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Radars Without Missiles

There is no doubt that, despite their impressive and surprising consensus on most other ballistic missile defense issues, Republicans and Democrats in the House are deeply split on the issue of funding the BMD facilities in Central Europe. Minority Republicans see them as an essential defense, but majority Democrats are skeptical and many of them believe that infuriating Russia is a dangerously high price to pay for building them.
By Martin Sieff, UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington DC (UPI) Jul 27, 2007
The compromise cuts in U.S. plans to build new ballistic missile defense facilities in Europe, approved by a congressional panel Wednesday, will please nobody. For while the Appropriations Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives dealt a major blow Wednesday to President George W. Bush's plans to deploy U.S. anti-ballistic missile interceptors in Central Europe, it stopped short of scrapping the program. The full Appropriations Committee approved a $460 billion bill that included in all $298 million in cuts to the Bush administration's proposed missile defense programs. While large, they were not as massive as previously recommended by subcommittees.

The proposed legislation eliminates funding for a BMD interceptor base Bush wants to build in Poland over the next three years. The base would deploy 10 anti-ballistic missile interceptors to guard the United States and Western Europe against the threat of intercontinental or intermediate-range ballistic missiles armed with nuclear warheads that could be fired by Iran.

However, the committee legislation stopped well short of scrapping the entire program because it preserved the funding to build an advanced early warning radar installation in the Czech Republic to detect the missiles and guide the interceptors to destroy them.

In many respects, this move is the worst of all possible worlds. It will predictably enrage President Bush, Pentagon policymakers and the Republican minorities in Congress. Keeping the proposed radar base in the Czech Republic, assuming it could still be built, would certainly provide a few minutes valuable extra warning if Iran were to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs with nuclear warheads against the United States. But without the interceptor base in Poland, there would be no prospect of destroying them when they were more vulnerable, passing over Western Europe in a predictable trajectory.

And there would be no defense at all for Britain, Germany and France unless they proved capable of building anti-ballistic missile interceptors of their own, something that so far seems far beyond the limited capacities of the high tech aerospace industries in all three countries.

Building the radar base without the interceptor one would therefore be an exercise in futility and would add nothing to Western European defense at all, and precious little to that of the United States.

Yet there is no doubt that building the Czech radar facility would continue to alienate and outrage Russian leaders almost as much as building both the radar facility and the Polish interceptor base as well.

For Russian President Vladimir Putin and his top military and political officials have made no secret of their conviction that the United States remains determined to surround Russia with BMD bases and thereby eventually neutralize Russia's own nuclear deterrent capabilities.

Building the Czech radar base by itself would continue to feed those suspicions, because the Russians would probably then argue that since the radar base was being built without any European-based interceptors for it to direct against any Iranian menace, the only use for it would be to extend U.S. early warning capabilities against Russia's own huge strategic nuclear arsenal, which is still comprised of at least 2,400 warheads -- enough to obliterate every major population center in the world's Northern Hemisphere 10 times over.

The congressional compromise, like so many such deals painstakingly worked out on Capitol Hill over the years before it, will likely come to nothing anyway. President Bush may very well veto it. Congressional Republicans, split on immigration and on the defensive over the renewed deterioration of security conditions in Iraq, are already eagerly attacking it as one of the few national security issues left where they still hope to enjoy an edge over the Democrats.

And even if Bush does not veto it, the legislation may well go through further radical changes. It would then have to be reconciled at a conference with parallel but different legislation passed by the U.S. Senate; the cut funds could then be reintroduced into it, or the cuts agreed upon could be increased.

There is no doubt that, despite their impressive and surprising consensus on most other ballistic missile defense issues, Republicans and Democrats in the House are deeply split on the issue of funding the BMD facilities in Central Europe. Minority Republicans see them as an essential defense, but majority Democrats are skeptical and many of them believe that infuriating Russia is a dangerously high price to pay for building them.

Yet Wednesday's compromise still will infuriate the Russians, and probably embolden them too, in its combination of timidity and determination.

The issue is certainly a difficult one. Building the interceptor base and radar, serious U.S. experts say, would provide a significant forward defense for both the United States and its European allies against a future Iranian ICBM threat, and there is no doubt that Iran is working flat out to develop such a capability.

On the other hand, alienating Russia, still one of the two most formidable thermonuclear powers on earth, by building BMD facilities it clearly regards -- however wrongly -- as a threat to itself, could prove to be a dangerous price to pay for such a defense.

However, the congressional compromise offered Wednesday is clearly the worst of both those possible worlds, without any of the presumed advantages of either of them.

Source: United Press International

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Moscow (RIA Novosti) Jul 26, 2007
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