What’s next for missile defense in Europe after Iran deal

Russian FM Sergey Lavrov said re Iran deal: We all remember when in April 2009 in Prague President Obama said that if the Iranian nuclear issue was settled, there would be no need in creating an air defense system in Europe. Following this my question is: In your opinion, will (should) Iran deal somehow alter missile defense plans in Europe, which are, of course, not just American plans, but NATO’s plans? Read few comments.

Steven PiferSenior Fellow, The Brookings Institution

Mr. Lavrov misquoted President Obama – in his April 2009 speech, the President clearly referred to Iran’s nuclear AND ballistic missile activity when he said that elimination of the Iranian threat might remove the driving force for U.S. missile defense in Europe.  [The full Obama quote:  “So let me be clear: Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile activity poses a real threat, not just to the United States, but to Iran’s neighbors and our allies. The Czech Republic and Poland have been courageous in agreeing to host a defense against these missiles. As long as the threat from Iran persists, we will go forward with a missile defense system that is cost-effective and proven. If the Iranian threat is eliminated, we will have a stronger basis for security, and the driving force for missile defense construction in Europe will be removed.”]

That said, however, if the nuclear deal with Iran holds, NATO might reconsider the European phased adaptive approach (EPAA) for missile defense, especially Phase 3, which entails deploying SM-3 missiles in Poland.  A conventionally-armed missile poses a threat that is orders of magnitude less than that of a nuclear-armed missile.  However, if NATO were to decide to alter the EPAA, it would be appropriate to deploy a different U.S. unit in Poland, say, a Patriot air defense battery, for purposes of assurance.

Azriel Bermant, Research Fellow, Institute for National Security Studies

The deal with Iran should not alter the BMD plans because the Iranian missile threat will remain. Also, one cannot rule out the possibility that Iran will renege on the agreement. I believe that it would be a mistake to make any changes to the NATO missile defence deployments, and I think it is unlikely to happen any time soon. I think it would send a bad message to US allies in Central and Eastern Europe at a time of a rising Russian threat (even if the BMD system is not designed to deal with a Russian threat but with one from Iran).

Second, there is no certainty that Iran will adhere to the agreement. Third, NATO has made it clear on a number of occasions that the missile defence system is not intended to address just one threat (Iran) but to deal with multiple threats. Moreover, John Kerry himself has said that there are concerns also regarding other WMD threats and conventional weapons.

See more also in my publication on BMD which came out last December (in particular, the third chapter).

John R. Deni*, Research Professor of National Security Studies, Strategic Studies Institute

I’ve always thought that the NATO missile defense program — which relies to a great degree upon American capabilities (particularly in terms of shooters, and arguably in terms of sensors too) — is a burden-sharing looser for the United States. That is, it’s an area where NATO governments are going to feel less than compelled to contribute to the common defense burden because threat perceptions in this area are divergent. I think elites within European NATO understand the missile threat from Iran — and of course were perfectly willing to go along with the NATO BMD system as long as Americans were footing most of the bill — but it’s not clear to me that public opinion is behind them.

Now that the Iran deal appears to be upon us — and we must wait to see what influence Israel is able to wield in the U.S. Congress before we declare it a done deal from Washington’s perspective — I believe we’ll see even less impetus on the part of European states to contribute substantively to the NATO BMD architecture (notably, point defense, such as what Patriots are used for, is a possible exception). Certainly providing territory (Poland, Romania), basing rights (Spain), and facilities (Germany) for theater missile defense are important, but actually developing, procuring, and fielding sensors and shooters is likely to be a difficult path for European NATO members to pursue in light of a ratified Iran deal, especially with other, arguably more compelling defense priorities.

A colleague and I wrote a monograph on the NATO missile defense system and burden-sharing not long ago that you may find helpful too.

* These views do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Government.

Sean KayProfessor, Department of Politics and Government, Ohio Wesleyan University

The realigned European missile defense system has already begun to roll out, and it was wisely recalibrated by the Obama administration away from unworkable technology and diplomatically destabilizing proposals advanced by the Bush administration. The current approach is scalable relative to emerging threats and in no way is a threat to Russia, especially in terms of the first stages which are already being deployed. They serve an important dissuasion purpose relative to Iran, and since the approach to Iran will take time to play out and also correctly rests on assumptions of verify, not trust, these systems should remain in place. The administration already has abandoned the fourth stage which was the one that could have caused problems for the Russians, at least they argue, because the technology simply does not exist. It is the case American officials in the past have hinted that if there was a deal on Iran, then the BMD system might not need to go forward depending on future stages, and that remains possible. But the Russians have not helped their own case – given their recent reckless and completely unnecessary actions involving nuclear flights and missile tests, they have spent any goodwill that might have made changes in the BMD plans politically possible and the consensus in NATO for the Obama plan is sound, unlike the prior Bush plan which was deeply divisive within NATO. If Foreign Minister Lavrov is interested in seeing changes in this kind of deployment, then he is going to need to put pressure on Putin to behave responsibly and stop damaging long-term Russian interests with provocative behavior.

Andrew Futter, Senior Lecturer in International Politics, Department of Politics & International Relations, University of Leicester

(1) I would be very surprised if the Iran deal made any difference to US/NATO BMD plans despite FM Lavrov comments, and indeed, former Defense Secretary Gates had also alluded to this prospect in the past. Whether it should, is another matter – a BMD “freeze” could help strategic relations with Russia but I would be very surprised if this happened.

(2) While the deal appears to place restrictions on missile sales to Iran, Iran already has a fairly substantial arsenal of ballistic missiles that could hit a variety of targets in the region.

(3) The political commitment already made by NATO, and the importance of this commitment to certain allies (particularly in Central and Eastern Europe) is likely to see phases 2 and 3 of EPAA rolled out as planned in Romania and Poland.

(4) The NATO BMD commitment is as much about politics, alliance cohesion and ultimately Russia, than it is about Iran. Moreover, I don’t think Obama would want the enormous political headache of trying to get a cut or even freeze accepted back in the US.

(5) Perhaps more likely is that various US allies bordering Iran, particularly the GCC, will buy more BMD systems, and may even push for a more formal BMD relationship with the US.

Thomas NicholsProfessor of National Security Affairs, U. S. Naval War College

I don’t think this changes much about U.S. plans for theater defenses. I don’t think we have that level of trust with Iran, and Iran isn’t the only country trying to develop missiles to threaten U.S. and allied forces in the region.

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