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Poland vows own shield as US reins in Europe missile defence
by Staff Writers
Warsaw (AFP) March 20, 2013

US commitment to Europe missile defence 'ironclad'
Geneva (AFP) March 20, 2013 - Washington's commitment to defending Europe from missile attacks remains unbending, a top US security official said Wednesday, after it froze the final phase of a plan to counter threats from North Korea and Iran.

"Let me emphasise the strong and continued commitment of the United States to NATO missile defence. That commitment remains ironclad," said Rose Gottemoeller, acting under secretary of state for arms control and international security.

Speaking at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, an international think-tank, she rejected claims that Washington was watering down its European anti-missile moves.

US President Barack Obama's current plan -- adapted from one drawn up under his predecessor George W. Bush -- envisages a defence shield comprising a super-powerful radar in Turkey, SM-3 IIA interceptors aboard frigates in the Mediterranean and 48 interceptors split between Poland and Romania.

But last Friday, US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said Washington would deploy 14 anti-missile interceptors in Alaska, up from the current 30, in response to mounting concerns about nuclear-armed North Korea.

That meant calling off the fourth and final phase of the European plan, which foresaw upgraded SM-3 IIB "missile-killing" technology being deployed within a decade.

Besides Alaska, Washington is eyeing sites on the US east coast, and plans a new radar facility with Japan, Gottemoeller said.

"These combined steps serve to strengthen missile defences for the protection of the US homeland and our allies," she said.

"Phase one through phase three of the European phased adaptive approach, including sites in Romania and Poland, will provide coverage of all European NATO territory as planned by 2018."

The US shield is linked to a plan for Europe which NATO launched last May. Both have raised hackles in Russia, which dubs them a threat on its doorstep.

Gottemoeller, a fluent Russian speaker involved in arms control issues since the early 1990s, questioned Moscow's stance.

"The United States' missile defence programmes are very limited in nature. They focus on regional threats from Iran and North Korea," she said.

Since the Cold War era of the 1980s, Moscow has made "incredible progress" on counter-measures for missile defence systems, she said.

"Therefore, I see no objective reason to say that very limited American missile defence capabilities are any threat to Russia's nuclear deterrent at all.

"We believe that cooperating on these missile defence developments is the best way to build mutual confidence."

Poland said Wednesday it would spend 33.6 billion euros ($43.3 bn) to set up its own missile shield, days after the US announced it was ready to abandon the final phase of the European missile defence system.

"We will create our own air defence system. Our national missile shield, with the American shield, the elements of which will be on our territory by 2018 and will make up part of the NATO system," Poland's Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski told parliament Wednesday in his annual address outlining this EU and NATO member's foreign policy priorities.

"We will build up our deterrence forces -- we will procure missiles, helicopters, armoured personnel carrier, submarines and drones," Sikorski said, stressing that "the trans-Altantic alliance will remain our principle guarantor of security."

Insisting a military upgrade was Poland's top priority for the decade ahead, Sikorski vowed to spend 33.6 billion euros over the period.

Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski had insisted in August that Poland should set up its own missile shield to defend its territory as part of the wider NATO project.

In May, the Western defence alliance officially launched the first phase of its European missile shield, that the US has pushed for as a foil against a perceived threat from Iran, despite strong opposition from Russia which saw it as a grave threat at its doorstep.

US President Barack Obama's current plan for Europe envisages the shield as being made up of a super-powerful radar deployed in Turkey, SM-3 IIA interceptors missiles mounted aboard frigates stationed in the Mediterranean and 24 missile interceptors based in Poland and as many in Romania.

But a Friday announcement by US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel that Washington would deploy an additional 14 anti-missile interceptors in Alaska in response to a mounting threat from nuclear-armed North Korea, also made it apparent the US was likely to abandon the final phase of the Europe shield, which had envisaged upgraded SM-3 IIB "missile-killing" technology within about a decade.

An US official speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity at the weekend said the US contribution to the final phase of the European missile defence system "is being restructured due to congressional funding cuts and changing technology."

Having shed communism in 1989 before joining NATO in 1999 and the EU in 2004, Poland, a nation of 38 million has spent the last two decades updating its Soviet-era military hardware.

It is also the only EU member to have sustained growth amid both the global financial and eurozone crises, and spends round 1.95 percent of its gross domestic product on defence.


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