As predicted in this space several months ago, the U.S. is proposing deployment of ballistic missile defenses in Europe, to protect both our allies (and, eventually) the CONUS from an Iranian missile attack. According to The New York Times, a recommendation on the site is expected to be made by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld later this summer. Eventually, the U.S. hopes to base at least 10 anti-missile interceptors at a European site by 2011. Poland and the Czech Republic are said to be the leading contenders for the anti-missile site, which would cost an estimated $1.6 billion.
Given Iran's growing missile menace, that figure may seem like a bargin, even with possible cost overruns. Iran currently has more than 200 short and medium-range ballistic missiles, capable of reaching targets as far away as Israel. Additionally, Israeli intelligence claims that Tehran recently obtained BM-25 intermediate range missiles from North Korea, athough that report has not been fully confirmed. The BM-25 would allow Iran to strike targets as far away as southern Europe, and (perhaps more importantly), it would require few modifications to carry a nuclear warhead. The BM-25 is based on the Soviet-era SS-N-6 sub-launched ballistic missile, which was designed solely for the purpose of delivering nuclear warheads. With this technological foundation, Iran will be capable of producing missiles that could target all of Europe by the end of this decade, and the CONUS within 10 years.
But deployment of the missile shield in Europe is far from assured. Russia, long concerned about any NATO or U.S. "encroachment" on its western border, is trying to stir up opposition to the plan in Poland. Beyond that, the usual alliance of socialist politicians and "green" political parties in Europe have voiced their opposition as well, intensifying debate over the proposed missile shield. European political leaders, afraid to do anything that might upset anyone, are wringing their hands over this one. Czech leaders, facing a parlimentary election in June, have avoided discussing the matter publicly, hoping it doesn't become a campaign issue. The Poles have seemed more receptive, but a deployment on their soil is far from a done deal, particularly when you factor in U.S. domestic opposition to the plan. If the Democrats regain control of the House and/or Senate this fall, missile defenses in Europe may become a moot point.
While we support the proposed deployment, there's something a little unsettling about the prospect of deploying an anti-missile shield to protect countries (Germany, France) that have done little to help the U.S. in recent years. Admittedly, the missile defenses on the continent will eventually protect the CONUS, but our European "friends" will be the immediate beneficiaries, including those who have pursued an anti-American foreign policies. Unfortunately, our missile defenses are not advanced enough to protect our true friends (Poland, Denmark, the U.K., Slovakia, Bulgaria, etc), while omitting those who have opposed us.
The U.S. has hinted at something of a partnership on this issue, promising that the proposed missile defenses will be consistent and compatible with any anti-missile interceptors developed by the Europeans. Don't hold your breath. European efforts in this area have lagged well behind the U.S., and for obvious reasons. Not only is it politically impossible to develop a European system, there was always the overriding belief that Good Ol' Uncle Sam would eventually step in, and deploy a system. That way, the Europeans can have it both ways: criticize the U.S. for being provactive (in fielding missile defenses on the continent), while, at the same time, reaping the benefits of that deployment. It happened before with the GLCM and Pershing II deployments in the 1980s, and it could well happen again, with the anti-missile base in eastern Europe.
The boys in Paris must be smiling right about now.