“The situation today is radically different,” said Stephen Rademaker, a former Bush administration arms control and nonproliferation official, in a phone interview. “Ten years ago, America was completely defenseless against the threat of missile attack.”
Rademaker says the U.S. now has about 45 interceptors in Alaska and California, which is “more than enough” to defend against accidental launches from Russia, as well as attacks from Iran and North Korea. He adds that tensions between the U.S. and Russia have relaxed since the Cold War, so that intentional launches are unlikely and accidental launches pose the greatest threat.
The improved relationship with Russia and the technological advances allowing the U.S. to build a stronger defense system come years after the U.S. walked away from an agreement to stop building missile defenses.
To be exact, this month marks a decade since the U.S. withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia, which prevented both nations from testing or launching missile defense systems. According to the Arms Control Association, the treaty was based on the idea that if either nation built a strategic defense, the other would build up its offensive nuclear forces to offset the defense. Stated another way, it assumes an end to missile defense systems could pave the way to the end, or at least decline, of missile proliferation.
Contrary to the assumptions of the treaty, experts like Rademaker argue that pursuing defense strategies has actually helped build homeland security where none existed several years ago. And if unfriendly nations like Iran are taking advantage of advanced technology, the U.S. should be investing in it rather than practicing nonproliferation.
Rademaker says the U.S. can invest in placing missile interceptors to deter nations like Iran now that the U.S. no longer aims to deter Russia.
At the recent North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in Chicago, which brought together world leaders to discuss global issues including antiballistic missile control, officials issued a declaration saying the “NATO missile defence is not directed against Russia. NATO missile defence is intended to defend against potential threats emanating from outside the Euro-Atlantic area.” In other words, it is aimed at countries like Iran.
The above-mentioned missile defense strategy requires the planting of sea- and land-based missile interceptors in Europe to defend against the “growing” ballistic missile threat from Iran, according to the White House’s fact sheet on U.S. Missile Defense Policy.
The problem is, there still seems to be a lack of trust between the U.S. and Russia, even with the easing of tensions between the two nations. A Financial Times article from May 24 quotes General Nikolai Makarov, chief of Russia’s general military staff, as saying countries that allow the missile defense shield on their soil risk a Russian nuclear first strike. In other words, he is saying if the U.S. decides to place missile interceptors in Europe, Russia may attack. Makarov’s reaction shows that Russians do not completely trust the U.S., and that they think the interceptors could be aimed against their country rather than Iran, for example.
It is not likely Russia will follow through with a weapons attack on the U.S. because the U.S. has the capability to defend itself and return fire. However, if Russia were to attack, the consequences would be worse than they would have been at any other time because today’s ballistic missiles are “more mobile, survivable, reliable, accurate and capable of striking targets over longer distances,” according to the Missile Defense Agency of the Department of Defense. But again, interceptors defend against such a possibility, something the U.S. could not rely on just a decade ago.
In its missile defense policy, the White House says the Department of Defense will follow through on a four-phased, adaptive approach for missile defense in Europe, which would involve the deployment of missile defense systems there. The White House says it welcomes Russian cooperation and that it has “repeatedly made clear to Russia that missile defense in Europe poses no threat to its strategic deterrent.”