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Missile Command

September 18, 2009

If I had to settle on the one problem I have with the political right in its current form, it would be the knee-jerk propensity to FREAK THE HELL OUT over every little thing without stopping to think the situation through (much less offer, you know, alternatives). This “perpetual campaign” crap was tiresome during the Bush years, and now that Obama’s in office, it’s like all reason has gone out the window. Instead it’s just OPPOSE OPPOSE OPPOSE!

The most frustrating thing of it all is that I am a conservative. Or was. Or something. I’ve articulated as much several times on this blog. Maybe one day I’ll write a post going through my perspectives on a range of issues. We’ll see. But the GOP in its current form, the anger, the fear-mongering, the knee-jerk reactionism, the placement of some fantasy culture war ahead of the good of the country and, in cases, human decency, I just can’t support it. That is why I voted for Obama last November and why these days, I generally land a lot closer to the Democrats.

But today, I wanted to touch on the latest knee-jerk to come down the pipe – the one surrounding Obama’s decision to abandon the Bush administration’s plan to install elements of a long-range missile shield in fixed locations in Poland and the Czech Republic.

This decision has been met with umbrage. One friend, whose intelligence I respect and admire, has called the move an “absolute, unmitigated disaster”.

The Drudge Report is, of course, awash with “sky is falling” headlines such as “POLES: WE’VE BEEN SOLD TO THE RUSSIANS!”.

Okay. First of all, calm down. Stop assuming Obama is out to dismantle the United States from the inside and out. Instead, give the man the benefit of the doubt, and look at the decision from the larger national security and geopolitical contexts.

First, what was the stated objective of this missile shield?

Allegedly, to help shield Europe from possible missile attacks launched by rogue states such as Iran.

But what about Russia?

Russia has attacked the plan to deploy missile defense assets to Eastern Europe for years, claiming Iran was a cover, and that the shield was actually targeted at Russian ICBMs. And Russia’s fears were more-or-less confirmed last year, when the Bush Administration signed a deal to place 10 interceptor missiles in Poland in the wake of the Russian invasion of Georgia.

Just one problem. The missile shield wouldn’t stand a chance against a Russian attack, for two reasons.

First, last year, Air Force Lt. General Henry Obering, head of the missile defense agency, stated that the not-yet-designed “mid-course” interceptor missiles that would be installed in Polandaren’t fast enough to catch up with an ICBM fired from Russia at the United States“.

And second, from the same statement, “and even if [the missiles] were [fast enough to catch and hit ICBMs], the 54 proposed interceptors spread throughout Europe, Alaska and California wouldn’t stand a chance against hundreds of Russian ICBMs.

So the missiles:

  1. Haven’t been designed yet
  2. Would not be effective against Russian ICBMs
  3. Even if they were effective, the 54 proposed missiles would only stop a fraction of Russia’s ICBM force.

From this I can only draw two conclusions. Either the system WAS intended to blunt Russia’s nuclear capabilites, and would be ineffective at doing so, or the system was intended to protect Europe from rogue-state ballistic missiles, and Russia’s panties were in a bunch over nothing but typical Russian Victim Syndrome (i.e. the West is out to get us).

If the first, and the system is ineffective, it should be scrapped.

If the second, a review of a system plagued by cost and time overruns, diplomatic volatility, etc, could certainly be called for.

And that’s exactly what Obama did when he entered office.

So now Obama’s abandoning plans for a missile shield?

No. Instead, it appears that a review of the program has yielded new insights and what appears to be a better, more flexible defense system that can be deployed faster than the missile shield proposed by Bush.

At this point, I’ll let Secretary of Defense Bob Gates explain in his own words (with emphasis added where appropriate):

This week, the president, on the recommendation and advice of his national security team and our senior military leadership, decided to change the architecture of our ballistic missile defense in Europe, a change I believe will enhance our ability to respond to the most immediate threats to the continent, as well as future threats.

First, some background.  On December 27th, 2006, I recommended that President Bush initiate a Europe-based, missile-defense system that would put in advanced radar in the Czech Republic and 10 ground- based interceptors in Poland.  At the time, this was considered the best way to protect the United States and our European allies from the growing threat posed by Iran’s development of longer-range ballistic missiles.

Since then, two important developments have prompted a reassessment of our approach in Europe.  First, a change in our intelligence community’s 2006 view of the Iranian threat:  The intelligence community now assesses that the threat from Iran’s short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, such as the Shahab-3, is developing more rapidly than previously projected.  This poses an increased and more immediate threat to our forces on the European continent, as well as to our allies.

On the other hand, our intelligence assessment also now assesses that the threat of potential Iranian intercontinental ballistic missile capabilities has been slower to develop than was estimated in 2006.

The second development relates to our technology.  Over the last few years, we have made great strides with missile defense, particularly in our ability to counter short-and-medium-range missiles.  We now have proven capabilities to intercept these ballistic missiles with land-and-sea-based interceptors supported by much-improved sensors.

These capabilities offer a variety of options to detect, track and shoot down enemy missiles.  This allows us to deploy a distributive sensor network rather than a single fixed site, like the kind slated for the Czech Republic, enabling greater survivability and adaptability.

We have also improved the Standard Missile 3, the SM-3, which has had eight successful flight tests since 2007.  These tests have amply demonstrated the SM-3’s capability and have given us greater confidence in the system and its future.

Based on these two factors, we have now the opportunity to deploy new sensors and interceptors, in northern and southern Europe, that near-term can provide missile defense coverage against more immediate threats from Iran or others.

In the initial stage, we will deploy Aegis ships equipped with SM-3 interceptors, which provide the flexibility to move interceptors from one region to another if needed.

The second phase, about 2015, will involve fielding upgraded, land-based SM-3s. Consultations have begun with allies, starting with Poland and the Czech Republic, about hosting a land-based version of the SM-3 and other components of the system.  Basing some interceptors on land will provide additional coverage and save costs compared to a purely sea-based approach.

Over time, this architecture is designed to continually incorporate new and more effective technologies, as well as more interceptors, expanding the range of coverage, improving our ability to knock down multiple targets and increasing the survivability of the overall system.

This approach also provides us with greater flexibility to adapt to developing threats and evolving technologies.  For example, although the Iranian long-range missile threat is not as immediate as we previously thought, this system will allow us to incorporate future defensive capabilities against such threats, as they develop.

Perhaps most important, though, we can now field initial elements of the system to protect our forces in Europe and our allies roughly six to seven years earlier than the previous plan, a fact made more relevant by continued delays in the Czech and Polish ratification processes that have caused repeated slips in the timeline.

I would also note that plans to cover most of Europe and add to the defense of the U.S. homeland will continue on about the same schedule as before.  As the president has said very clearly, as long as the Iranian threat persists, we will pursue proven and cost- effective missile defenses.

Today the Department of Defense is briefing the Congress and our NATO allies about this plan.  One of our guiding principles for missile defense remains the involvement and support of our allies and partners.  We will continue to rely on our allies and work with them to develop a system that most effectively defends against very real and growing threats.

Those who say we are scrapping missile defense in Europe are either misinformed or misrepresenting the reality of what we are doing. The security of Europe has been a vital national interest of the United States for my entire career.  The circumstances, borders and threats may have changed, but that commitment continues.  I believe this new approach provides a better missile defense capability for our forces in Europe, for our European allies and eventually for our homeland than the program I recommended almost three years ago. It is more adapted to the threat we see developing and takes advantage of new technical capabilities available to us today.

The way I see all of this is…Obama asked Gates and the DOD to review the missile defense plan, and then, shock of shocks, agreed with their recommendation to revise said plan.

The freak out about “selling the Poles and Czechs to the Russians” is absurd. The previous system was too limited in scope and capability to counter a Russian attack, and the new system is…too limited in scope and capability to counter a Russian attack. If anything, the new SM-3-based system might be a bit more effective against a Russian threat, as major elements would be mobile, and therefore redeployable and redirectable.

Did we “cave” to the Russians? I don’t see it that way, but if this move can help cool down tensions, I don’t see how that’s a bad thing.

Besides, let’s be honest here. No matter which missile shield we’re talking about, the U.S. and Russia are still locked in a game of mutually assured destruction when it comes to the exchange of nuclear warheads. And, at the end of the day, Poland and the Czech Republic are both members of NATO, protected by collective defense as articulated in Article 5.

Russia can do all the saber-rattling it wants, but it would have to be IN-FREAKING-SANE to attack a NATO country. And whatever else Russia is, they aren’t balls-to-the-wall cray cray.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. September 19, 2009 11:04 pm

    You mean Democrats don’t have the “knee-jerk propensity to FREAK THE HELL OUT over every little thing without stopping to think the situation through”?. (i.e. President Carter, The New York Times any many other liberals turing every point of honest dissension into a call of racism or even Obama’s initial reaction condemning the policeman who acted “stupidly” when he arrested the professor)

  2. Matt permalink*
    September 20, 2009 9:32 am

    Yes, both sides tend to knee-jerk, or at least the media does a great job covering those who do (ratings!).

    Carter and the others who play the race card are wrong to do so. Yeah, SOME protesters are racially driven, but it’s a small minority, and it’s unproductive to both sides to try to claim otherwise. Same goes for the right, with Beck and others saying Obama hates white people.

    But when the right knee-jerks, it doesn’t stop. Obama came out and said he spoke to soon, but the Republican leadership is still invoking demonstrably false allegations such as the death panels. Instead of saying “yeah, we overreacted” about the speech to schoolkids, I’ve seen it proclaimed as some kind of victory for the right, as though Obama changed the speech or something.

    There’s a lot to be said for every so often admitting “hey, we got this one wrong”. When that doesn’t happen, when an argument continues to be pressed even though it has been proven completely false, it makes the next freak out that much less credible. And so, when it’s really time to sound the alarm, no one will listen.

  3. September 24, 2009 7:40 am

    I totally see your point, however I guess it all depends on which side of the fence you sit (The White House did take out the “controversial” lesson plan that was going to accompany the speech, but the Right never openly admitted that it was a good speech about staying in school)). I also totally agree with you on the media driving the kee-jerk. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people that believe everything the media say, so when the media highlights these knee jerk reactions that may be the minority it makes things seem so one sided (they blasted Bush his entire term for his drinking and alleged drug use, but hardly ever mention Obama’s own admitted pot and cocaine use) and the other side gets really PO’d…..and knee-jerks right back (both Left and the RIght). In all honesty I don’t see the Left or the Right apologizing much for anything (Clintons affair, Invading Iraq for the wrong reasons (personally i feel, Saddam was a threat but Afghanistan was the immediate threat, pushing the Stimulus package through before anyone could really look at it, not to mention the Katrina debacle on both sides)) – only creating more levels of shadiness! We need a 3rd Party as I am losing my faith in the political process as a whole!!!!!!. There is a reason when someone says “it’s all politics” around the office that is not referring to some thing fair and balanced (like my little FOXNews plug?)

    Matt – as always I enjoy reading your perspective on things and respect our opinion. I know that I am more tolerant of the Right’ mistakes and more critical of the Left’s, just as you are more tolerant of the Left’s mistakes and more critical of the Right’s. Even though we don’t have the same political views and may not agree on everything, you have helped me see both sides at times and have helped me to think through my own political mindset.

    PS – Chuck Norris is a conservative……..I’m just saying….

  4. September 29, 2009 9:15 am

    The only way to win is not to play!

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