Where the Washington Post’s Joby Warrick and R. Jeffrey Smith are not flat out wrong in their May 19 article “U.S.-Russian Team Deems Missile Shield in Europe Ineffective”, they are flat out lazy. First the facts.
The EastWest Institute recently released a report titled “Iran’s Nuclear and Missile Potential: A Joint Assessment by U.S. and Russian Technical Experts.” The report concludes that a ballistic missile threat from Iran is not imminent, and that planned US missile defense would not be effective and threaten US-Russian cooperation.
Warrick and Smith wrote that “[m]oreover, if Iran were to build a nuclear-capable missile that could strike Europe, the defense shield proposed by the United States ‘could not engage that missile,’ the report says. The missile interceptors could also be easily fooled by decoys and other simple countermeasures, the report concludes.” This statement is factually incorrect.
The report acknowledges that the X-Band radar can “collect high-resolution data on each target.” Thus, the US system would have some capability to distinguish between decoys and warheads. In addition, Iran does not currently have functional decoys. Furthermore, the US has the technical capability to develop countermeasures to the employment of decoys before Iran could field an effective decoy system. Thus, a ground-based system in Europe would be much more effective against an Iranian missile threat than the article suggests.
Worse, Warrick and Smith uncritically pass on the reports findings without any dissenting opinion. While experts generally agree that it will take several years for Iran to develop a long-range ballistic missile armed with a nuclear warhead, some argue that deploying missile defense now might actually serve as an effective deterrent to the Iranian program (see, for example, “Europe, Missile Defense, and the Future of Extended Deterrence”). The authors, however, do not include any contrary or critical assessments of the report.