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April 14, 2010 |  6 comments |  Print  Your Opinion  

Don't Sacrifice Disarmament at the Altar of Missile Defense

Subrata Ghoshroy: Europe should not throw away a chance to move toward real disarmament by signing on to a costly and misguided missile defense program. Europe should recall the principles behind the now-defunct Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty before embarking on a missile defense venture against a fictitious Iranian threat.

Last week, in Prague, President Barack Obama and President Dmitry Medvedev signed a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) called the "New START," which is being widely hailed as "historic," although in reality history may judge it differently.

While the treaty does reduce the number of weapons from an earlier ceiling between 1700 and 2200 under the Moscow Treaty to 1550 for each side, it is obviously not a significant reduction. But, more importantly, it leaves the two largest arsenals at levels that are more than ten times larger than that of nations like France or China. They will have little incentive to reduce their stockpiles.  However, that is not my main point here.

The point is, whether it is truly - as President Obama says - a "first step" toward further substantive reductions, or it is effectively a dead end because of the elephant in the room - the US global missile defense system.

Despite the initial positive reaction, upon closer examination the Obama Plan for deployment of missile defense in Europe is actually a change for the worse primarily because the proposed interceptors are mobile - being based on Aegis ships. Compared to ten long-range interceptors planned for deployment in Poland under the Bush Plan, now there could be "scores" of sea- and land-based interceptors. One may recall that the now-defunct Anti Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty prohibited any mobile platforms.

Under what is called the Phased Adaptive Approach (PAA) - the US will deploy in Phase 1 by 2011 BMD-equipped Aegis ships in the Mediterranean to protect portions of Southern Europe from short and medium-ranged Iranian missiles. It will be followed by Phases 2, 3, and 4 with progressively more capabilities and land sites. By 2020, it will have capabilities to intercept intercontinental ballistic missiles. According to the US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, "We are strengthening - not scrapping- missile defense in Europe."

Regardless, the U.S. position was that the Russians should have fewer objections to the new plan because the SM-3 interceptors are for short and intermediate range missiles, and hence would not be a threat to the Russian deterrent.

However, the Russians were not convinced. Of particular concern to them was the presence of the US missiles at their door step in Poland and Romania, and likely on Aegis ships in the Baltic Sea. Russian military experts pointed out that the US could convert them from defensive to offensive weapons with the potential for equipping them with nuclear warheads, which could compromise their deterrent.

So, they continued to raise objections and reportedly balked at further cuts. They said that there should be a direct linkage between offensive weapons and missile defense. In the end, the Russians settled for a simple statement that made reference to the offense-defense linkage. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov pointedly remarked that "Russia could pull out" if it concluded that US missile defense plans compromised its nuclear deterrent - hardly a solid "first step."

Unfortunately, all this fuss has to do with a fictional threat. There is no evidence that Iran wants to threaten Europe for any reason. Iran does not have nuclear weapons and there is no conclusive evidence that it is on a path do so. For forty long years, the NATO countries lived without missile defense when thousands of Soviet nuclear missiles were pointed at them.

The simple fact is if Iran launches one missile toward Europe, it could be obliterated from the face of the earth by the firepower of just a smaller nuclear power like France, let alone the United States. Europe shouldn't get sucked into a costly adventure that can neither enhance security, nor add to peace and stability in the region and only further irritate Russia, which believes that it does not need missile defense because its nuclear superiority over Iran is sufficient deterrent.

The ABM treaty helped maintain global stability for three decades despite two major regional proxy wars between the superpowers in Vietnam and Afghanistan. It may be dead, but the concept is not. Finally, let us not sacrifice a chance for real progress towards disarmament at the altar of the missile defense dogma.  

Subrata Ghoshroy is a Research Associate with the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA. He was formerly a Senior Defense Analyst with the Government Accountability Office.

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Greg Randolph Lawson

April 14, 2010

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I have constantly maintained that the entire goal of "Global Zero" is mentally beautiful and desirable but practically ridiculous.

It won't happen, ever. There may be cuts to large superpower stockpiles, but all will continue to hold onto enough for their perceived security needs. Other nations will also develop nuclear weapons for a variety of reasons having much to do with local security assessments and varying psychological factors.

Missile defense is a prudent policy to deal with a rapidly destabilizing world that will not find stability through dried ink on diplomatic parchments. Even the now much ballyhooed nuclear summit Obama hosted ended with "non-binding" statements about securing "loose nuke" material. Sure its better than nothing and may reduce the risk of nuclear terrorism, even if only partially implemented, but as to the notion it will "solve the problem" of nuclear terrorism, it won't.

It is largely a political performance where all the actors know the truth.

Missile defense should not be sacrificed on the altar of disarmament illusions.
 
Cora Nicole Weiss

April 14, 2010

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Interesting comment. Obma's “non-biding” talks with other nations about nuclear materials and weapons may be largely symbolic, but these negotiations will help the White House set the stage for future cooperation. The US is taking important first steps to increase coordination between nations. By holding talks and putting forth an agenda that can be easily agreed to, Obma is building an international framework for addressing the global issue of nuclear proliferation and terrorism. It may be too little yes, but not too late. In fact, I think that this is perhaps just the beginning.
Tags: | Obama | nuclear proliferation |
 
Unregistered User

April 15, 2010

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The recent agreement between Russia and the USA on reduction in nuclear materials,
weapons and delivery systems----the recent global summit on nuclear security with a
pledge to lock down weapons- usable nuclear fuel by 2014-----the recent reaffirmation
between Russia and the USA to permanently destroy 34 metric tons each of weapons-grade plutonium appears to have served the purpose to set the stage for larger confrontations over nuclear proliferation and over stopping the production of nuclear weapons materials among competing nuclear allies.
While Mexico, Canada, Ukraine offered to remove all nuclear weapons material from
their countries to join others such as Belarus, Kazakshtan, the recent US announcement
to initiate only nuclear attacks on nuclear adversaries, justifies to move these activities
from simple political symbolism, because there is still enough destruction capacity around to eliminate us all, to setting the stage for future cooperation.
The unfortunate part of this positive development is to find that almost all military budgets
of the nations involved show an increase in allocations for conventional arms.
It may be harsh to reflect, but the phosphor bombs over Dresden and Koenigsberg
had at least the same if not more brutal results when compared to the Atomic bombs over
Japan.--WWII---
Of additional concern would be the creation of a " nuclear cast system for( weapons)uranium and plutonium " and any nation violating these red lines of authority could face
military attacks, such as Iraq and Syria.
The " loose cannon" in this arrangement is the new missile defense system for Europe.
This will be an elaborate system with short range missiles on Aegis ships in the Med
and the Baltic as well as on land in the Balkans.
The only nation for justifying such an elaborate system, from all communifications,
seems to be Iran. The Russians seem to have their doubts, because of a potential
alternate deployment with nuclear warheads.
It is perhaps perplexing that Israel is not offering to be part of these meetings and on the
other hand no attending nation is questioning Israel's absence.
Yet, Israel is when compared to its neighbours, a regional super power in terms of
conventional arms , as well as ( not confirmed )nuclear weapons and know how.
This regional super power sits in the center of the world's richest oil fields, the life line
for most economies.
President Obama's attempt seems to be a noble one, but potential hidden agendas, application of double standards or even more, questionable assumption regarding other nations could result in a dangerous setback.

HRF








 
Olga  Kolesnichenko

April 16, 2010

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This week Russian Chief of Staff General Makarov reaffirmed that in terms of development of nuclear weapons Iran should hear the International community voice and on the other hand we all should hear the Iranian side.
Gen. Makarov also said that it will be the fatal way like tank-antitank strategy race in the past century. It led only to arms rising.
And now we have to be prepared that Strategic Arms Reduction in USA and Russia would be accompanied by race of nuclear offensive capability in other Nuclear Club's countries. Also there isn't choice - USA and Russia have to continuing the negotiation about Missile Defense and Common NATO-Russia Missile Defense. Or the New START Treaty would be interrupted. The main word - no choice - because we don't afford to catalyze the new nuclear race. USA and Russia must hold the Missile Defense together.
 
John  Hadjisky

April 21, 2010

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"Iran does not have nuclear weapons and there is no conclusive evidence that it is on a path do so."

Israel also does not have nuclear weapons and there is no conclusive evidence that it is on a path do so.
 
Unregistered User

November 25, 2010

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'Israel also does not have nuclear weapons and there is no conclusive evidence that it is on a path do so. '

Ever heard of Mordecai Vanunu, John?
 

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