The Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) took a hit when the German government decided to withdraw its support for the system. MEADS is a ground-based terminal ballistic missile defense (BMD) system developed jointly by the United States, Italy, and Germany. Germany’s step is not surprising.
In February, the U.S. Department of Defense decided to stop funding for the procurement of the system. At the time, The Heritage Foundation argued that this step would undermine allied cooperation in missile defense. This appears to be correct, because Germany’s announcement questions its future stake in the missile defense program. Germany’s step proves wrong those who had argued that the Patriot system would replace MEADS, because Germany is also reducing its procurement of the Patriot systems (from 29 to 14).
It is plausible to assume that the reason for Germany’s change of mind lies beyond the Department of Defense’s decision not to procure MEADS—the reason lies in the implications of President Obama’s arms control agenda. The Obama Administration is under a mandate imposed on it by the Senate’s resolution of ratification of the New Strategic Arms Control Treaty (New START) to start negotiations with the Russians about their short-range nuclear weapon systems. Germany would likely welcome such negotiations, being closer in striking distance to this class of the Russian weapons than the United States.
The Obama Administration gave away its negotiating leverage in New START, which imposes limitations on missile defense and results in unilateral cuts to U.S. strategic systems. According to the latest data exchange, Obama Administration officials achieved yet another “first” in the history of arms control: The number of Russian weapons covered under the treaty has actually increased since it entered into force. In order to achieve limitations of short-range nuclear weapons, the Administration will have to make further concessions, as Russia enjoys a significant advantage over the United States in this class of weapons and emphasizes them more in its overall nuclear posture.
The next arms control treaty between the United States and the Russian Federation, therefore, would have to address the perceived imbalance between U.S. conventional weapons, missile defenses, and the remaining short-range systems in Europe and Russia’s own conventional weaknesses, for which short-range tactical weapons make up the difference. Because the next treaty may cover all types of nuclear weapons, and because the defenses are incompatible with nuclear disarmament, Russia may be permitted to codify its advantage in short-range nuclear weapons and impose constraints on U.S. defenses against short-range and intermediate-range missiles. Germany, as a U.S. ally, could have taken its cue and decided not to complicate future negotiations.