Missile Defense Arms Race

Alexander Vershbow, deputy secretary general of NATO and former U.S. ambassador to Russia, published a comment entitled "NATO Missile Defense Is No Threat to Russia" in The Moscow Times on November 12 (attached). In his comment, Vershbow said an Oct. 29 Rossiiskaya Gazeta article incorrectly stated that land-based and sea-launched interceptor missiles in the U.S. national missile defense system "are designed for the total destruction of the warheads of short-, intermediate- and intercontinental-range ballistic missiles."

Vershbow urged readers to focus on the facts and physics, writing, "NATO's entire ballistic missile defense system, including the future site in Romania, will defend against short — and intermediate-range ballistic missiles." The interceptors to be deployed in all three phases of NATO's ballistic missile defense system "are not designed to defend against intercontinental missiles," Vershbow wrote.

For the sake of finding the truth on this issue, it is important to clarify the existing terminology of short-range ballistic missiles, medium-range ballistic missiles, intermediate-range ballistic missiles and intercontinental ballistic missiles. According to the Pentagon definition articulated by the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, short-range ballistic missiles are those that can fly up to 1,000 kilometers. Medium-range ballistic missiles have a range between 1,000 to 3,000 kilometers, and intermediate-range ballistic missiles can fly between 3,000 and 5,500 kilometers. Finally, intercontinental ballistic missiles have a range of 5,500 kilometers.

If Vershbow is correctly portraying the main mission of the future U.S. ballistic missile defense system in Romania and Poland, which will be deployed in 2015 and 2018, respectively, it would mean that they can hit the potential intermediate-range ballistic missiles at their maximum range of 5,500 kilometers and intercontinental missiles at their minimal range — the same 5,500 kilometers.

How, then, in real combat can anyone distinguish between the incoming ballistic missiles — whether they are intermediate-range ballistic missiles or intercontinental ballistic missiles — if their respective upper and lower limits coincide?

When Vice Admiral James Syring, the current director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, spoke before the Senate Appropriations committee and Defense Subcommittee on July 17, he said, "In addition, we continue to develop the SM-3 Block IIA to enable U.S. and Japanese Aegis BMD ships to engage medium-range ballistic missiles and intermediate-range ballistic missiles and, when coupled with the upgraded Aegis missile defense weapon system, more sophisticated ballistic missile threats."

What did Syring mean by "more sophisticated ballistic missile threats"? Intercontinental ballistic missiles?

The U.S. did cancel Phase 4 of the European missile defense system, but Washington has not stopped research and development on these advanced interceptors, which means that they could be deployed in Europe in the future.

What is the difference for Moscow, if the U.S. and NATO deploy SM-3 Block IIA or SM-3 Block IIB systems near Russian territory if they both are still considered by the Pentagon as "forward-based weapons" in relation to Russia?

Moreover, Moscow does not have these missile defense systems and has no intention to store them near the U.S. As a result, an increasing number of analysts and members of the military are urging the Kremlin to respond more aggressively against U.S. missile defense installations.

The reaction is understandable. After 12 years of negotiations between Moscow and Washington on the missile defense problem, there are no legal checks and balances to contain the looming missile defense arms race between the two largest nuclear powers.

U.S.-Soviet relations during the last century was marked by a nuclear missiles arms race with a huge number of deployed and nondeployed strategic offensive nuclear arms and a very limited number of missile defense interceptors. Relations between the two countries during the current century are in danger of being marked by a missile defense arms race featured by a reverse strategic equation, when the number of interceptors could soon exceed the number of strategic offensive nuclear missiles.

Does the world really need another arms race in any form? Instead of ushering in a qualitatively new arms race, the nuclear powers have to hammer out a new multilateral Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

Vladimir Kozin, Head of the Group of Advisers to the Director of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, is author of "Evolution of the U.S. Missile Defense and Russia's Stance."


NATO Missile Defense Is No Threat to Russia

12 November 2013, The Moscow Times

By Alexander Vershbow

On Oct. 29, Rossiiskaya Gazeta reported that "according to NATO information," surface- and sea-launched interceptor missiles in the U.S. national missile defense system "are designed for the total destruction of the warheads of short-, intermediate- and intercontinental-range ballistic missiles." The article then implied that the Ballistic Missile Defense system being deployed in Romania would have the same capability against intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs, as the U.S. homeland defense system.

The attribution of this information to NATO is wrong. So is the implication that NATO's missile defense system will be able to destroy ICBMs.

Let's focus on the facts and physics. NATO's entire Ballistic Missile Defense system, including the future site in Romania, will defend against short- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles. The interceptors to be deployed in all three phases of this system are not designed to defend against intercontinental missiles.

Even if such interceptors were deployed in Romania, their location would render them useless against Russian ICBMs aimed at the U.S. Washington's cancellation of Phase 4 of the European Phased Adaptive Approach confirms that NATO is not planning to deploy any systems in Europe designed to intercept ICBMs. Interceptors in Romania, however, are ideally situated to defend against medium-range ballistic missiles launched not from Russia but against NATO territory in southeastern Europe from outside Europe — in particular, from the Middle East. Similarly, the planned site in Poland, to be operational in 2018, will defend against intermediate-range ballistic missiles launched from the Middle East against NATO territory in northern and central Europe.

The facts and physics demonstrate that NATO's Ballistic Missile Defense system cannot pose any threat to Russia's strategic deterrent forces. And Russians do not need to take NATO's word for it. This assessment has been substantiated by many well-respected Russian generals and scientists. For more than three years, NATO has offered to cooperate with Russia in building a missile defense architecture that would protect both NATO and Russia from the growing ballistic missile threat from rogue countries. That offer still stands, and we hope Russia will accept it. Russians participating in the NATO-Russia missile defense system could then see for themselves that NATO's system is not directed at Russia. By working together, we could overcome the mistrust and suspicion that still surround this issue.

Alexander Vershbow is deputy secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

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