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Missile Defenses in Europe Would Shield Against Iran, Not Russia

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 22, 2007 – Basing missile defenses in Eastern Europe would protect the United States, deployed U.S. troops and Europe against Iran and other rogue nations, but would pose no threat to Russia’s missile deterrent, the director of the Missile Defense Agency said here today.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry Obering briefed media members at the National Press Club here about plans to deploy missile defense capabilities to Poland and the Czech Republic.

The United States could put the first of a projected 10 interceptors in place by the 2011 time frame if the details are hammered out within the next year, he said. The full deployment could be completed by 2013.

Although the U.S. already has mobile, shorter-range defenses in Europe, “we don’t have an effective defense against a longer-range weapon,” Obering said.

The proposed system, if deployed, would provide protection against emerging threats in the Middle East, particularly from Iran.

“Here’s what we’re concerned about,” Obering said. “We know that rogue nations such as North Korea and Iran are very much interested in ballistic missiles and that technology, not only for the operation of these missiles, but to be able to have them for coercion and for intimidation purposes.”

Of particularly concern, he said, is proliferation of these technologies to non-state actors, as evidenced this past summer in Hezbollah’s rocket attacks on Israel.

More than 20 countries have missile technologies today, and in all likelihood, more will follow, he said. “We have been surprised in the past, and we anticipate that we will be surprised in the future,” he said. “So we are building a context here for making sure that we are prepared for uncertain threats for the future.”

Obering emphasized that the system isn’t geared toward a Russian threat. “We just don’t see that,” he said. “First of all, these interceptors are not designed against the Russian threat. You are not going to counter the hundreds of Russian (intercontinental ballistic missiles) and the thousands of warheads that are represented by that fleet with 10 interceptors in a field in Europe.”

The radar proposed to being deployed to Europe operates with a very narrow beam radar that could track only a tiny percentage of Russian missiles, he said. In addition, he said the interceptors to be placed in Europe aren’t fast enough to catch a Russian ICBM.

“This isn’t geared toward a Russian threat,” Obering reiterated. “This is geared toward what we perceive to be the more urgent threat with respect to missiles, which … is what we see happening in Iran.”

Obering said North Korea’s firing of a long-range missile this past summer – one nobody knew what its payload carried – served as a wake-up call to millions of Americans who suddenly understood the importance of defending themselves against a missile attack.

“What we hope and are making sure does not happen is that we have a similar scenario play out in the next five years, where you wake up and you find out that you have a threat that is threatening your borders and your neighbors,” he said.

The proposed system in Europe will ensure that in the event that scenario occurs, there’s a means of defense that prevents mass casualties. “And that is the overarching benefit, I believe, of what we are trying to do here,” he said.

Obering emphasized that the United States is not going solo as it develops missile defense capabilities, and that the proposal for Europe builds on cooperative efforts already in place. “We have a whole family of allies that is working with us in missile defense and in varying degrees of participation,” he said.

“We have relations with many countries around the world in a variety of development and cooperative research and a whole host of activities," Obering said. "And so what we are proposing (in Europe) is an expansion again of that cooperation.”

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