President Obama, who vows to "reset" the tense relationship with Russia, announced this morning he is removing a major point of dispute, scrapping plans for an elaborate missile defense system in Europe.
But the decision is being met with disappointment among some NATO allies -- and is sure to lead to more accusations from the president's conservative critics that he is soft on national defense.
In a hastily-called White House announcement, Obama said his new approach will provide "stronger, smarter, and swifter defenses" of US forces and the US mainland.
He said is committed to deploying strong missile defenses -- but those that respond to 21st century threats that are adaptable, utilize proven technology, and are cost effective.
(Obama's remarks are below, followed by the White House "fact sheet" on the new approach.)
Obama's move overturns another Bush administration policy -- it announced in 2007 planned to put 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar system in the Czech Republic. While the US insisted that the system was not aimed at Russia but instead at Iran and other potential rogue nuclear states, Russia adamantly opposed the missile shield and issued bellicose threats against the countries that would have hosted it.
The US also needs Russia's help in diplomatic moves to persuade Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions.
Obama said that a seven-month review concludes Iranian short- and medium-range missiles are a greater threat than long-range missiles, and those missiles could be defended with other systems.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates followed up Obama's announcement by telling reporters that better sensors and interceptors allow the US to more quickly deploy a missile defense system in southern Europe (reports suggest Turkey) and on Aegis ships.
Gates said the new approach is better than the one he recommended to President George W. Bush nearly three years ago and that it means deployment six or seven years earlier, filling in the gap until 2015 when an upgraded missile shield can be deployed in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, backed Obama on the change.
“President Obama’s decision to restructure missile defense in Europe is correct and timely," Kerry said in a statement. "Proven technologies and responsible diplomacy must be at the core of missile defense in Europe, and now is the time to press forward with the more flexible missile defense architecture that the President and Secretary Gates have chosen. NATO is the bedrock of our security, whether a country is at the geographic heart of the alliance or on its frontiers. The President’s new proposal will provide a stronger and more effective defense for American forces and our NATO allies."
Representative Ike Skelton of Missouri, the Democratic chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, also generally endorsed Obama's move.
“While I look forward to reviewing the details of the President’s plan, it appears the new missile defense strategy for Europe is a comprehensive approach that will counter the most immediate missile threats from Iran and protect our allies and our troops in the region," he said in a statement.
“As a practical matter, deployment of the European third site was still a long way away. This new approach, which has the support of both the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, focuses our resources where they will do the most good. The plan is also consistent with NATO’s policy that the deployment of ballistic missile defenses be prioritized according to the imminence of the threat and the level of acceptable risk.”
But Senator Jon Kyl, an Arizona Republican, called the decision "dangerous and short-sighted."
"Not only does this decision leave America vulnerable to the growing Iranian long-range missile threat, it also turns back the clock to the days of the Cold War, when Eastern Europe was considered the domain of Russia. This will be a bitter disappointment, indeed, even a warning to the people of Eastern Europe," Kyl said in a statement.
"The message the administration sends today is clear: the United States will not stand behind its friends and views 're-setting' relations with Russia more important. This is wrong!"
Representative John Boehner, the top House Republican, also blasted Obama's decision.
“Scrapping the US missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic does little more than empower Russia and Iran at the expense of our allies in Europe," Boehner said in a statement. "It shows a willful determination to continue ignoring the threat posed by some of the most dangerous regimes in the world, while taking one of the most important defenses against Iran off the table. Since taking control of Congress, House Democrats have cut our missile defense budget by $1.2 billion, undermining our commitment to our allies and weakening our national security. I urge the President to reconsider this ill-advised decision, stand with our allies, and do what’s right for the safety and security of the American people.”
Another Republican, Representative Roy Blunt of Missouri, went as far as to accuse Obama of appeasement.
“Seventy years ago today, the Soviet Union invaded Poland. And, today, at the Russians’ request, the Obama Administration has agreed to abandon the missile defense shield developed to protect our close allies in Eastern Europe," Blunt said in a statement.
“The administration’s decision to scrap the missile defense plan is incredibly shortsighted and comes at the expense of our allies in the War on Terror....Appeasement of dangerous nations does not inspire peace. We must stand firm and send the signal that we will not back down when the safety of Americans and our allies is at stake.”
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. As Commander-in-Chief, I'm committed to doing everything in my power to advance our national security. And that includes strengthening our defenses against any and all threats to our people, our troops, and our friends and allies around the world.
One of those threats is the danger posed by ballistic missiles. As I said during the campaign, President Bush was right that Iran's ballistic missile program poses a significant threat. And that's why I'm committed to deploying strong missile defense systems which are adaptable to the threats of the 21st century.
The best way to responsibly advance our security and the security of our allies is to deploy a missile defense system that best responds to the threats that we face and that utilizes technology that is both proven and cost-effective.
In keeping with that commitment, and a congressionally mandated review, I ordered a comprehensive assessment of our missile defense program in Europe. And after an extensive process, I have approved the unanimous recommendations of my Secretary of Defense and my Joint Chiefs of Staff to strengthen America's defenses against ballistic missile attack.
This new approach will provide capabilities sooner, build on proven systems, and offer greater defenses against the threat of missile attack than the 2007 European missile defense program.
This decision was guided by two principal factors. First, we have updated our intelligence assessment of Iran's missile programs, which emphasizes the threat posed by Iran's short- and medium-range missiles, which are capable of reaching Europe. There's no substitute for Iran complying with its international obligations regarding its nuclear program, and we, along with our allies and partners, will continue to pursue strong diplomacy to ensure that Iran lives up to these international obligations. But this new ballistic missile defense program will best address the threat posed by Iran's ongoing ballistic missile defense program.
Second, we have made specific and proven advances in our missile defense technology, particularly with regard to land- and sea-based interceptors and the sensors that support them. Our new approach will, therefore, deploy technologies that are proven and cost-effective and that counter the current threat, and do so sooner than the previous program. Because our approach will be phased and adaptive, we will retain the flexibility to adjust and enhance our defenses as the threat and technology continue to evolve.
To put it simply, our new missile defense architecture in Europe will provide stronger, smarter, and swifter defenses of American forces and America's allies. It is more comprehensive than the previous program; it deploys capabilities that are proven and cost-effective; and it sustains and builds upon our commitment to protect the U.S. homeland against long-range ballistic missile threats; and it ensures and enhances the protection of all our NATO allies.
This approach is also consistent with NATO missile -- NATO's missile defense efforts and provides opportunities for enhanced international collaboration going forward. We will continue to work cooperatively with our close friends and allies, the Czech Republic and Poland, who had agreed to host elements of the previous program. I've spoken to the Prime Ministers of both the Czech Republic and Poland about this decision and reaffirmed our deep and close ties. Together we are committed to a broad range of cooperative efforts to strengthen our collective defense, and we are bound by the solemn commitment of NATO's Article V that an attack on one is an attack on all.
We've also repeatedly made clear to Russia that its concerns about our previous missile defense programs were entirely unfounded. Our clear and consistent focus has been the threat posed by Iran's ballistic missile program, and that continues to be our focus and the basis of the program that we're announcing today.
In confronting that threat, we welcome Russians' cooperation to bring its missile defense capabilities into a broader defense of our common strategic interests, even as we continue to -- we continue our shared efforts to end Iran's illicit nuclear program.
Going forward, my administration will continue to consult closely with Congress and with our allies as we deploy this system, and we will rigorously evaluate both the threat posed by ballistic missiles and the technology that we are developing to counter it.
I'm confident that with the steps we've taken today, we have strengthened America's national security and enhanced our capacity to confront 21st century threats.
Thank you very much, everybody.
WHITE HOUSE RELEASE
Fact Sheet on U.S. Missile Defense Policy
A “Phased, Adaptive Approach” for Missile Defense in Europe
President Obama has approved the recommendation of Secretary of Defense Gates and the Joint Chiefs of Staff for a phased, adaptive approach for missile defense in Europe. This approach is based on an assessment of the Iranian missile threat, and a commitment to deploy technology that is proven, cost-effective, and adaptable to an evolving security environment.
Starting around 2011, this missile defense architecture will feature deployments of increasingly-capable sea- and land-based missile interceptors, primarily upgraded versions of the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3), and a range of sensors in Europe to defend against the growing ballistic missile threat from Iran. This phased approach develops the capability to augment our current protection of the U.S. homeland against long-range ballistic missile threats, and to offer more effective defenses against more near-term ballistic missile threats. The plan provides for the defense of U.S. deployed forces, their families, and our Allies in Europe sooner and more comprehensively than the previous program, and involves more flexible and survivable systems.
The Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommended to the President that he revise the previous Administration’s 2007 plan for missile defense in Europe as part of an ongoing comprehensive review of our missile defenses mandated by Congress. Two major developments led to this unanimous recommended change:
· New Threat Assessment: The intelligence community now assesses that the threat from Iran’s short- and medium-range ballistic missiles is developing more rapidly than previously projected, while the threat of potential Iranian intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capabilities has been slower to develop than previously estimated. In the near-term, the greatest missile threats from Iran will be to U.S. Allies and partners, as well as to U.S. deployed personnel – military and civilian –and their accompanying families in the Middle East and in Europe.
· Advances in Capabilities and Technologies: Over the past several years, U.S. missile defense capabilities and technologies have advanced significantly. We expect this trend to continue. Improved interceptor capabilities, such as advanced versions of the SM-3, offer a more flexible, capable, and cost-effective architecture. Improved sensor technologies offer a variety of options to detect and track enemy missiles.
These changes in the threat as well as our capabilities and technologies underscore the need for an adaptable architecture. This architecture is responsive to the current threat, but could also incorporate relevant technologies quickly and cost-effectively to respond to evolving threats. Accordingly, the Department of Defense has developed a four-phased, adaptive approach for missile defense in Europe. While further advances of technology or future changes in the threat could modify the details or timing of later phases, current plans call for the following:
· Phase One (in the 2011 timeframe) – Deploy current and proven missile defense systems available in the next two years, including the sea-based Aegis Weapon System, the SM-3 interceptor (Block IA), and sensors such as the forward-based Army Navy/Transportable Radar Surveillance system (AN/TPY-2), to address regional ballistic missile threats to Europe and our deployed personnel and their families;
· Phase Two (in the 2015 timeframe) – After appropriate testing, deploy a more capable version of the SM-3 interceptor (Block IB) in both sea- and land-based configurations, and more advanced sensors, to expand the defended area against short- and medium-range missile threats;
· Phase Three (in the 2018 timeframe) – After development and testing are complete, deploy the more advanced SM-3 Block IIA variant currently under development, to counter short-, medium-, and intermediate-range missile threats; and
· Phase Four (in the 2020 timeframe) – After development and testing are complete, deploy the SM-3 Block IIB to help better cope with medium- and intermediate-range missiles and the potential future ICBM threat to the United States.
Throughout all four phases, the United States also will be testing and updating a range of approaches for improving our sensors for missile defense. The new distributed interceptor and sensor architecture also does not require a single, large, fixed European radar that was to be located in the Czech Republic; this approach also uses different interceptor technology than the previous program, removing the need for a single field of 10 ground-based interceptors in Poland. Therefore, the Secretary of Defense recommended that the United States no longer plan to move forward with that architecture.
The Czech Republic and Poland, as close, strategic and steadfast Allies of the United States, will be central to our continued consultations with NATO Allies on our defense against the growing ballistic missile threat.
The phased, adaptive approach for missile defense in Europe:
· Sustains U.S. homeland defense against long-range ballistic missile threats. The deployment of an advanced version of the SM-3 interceptor in Phase Four of the approach would augment existing ground-based interceptors located in Alaska and California, which provide for the defense of the homeland against a potential ICBM threat.
· Speeds protection of U.S. deployed forces, civilian personnel, and their accompanying families against the near-term missile threat from Iran. We would deploy current and proven technology by roughly 2011 – about six or seven years earlier than the previous plan – to help defend the regions in Europe most vulnerable to the Iranian short- and medium-range ballistic missile threat.
· Ensures and enhances the protection of the territory and populations of all NATO Allies, in concert with their missile defense capabilities, against the current and growing ballistic missile threat. Starting in 2011, the phased, adaptive approach would systematically increase the defended area as the threat is expected to grow. In the 2018 timeframe, all of Europe could be protected by our collective missile defense architecture.
· Deploys proven capabilities and technologies to meet current threats. SM-3 (Block 1A) interceptors are deployed on Aegis ships today, and more advanced versions are in various stages of development. Over the past four years, we have conducted a number of tests of the SM-3 IA, and it was the interceptor used in the successful engagement of a decaying satellite in February 2008. Testing in 2008 showed that sensors we plan to field bring significant capabilities to the architecture, and additional, planned research and development over the next few years offers the potential for more diverse and more capable sensors.
· Provides flexibility to upgrade and adjust the architecture, and to do so in a cost-effective manner, as the threat evolves. Because of the lower per-interceptor costs and mobility of key elements of the architecture, we will be better postured to adapt this set of defenses to any changes in threat.
We will work with our Allies to integrate this architecture with NATO members’ missile defense capabilities, as well as with the emerging NATO command and control network that is under development. One benefit of the phased, adaptive approach is that there is a high degree of flexibility – in addition to sea-based assets, there are many potential locations for the architecture’s land-based elements, some of which will be re-locatable. We plan to deploy elements in northern and southern Europe and will be consulting closely at NATO with Allies on the specific deployment options.
We also welcome Russian cooperation to bring its missile defense capabilities into a broader defense of our common strategic interests. We have repeatedly made clear to Russia that missile defense in Europe poses no threat to its strategic deterrent. Rather, the purpose is to strengthen defenses against the growing Iranian missile threat. There is no substitute for Iran complying with its international obligations regarding its nuclear program. But ballistic missile defenses will address the threat from Iran’s ballistic missile programs, and diminish the coercive influence that Iran hopes to gain by continuing to develop these destabilizing capabilities.
Through the ongoing Department of Defense ballistic missile defense review, the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff will continue to provide recommendations to the President that address other aspects of our ballistic missile defense capabilities and posture around the world.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.