“The missile defense system we are establishing in Europe is not directed against Russia. We have said that publicly and privately, at many levels. We are prepared to put it in writing,” stated Ellen Tauscher, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security. This approach is headed in the wrong direction for many reasons and could negatively impact U.S. missile defense program in the future.
There is no reason the U.S. missile defense system should not intercept a ballistic missile on its way toward its victims just because it happens to be launched inside the Russian Federation. After all, there is always a risk of an accidental launch.
Russian representatives have stated on numerous occasions that nothing less than legally binding guarantees are acceptable for them. In addition, Moscow also wants to limit the number of interceptor missiles, their location, their speed, and their range. By extension, the Kremlin will even try to use a political agreement to limit the U.S. missile defense system.
The Russians have already been partially successful in imposing restrictions on U.S. missile defense options in the New Strategic Arms Control Treaty, which entered into force in February. Not even these concessions were enough to satisfy the Russian appetite. Secretary Tauscher asserts that “through cooperation we can demonstrate the inherent characteristics of the [missile defense] system and its inability to undermine Russian deterrent forces or strategic stability.” It is better to demonstrate the inherent capability of the system through a rigorous testing program than through a political commitment.
Moscow uses the phrase “threaten strategic stability”—communicating its understanding that any system capable of shooting down ballistic missiles threatens strategic stability. In fact, even 10 two-stage Ground-Based Midcourse Defense Interceptors stationed in Poland (which would have happened under President George W. Bush’s third site missile defense plan) were deemed by the Russians as threatening strategic stability. However, Russian statements went against the laws of physics, because it would not be possible to intercept a boosting Russian long-range ballistic missile, as the pressure of the air would destroy interceptors before they would be capable of engaging the target.
There appears to be a growing mismatch between the Obama Administration’s perception of Russia as a partner sharing the Administration’s view of the world and an actual Russian nuclear posture. While the Russian Federation defines its nuclear posture around the annihilation of the people of the United States, the United States, appropriately so, does not target the people of Russia. The Russian approach sharply contrasts with President Obama’s declared policy of nuclear disarmament, in which arms control would become the holistic solution to nuclear security. However, it is unclear how any concept of strategic deterrence, much less the clearly excluded concept based on retaliation with nuclear weapons, would apply to the President’s policy of nuclear disarmament.
Any qualitative or quantitative limitations, political or otherwise, on the U.S. missile defense system are unacceptable, as they would have negative consequences for the U.S. missile defense program as a whole. Experience shows that missile defenses have a stabilizing effect in crises, because they provide the President with an option other than retaliation in the case of an attack. In addition, with the proper adjustments the United States can expand its current sea-based missile defense program to protect and defend its territory, forward-deployed troops, and allies from the threat of long-range ballistic missiles.