President Obama is guilty of national security malpractice because he replaced a proven missile defense system destined for Europe with one that will not work, but does appease Russia. Also, Obama’s decision alienated a key ally who now refuses to cooperate, and at the same time Iran—our primary missile threat—is dangerously close to reaching atomic-tipped ballistic missile status.
U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby (R.-Ala.), according to Aviation Weekly, said the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board concluded that Obama’s proposed missile defense system for Europe, which relies on achieving an early intercept capability, is “simply not credible.” Portions of the board’s forthcoming study were unveiled during a Senate hearing on June 15.
Shelby said Obama’s promised early intercept capability “was the central justification … to cancel the third site in Europe.” That site, which was proposed by President George W. Bush, would have deployed the same proven Boeing Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system used in Alaska and California.
However, “Now it looks like the nation may be left with an inadequate defense in Europe and no boost-phase intercept capability,” Shelby said. And the Pentagon is not reevaluating Obama’s new Phased Adaptive Approach (PAA) in light of the Pentagon board’s damaging report, according to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
Gates testified that Obama’s PAA “will give us a missile-defense capability several years earlier than would have been the case with the third site in Europe.” He pointed out that “the third site in Europe was not going to happen because the Czech Republic was not going to approve the radar.” But that was not necessarily the case two years ago, before Obama canceled the deal.
The Bush administration reached agreements to base the GMD in Poland (missile silos) and the Czech Republic (radars) in 2008. A year later Obama canceled Bush’s plan, which evidently soiled relations with those nations, based on subsequent negative comments in the media. But the cancellation evidently pleased the Russians, who charged the Bush plan was directed primarily against them. And Obama’s cancellation sufficiently appeased Moscow to earn him a quid pro quo campaign-promise achievement, the Russia-U.S. new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty ( START II), which was signed in April 2010.
At the time Obama canceled the Bush plan, he pledged to consider both Poland and the Czech Republic for future basing facilities under his new plan. But last week Czech Defense Minister Alexander Vondra said his country is stepping away from Obama’s new plan because it is frustrated by its minor role, which may not be the whole story, especially given Russia’s renewed influence among Western Europeans.
To make matters worse for those concerned about missile defense, Iran is racing toward the development of an atomic-tipped ballistic missile arsenal in spite of international efforts to isolate the rogue. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified that “Iran has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity to eventually produce nuclear weapons.” Tehran also continues to “expand the scale, reach and sophistication of its ballistic missile forces, many of which are inherently capable of carrying a nuclear payload,” Clapper said.
The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), draws a similar conclusion with its report dated May 24, 2011. The nine-page report states that its own inquiries show “the possible existence in Iran of past or current undisclosed nuclear-related activities involving military-related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.”
The IAEA also reports that Iran has increased production of low-enriched uranium (LEU) and continues to enrich uranium to the 20% level, representing 85% of the work needed to produce weapons-grade material. It already has enough LEU, if further enriched, for several bombs, and more is being produced daily. And Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad boasted to the IAEA that his country’s nuclear project has “no brake and no reverse gear.”
Consider four consequences of Obama’s decision to cancel Bush’s European-based GMD in light of these new developments.
First, America is less safe because Obama discarded a tested system for one still on the drawing board that may never work. Admittedly, the Standard Missile 3 (SM-3), linked to the shipboard Aegis radar system, which is part of Obama’s phased approach, is a proven anti-missile system, but not a replacement for the GMD (long-range intercept) or ready for the promised early intercept mission. Rather, Obama’s plan relies on the creation of a souped-up variant of the SM-3 called Block IIB that isn’t expected to be available until 2020, if ever.
Second, Obama’s kowtowing to Russia on missile defense guarantees a stalemate and long-term missile vulnerability. The Russians will never be satisfied with an American anti-missile system in Europe. Unless Moscow can call the shots, which Washington must refuse. Besides, last week, Russia’s presidential envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, dismissed the U.S. claim that Iran poses a missile threat to Europe.
Third, Iran will take advantage of our new system-development time to further refine its ballistic-missile capability. Tehran has already accelerated its missile development efforts. In February 2009, Iran launched its first satellite, the Omid, which used a two-stage space rocket. At the time, U.S. officials admitted “grave concern” over that achievement because the same capabilities could be applied toward developing intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of targeting the U.S.
The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Nuclear Threat Initiative states that Iran’s now twice-successful Safir satellite launch vehicle, if converted into a ballistic missile, would likely be able to carry a 1,100-pound warhead 1,875 miles (reaching Berlin), or a 2,200-pound warhead approximately 1,250 miles (covering the entire Middle East). Put that capability into perspective.
The warhead’s weight and explosive yield depend on the technology used. The “Fat Man” atomic bomb that destroyed Nagasaki in 1945 weighed 10,300 pounds and produced an explosive yield of 21 kilotons. By comparison, modern atomic weapons can weigh just a few hundred pounds and produce an explosive yield equal to hundreds of kilotons.
Today, Iran is experimenting with all the technologies necessary to produce a powerful nuclear warhead, and the missiles to deliver those weapons. The question for the West is not whether, but when, Iran will field such a weapon.
Finally, “There is a real risk that Iran’s nuclear program will prompt other countries to pursue nuclear options,” National Intelligence Director Clapper testified. That risk is rapidly becoming reality. At least 10 Middle East countries have plans to build nuclear power plants. The six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council set up a nuclear exploratory commission in 2007, and Saudi Arabia is working with the U.S. to obtain “a nuclear capacity.” Remember, spent reactor fuel, which includes plutonium after chemical processing, can be used to fabricate the heart of a nuclear weapon.
Obama’s decision to scrap a proven for an unproven missile defense system is evidence of national security malpractice. That decision must be reversed, starting with a clear-eyed assessment of the Iranian threat, our allies’ willingness to cooperate on a missile defense system, and our proven technological capabilities in view of the Pentagon’s forthcoming Defense Science Board report.
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