WASHINGTON - Missile defense assets the United States is planning to base in Eastern Europe will be aimed at countering threats posed by rogue nations, such as Iran, and will not pose a threat to allies in the region, a senior defense official said here yesterday.
The Defense Department announced Jan. 19 that it was beginning bilateral negotiations with Poland and the Czech Republic to host long-range ground-based interceptors and a missile defense radar on their territories.
The concept of locating missile defense assets in Europe goes back to 2002, when DoD decided to extend coverage to allies, friends and deployed forces in the region and to enhance the defense of the United States, Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry A. "Trey" Obering III, director of the Missile Defense Agency, said in a teleconference with reporters. DoD began putting money for this missile defense in its 2006 and 2007 budget requests to begin the analysis and early work to prepare sites for these assets, he explained.
"The sites are intended to be part of an integrated, layered system that we have been deploying since 2004," Obering said. "They are geared toward and are directed toward rogue-nation capabilities, obviously not sophisticated ballistic missile fleets such as the Russians have, but are geared toward what we consider to be the rogue-nation threat, as is our ballistic missile defense system that we've been deploying."
Obering acknowledged that Iran does not yet have long-range, intercontinental ballistic missile capability, but he said it is still the largest threat in the region because it is clearly working to achieve those capabilities. U.S. officials have learned from the past, such as when North Korea launched the Taepo Dong 1 in 1998, just months after experts had predicted it would be years before that country had long-range capabilities, he said.
"We want to have this in place by the 2011-2012 timeframe, because we think the Iranians, for example, shortly thereafter will be able to have a long-range capability -- not one that they've demonstrated today or necessarily tomorrow, but again you're talking about several years from now, and so it's prudent for us to be thinking about that now and begin to build toward that so that we're in a position that we can do something about it in that timeframe," he said.
The United States wants to proceed quickly in staging the missile defense capabilities in Europe, but the timeline is subject to negotiations with Poland and the Czech Republic, Brian Green, deputy assistant secretary of defense for forces policy, said in the teleconference. Obering added that all three countries are motivated by the same factor, which is building a common capability to defend against emerging threats.
Each country has three or four acceptable locations that are under negotiation, Obering said. If approved, the interceptor site will employ about 200 people, and the radar site will need contractors to maintain the equipment and the site. Both locations would also require force-protection personnel, he said.
The physical locations will remain the sovereign territory of the host nation, Green said, but the United States will have operational control of the bases. All U.S. personnel will be required to abide by the laws of the host nation, he added.
Emphasizing that these sites will not threaten U.S. allies in the region, Obering said that the U.S. interceptors will not even be capable of catching Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles. He said he has traveled to Moscow to talk with Russian leaders and briefed the NATO-Russia Council about the program.
"We will continue to work closely with the Russians and continue to work closely with our NATO allies and our European allies to make sure that they understand what the technical and the program capabilities are of these missiles," Obering said.
The United States is not asking for any funding from the host nations or other European nations for the missile sites, Obering said. This decision was made in the interest of speeding the process, he explained.
"We did not want to have to worry about any kind of long, protracted negotiation with respect to funding support to get this started, because, as I said earlier, we believe that there is a compelling reason to begin to do this because of what we see emerging with respect to the threat," he said.