Why does the new START treaty hang in the balance? In part, because missile defense advocates, who spent years pressing the US to adopt such weapons, are now ridiculed as having pushed the wrong systems with the wrong countries -- even though all currently planned defenses are precisely those first acquired and deployed by these same missile defense advocates.
The administration, including the Vice President, has ironically adopted, in large part, the regional missile defense program and policy of the Bush administration, while rejecting key aspects of its national defense of our continental United States.
As the Vice President wrote (Wall Street Journal, November 24 ), the administration's new NATO-wide missile defense plan protects more countries from more ballistic missile threats than the plan of the previous administration and is therefore proof of the benefits of our "reset" policy with Russia. He further explains that missile defense and arms control go together, further proving the correctness of administration's policy.
Things are not so simple. A certain amount of rewriting history goes on in any administration, but wholesale invention does not constitute a justifiable defense policy.
What has been left out of the Vice President's retelling of history is that the European system, killed by this administration, was planned to protect all of Europe and America -- not from Iranian short- and medium-range missiles but from long-range Iranian missiles. The argument from missile defense critics, including from then-Senator Biden and many of his colleagues, was that Iran was not building such missiles. Therefore, they said, there was no need to build a defense as had been planned for Poland, along with complimentary radar for the Czech Republic.
What the administration has done is to delay any further deployment in Europe that would deal with long-range Iranian missiles until 2020 at the earliest.
In the view of many, Russia sees missile defenses, whether by NATO collectively or by the US singularly, as a threat to its hegemonic aims. Ten years ago, Congressman Weldon proposed that the US encourage Russia to look westward and seek friendship and alliance with America and her allies. On balance, Russia has certainly not gone in that direction. Its nuclear weapons doctrine is scary; and its bullying of its neighbors continues, as do its threats to deploy nuclear weapons aimed at or NATO ally, Poland.
The defense of Europe from Iranian medium- and short-range ballistic missiles -- generally with a range upwards of 2500 kilometers -- is to be achieved through the deployment of Navy Aegis cruisers in the Mediterranean, Black, Adriatic and/or Baltic Seas, along with "navy Aegis ashore." This is true, as the Vice President states, but was all proposed by President George W. Bush.
Let us go back a few years. At a missile defense conference in the summer of 2000, then-Senator Biden called missile defense unnecessary and a waste of defense dollars. Standing just feet away, he claimed that any missile strike aimed at the United States would be met with massive US retaliation. Deterrence, he assured us, was fully capable of defending the United States from ballistic missile threats. Missile defenses, he warned, were incompatible with arms control, especially reductions in nuclear weapons. The need to deploy such defenses, he said, was simply not justified.
Let us have a close look. The Aegis cruisers and their standard missile interceptors -- the backbone of the NATO-wide phased adaptive missile defense now being proposed -- were first deployed and first acquired by the Bush administration. Countless efforts by such members of Congress as Senator Jon Kyl, the current minority whip in the US Senate, and former Representative Congressman Curt Weldon, then chair of a key subcommittee on the Armed Services Committee, to add funding to the Aegis accounts were repeatedly opposed by missile defense critics. Now these opponents are taking credit for what they once opposed. Welcome aboard, Mr. Vice President.
The creative proposal to take Aegis interceptors and place them on land -- simpler and more cost-effective -- was proposed in the FY2007 defense budget by former Director of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) General Trey Obering. That proposal, says the Vice President, will bear fruit sometime around 2018-2020 -- later than envisioned by the previous administration but nonetheless going forward. – and another old proposal for which the current administration is now taking credit.
It is true such systems are to be complimented through the deployment of Army-centric systems such as THAAD and Patriot, with our Gulf State allies and our NATO partners, either as US deployed systems on US military bases or as NATO-member owned and operated systems. Yet it should be noted that all this was planned, proposed and funded by the previous administration, although some additional or expanded deployments have been agreed to.
The current administration has indeed secured NATO's blessing for such deployments, which is to be commended, just as the previous administration secured both NATO's concurrence that all ballistic missile threats needed to be addressed by all NATO countries, and that NATO should begin planning and developing a doctrine and policy to deploy necessary missile defenses.
We should remember that when the Bush administration took office in 2000, the US inventory of ballistic missile interceptors was zero. NATO had no regional deployments. At the end of 2008, however, the number of interceptors deployed by the US and its allies approached 1000-1200; and, under its final defense budget plans, was to reach in excess of 1400-1600 interceptors, worldwide, including for our allies.
One current senior administration official at the time described the proposed deployment as nothing more than a "high school science project". Another high-ranking official now in the White House then actively worked in Europe to stop the deployment. Some US critics even said the Czech radar would cause birth defects in children. (MDA says the planned two-stage rocket interceptor for Poland did "work").
Most critics joined with the Russians in claiming the proposed 10 interceptors in Poland would actually undermine Russia's strategic deterrent. However, as General Obering said repeatedly at the time, the interceptors could not physically intercept Russian missiles even if we tried to do so. In simulations, the missiles were not even given a firing solution by the computers because no such interception was possible. The computers understood what missile defense critics did not.
While any administration leaves defense plans for the next administration, the Bush joint proposal with Poland and the Czech Republic, if not delayed by its critics, could have been deployed by 2015, some five years earlier than the new plan now being put on the table. This is significant in that a United States Air Force assessment has determined that Iran will have both an intercontinental ballistic missile (long-range capability) and a nuclear weapons capability by 2015.
Not only did the administration eliminate the deal with Poland and the Czech Republic, it also curtailed the existing missile defense interceptors in California and Alaska. That deployment was cut from 54 planned missiles to 30, a not insignificant reduction. Nowhere in the Vice President's essay was there any reference to providing further protection of the continental United States from Iranian missiles than the batteries we now have. And that is the real change in administration missile defense policy that is in part at the heart of the Senate concerns over the new START treaty.
Ironically, just above Mr. Biden's essay on page A17 of the Wall Street Journal of November 24, was an extraordinary essay by Will Toby and Michael Green--former senior Bush administration officials--, which reveals the extent to which US policy repeatedly, downplayed the North Korean nuclear threat. The essay brings into stark relief how US policy has done the same with respect to the Mullahs missiles.
That then brings us to the role of Russia, and others certainly, in helping the US stop Iran's missile and nuclear programs. And true, it is certainly to the administration's credit that Russia has both cooperated in allowing its airspace to be used for our resupply of forces in Afghanistan and pulled back from supplying Iran with its S-300 air defenses. And Russia voted in the UN for additional sanctions on Iran. All good things.
But the rest of the story needs to be told as well. According to Ilan Berman, Vice President of the American Foreign Policy Council, Russia deliberately interfered with our existing Afghani supply routes so are offering help to a problem it deliberately created. Russia built the Bushehr nuclear reactor, which Tehran cites as a reason for its uranium enrichment facility. Russia supplied military radar equipment to Iran through intermediaries Belarus and Venezuela, according to Stratfor. And according to Global Security Newswire, Russia has repeatedly helped Iran and North Korea with ballistic missiles and nuclear technology. In addition, Russia was part of a plot to supply $300 million in arms to Hugo Chavez in Venezuela for the use of FARC and Hezbollah, while also supplying major military weapons to Syria, a US designated state sponsor of terrorism. "Reset celebrations" may be premature.
Although it is true, as the Vice President writes, that the proposed reductions in deployed nuclear warheads under the new START treaty to 1550 would bring our weapons down to levels not seen since the 1950s, this was also true of the reductions secured by the 2002 Moscow treaty agreed to by Russia and the United States during the previous administration. It was the Bush administration that proved, to the consternation of its critics, that robust missile defenses could be deployed while also significantly reducing nuclear weapons. The Moscow Treaty, we should remember, cut deployed nuclear weapons by 3800 or nearly 70%, while the new START treaty cuts deployed warheads 650 warheads, or by 16% of the previous number. At the same time, these reductions in nuclear weapons paralleled a rise in deployed missile defenses that have now are scheduled to reach over 1000.
Russia was repeatedly offered a cooperative role in the US and NATO missile defense deployments planned in the previous administration, but they apparently could not make up their minds what to do. When Putin implored President Bush for an arms control treaty to give Russia some breathing space, the US responded positively. Although it is true that we also at the same time pulled out of the ABM treaty, threats from rogue states such as North Korea and Iran were emerging, and no US President could accept limits on our defenses while such threats were imminent..
Russia now says there is no missile threat from Iran. Some analysts suggest Moscow is referring only to long-range threats. But even if that is so, Russia insists on being in control of such threat assessments and having an "equal share" in any missile defense deployments, while also complaining that its finger will not be on the "interceptor button."
While further nuclear weapons reductions may indeed be warranted, the most recent Moscow Treaty reductions -- now nearly fully implemented -- were considerably greater in scope but are invariably described as somehow part of a "decade of neglect." Perhaps part of a successful START ratification process would result if our recollection of history were more generous and less partisan, with an acknowledgment that even our political adversaries -- yesterday and today -- have accomplished some crucially important things.