At a groundbreaking ceremony here for an Aegis Ashore ballistic missile defense site today, Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work emphasized the system is for the protection of NATO members and not directed at Russia.
As American and Polish flags fluttered in the breeze, Work and dignitaries including Polish Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz and NATO Assistant Secretary General for Defense Investment Patrick Auroy tossed shovelfuls of dirt to signify the start of the construction phase.
"Today we stand at a strategic inflection point and a change in the strategic landscape," Work said at this Polish military base situated in a northern village. Europe and NATO face a range of new and complex security challenges, he said. Addressing those challenges will require a "more capable NATO alliance, one that continues to evolve and adapt to threats," he said.
In efforts to protect the alliance, NATO is making important investments, including in missile defense, he said.
Yesterday, Work was in southern Romania for the inauguration of the first Aegis Ashore site in Europe. The ceremony in Deveselu marked the operational certification of that site.
Russia 'Not Quite Getting' Message
Russia was never a consideration in the years of discussions and planning for the ballistic missile defense system, Work said. The reason for the defense system is primarily because of the threat from Iran, he said.
"As long as Iran continues to develop and deploy ballistic missiles,” he added, “the United States will work with our allies and partners to defend against this threat.".
He pointed out that due to physics and geography, it is "simply not possible" for the NATO ballistic missile defense system to undermine Russia’s strategic deterrent. Russian officials know that fact, Work said, pointing out that they are among the most advanced missile operators in the world.
Macierewicz agreed that the site is for defensive purposes only.
"We understand that Russia is not quite getting this point that we are reiterating," Macierewicz said, through an interpreter.
Polish Officials Hail 'Important Day' for Nation
Having the site in Poland reinforces the Polish commitment to unity in NATO and peace and security in Europe, Polish leaders said.
"It is truly a very important day for Poland, for NATO and for Europe," Macierewicz said. "This is a very important day for peace in Europe and in the world."
The main reason to have the site in Poland is to protect the security of Poland and its allies, he said, noting "aggressive steps" have been directed at the security of Poland.
"We can truly say that Poland is safe," he said. "Poland, together with its allies, has a guarantee that an aggression will never take place."
Polish President Andrzej Duda said the Aegis Ashore site improves the collective security of NATO members. "From the security point of view, the winner is the entire nation of Poland and all my compatriots," he said.
Protecting NATO Nations
The ceremony in Poland marks the start of the final phase of the missile defense project, Work explained.
The first phase involved putting an early warning radar in Turkey and stationing U.S. warships with ballistic missile interceptors in Rota, Spain, he said. The second phase involved constructing the first Aegis Ashore site in Romania. The site yesterday was operationally certified to perform its mission, marking the completion of Phase 2 of the European Phased Adaptive Approach, Work noted.
The site in Poland will be physically and operationally the same as the Romanian site, he pointed out. It is to be completed in 2018. The site is capable of defending the central and northern arc of NATO, Work said. The Romanian site is to provide ballistic-missile deterrent coverage of southern Europe, he added.
Officials explained that the Aegis Ashore site is the land-based capability of the Aegis ballistic missile defense system. The Aegis Ashore sites are staffed by U.S. Navy personnel who serve on rotational deployments, officials said.
Work thanked other NATO members for their contributions to the collective defense of the alliance, including the United Kingdom for investing in ground-based radar, and Denmark and the Netherlands for upgrading their frigates with new radar.
In time for the NATO summit in the Polish capital of Warsaw in July, alliance leaders are expected to declare initial operational capability for the NATO ballistic missile defense system, Work said. When that is declared, the early warning radar in Turkey, the site in Romania and the U.S. ballistic missile defense ships at sea will all be linked to a command center in Germany, and be able to work together to engage missiles directed at Europe, Work said.