Changing missile defense in Europe?

NY Times:

The Obama administration has developed possible alternative plans for a missile defense shield that could drop hotly disputed sites in Poland and the Czech Republic, a move that would please Russia and Germany but sour relations with American allies in Eastern Europe.

Administration officials said they hoped to complete their months-long review of the planned antimissile system as early as next month, possibly in time for President Obama to present ideas to President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia at a meeting in New York during the annual opening at the General Assembly of the United Nations.

But they cautioned that no decisions had been made and that all options were still under discussion, including retaining the Polish and Czech sites first selected by President George W. Bush. The Obama review team plans to present a menu of options rather than a single recommendation to a committee of senior national security officials in the coming weeks. Only after that would the matter go to cabinet-rank officials and the president.

Among the alternatives are dropping either the Polish or Czech site, or both sites, and instead building launching pads or radar installations in Turkey or the Balkans, while developing land-based versions of the Aegis SM-3, a ship-based anti-missile system, officials said. The changes, they said, would be intended not to mollify Russia, but to adjust to what they see as an accelerating threat from shorter-range Iranian missiles.

People following the review, including anxious officials in Eastern Europe, said they thought that the administration was preparing to abandon the Polish and Czech sites. “It is clear that Eastern Europe is out of the epicenter of this American administration,” said Piotr Paszkowski, a spokesman for Poland’s foreign minister. “The missile defense system is now under review. The chances that it will be in Poland are 50-50.”

Dmitry O. Rogozin, Russia’s ambassador to NATO, said Moscow anticipated news from Mr. Obama in September. “I hope that Medvedev will take some good result from this bilateral discussion in New York, and maybe in October we will live in a new world in Russian-American relations,” he said.

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The proposed system inherited by Mr. Obama envisioned stationing 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a sophisticated radar facility in the Czech Republic to defend against potential ballistic missile threats from Iran or other hostile nations. But Russia has long objected to what it sees as a threat in its own backyard and has insisted that the Obama administration abandon the plan as a sign that it is serious about improving relations.

Shifting an anti-missile system out of territory once dominated by Moscow might mollify Russian concerns without jettisoning the missile shield altogether. At the same time, it could set off criticism both at home and in Eastern Europe that Mr. Obama was caving in to Russian pressure.

Polish fears that the United States was having second thoughts were heightened after diplomats learned of a meeting last week in Huntsville, Ala., that included generals who oversee missile defense, including Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Kevin P. Chilton, head of the United States Strategic Command.

“What was revealing about such a high-level gathering was that the speakers did not discuss how and when the missile shield would be deployed in Poland and the Czech Republic,” said Riki Ellison, chairman of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, a Washington-based lobbying group, who attended the meeting.

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The Russians have never been able to explain their concerns about the missile defense proposed for Eastern Europe. In fact their objections make no sense on a strategic or tactical level. A recent report shows that the Russians have set up their own missile defense system to deal with the threats for North Korea. In fact the system that put in has more missiles than the proposed system we would put in Poland.

While there may be a threat of missiles from North Korea being aimed at Russia, it is a pretty remote threat, especially compared to the threat Iran poses to Europe.

Russia appears to either have plans for threatening Europe with its own missiles or it is deeply paranoid. Neither possibility should be allowed to deflect our defense policy.

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