes, and a fancy, integrated guidance system (integrated with the shipborn Aegis radar system, and with other ship- land- and satellite-based missile-tracking systems) which supposedly enables it to hit a high-flying ballistic warhead with its kinetic warhead ("smart pebble"). In February 2008 a ship-launched SM-3 missile was used to destroy a "dead" U.S. spy satellite, at an altitude of some 210 km (the usual cruising altitude of a long-range airliner is 9-12 km).

    The Polish-based interceptors were never intended to protect Poland; interceptors of that type, designed to hit a warhead in midcourse, while it is still flying high in the stratosphere, if intended to protect Poland, would have been positioned somewhere between Poland and Iran (in the Black Sea, perhaps). If one looks at a map (preferably in gnomic projection, in which Great Circles–which describe the type of course a ballistic missile flies–are straight lines), and plots a course from some launching point in Iran over an interceptor site in Poland, it's clear the only European countries the Polish-based interceptors would protect would be Sweden (not even a NATO member) or Norway. (Alas, poor Spain–and Poland.)

    But if one continues the plot around the globe, it eventually reaches North America. The dingbat system was evidently indended as (or rationalized by) a protection of the American homeland against an imaginary, non-existant ICBM threat from Iran. There was no evidence then, and there is none now, that Iran ever had, or has, or even contemplated, a serious program to develop an ICBM large enough to project a warhead big enough to do real damage halfway around the globe. (And if ever they should decide to build big ICBMs, we would have plenty of advance warning; the extensive missile tests required would be impossible to conceal.)

    On the other hand, Iran does have serious programs to develop shorter-range missiles, which if deployed with nuclear warheads, could threaten Israel and other mideastern rivals, perhaps even southern Europe.

    But whether the late, unlamented Czech- and Polish-based system was part of a grandiose strategy to encircle Russia, or simply an enormous boondoggle to the American aerospace industry, good riddance to it.

  2. So the plan is that a floating something or other in the Persian gulf in going to fire an SM-whatever missile in an attempt to intercept, from the rear (there is a crude joke here), an Iranian missle most likely launched from the north of Iran. The interceptor will have no problem catching up to the Iranian missile, distinguish the warhead from debris and stages being shed and then from the rear (there is a crude joke here) hit the Iranian missile. Yes We Can.

    It is however amusing that the Obama administration could not back off a Bush Admin anti missile system that does not work, fending off Soviet missiles that do not exist and even if they did exist cannot be used less Germans cut off the Roo Shans auto parts supplies (Don't even suggest anything but genuine parts for Boris' Zed). Lovely really.

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