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Kyl Urges Against Any Political Pledge to Russia on Missile Defense

A prominent Republican senator on Monday called on President Obama to refrain from making even a political guarantee to Russia on the usage of U.S. missile interceptors planned for deployment in Europe (see GSN, May 14).

The Obama administration, in accordance with a broader NATO antimissile effort, intends through 2020 to deploy increasingly sophisticated sea- and land-based interceptors around Europe as a proclaimed hedge against feared medium-range ballistic missile attacks by Iran. Russia, though, suspects that later-generation U.S. interceptors will have the capacity to threaten its ICBMs and has repeatedly demanded a legally enforceable pledge by Washington over their targeting.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in one of his first actions following his inauguration, directed the Foreign Ministry to continue demanding from NATO a binding pledge on U.S. interceptors in Europe (see GSN, May 8).

Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz..) said the White House is prohibited by the Senate's ratification terms of the U.S.-Russian New START nuclear arms control accord  from agreeing to any restrictions on missile defenses. "But [Obama] can offer Mr. Putin a political assurance -- what he might have been signaling when a 'hot mic' recently caught him telling Russian leaders that he'd be 'more flexible' after the November elections," Kyl stated in a commentary for the Wall Street Journal (see GSN, March 26).

"Offering any such assurances would be a serious mistake,"  said Kyl, who is to retire at the beginning of 2013. "The right to self-defense is not one for which we must negotiate; it's certainly not something for which Russia would negotiate."

The Obama administration could be tempted to offer a political promise on missile defense in exchange for some new security commitments from Moscow, the Arizona senator said.

Russia historically has worked to limit U.S. antimissile capabilities, according to Kyl. "Going back to the Reykjavik Summit between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986, Russia has wanted to prevent the U.S. from developing effective missile defenses. That's why Russia insisted that the New START treaty link offensive and defensive forces, and why it conditions cooperation with NATO on legally binding limits on the capabilities and numbers of our missile-defense systems."

Kyl pointed out that Moscow has offered no binding pledges that its new ground-transportable ballistic missile forces, strategic bombers or submarine-based ballistic missiles would not be aimed against NATO states.

"Why then, must the United States and NATO justify missile-defense deployments that pose no offensive threat and are intended to defend chiefly against Iran but -- depending on future developments -- might be effective against Russian missiles as well?" he asked.

The Obama administration has repeatedly stated that its interceptors in Europe will not have the technical capacity to threaten Russian ICBMs. Kyl, however, disagreed with even these verbal assurances. "Assuring any nation that our missile defense systems will be ineffective against their nuclear ballistic missiles is clearly at odds" with the mandate to safeguard the United States against all dangers.

"Putin must be made to understand that a desire to cooperate is not the same thing as a willingness to trade away our fundamental right to self-defense, and that America will always retain the right to defend itself," Kyl concluded (Jon Kyl, Wall Street Journal, May 14).

Meanwhile, the Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee continued in Capitol Hill debate last week to fault Obama for his overheard late March remarks to then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he would have greater room to negotiate on missile defense after November elections, the Washington Post reported.

"We know apparently there is a secret deal with the Russians," Representative Michael Turner (Ohio) claimed. "We should not be responding to a secret deal with the Russians," he continued in remarks supporting a measure for a new East Coast long-range missile interceptor site that made it into annual defense authorization legislation (see GSN, May 11).

Turner's Democratic colleague, Representative John Garamendi (Calif.), rejected the assertion that the White House had struck a back-door deal with Russia on missile defense. "To suggest the president has a secret deal is a nice campaign talking point, but has nothing to do with the issue before us" (Walter Pincus, Washington Post, May 15).

Separately, the head of NATO pushed back against recent threats by top Russian officials to use short-range missiles to neutralize the alliance's developing missile shield, United Press International reported.

"Threats to deploy offensive weapons directed against NATO territory ... are not in accordance with the development of a true strategic partnership," alliance Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in reference to the 2010 commitment reached at the Lisbon summit between the former Cold War rivals.

U.S. Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary James Townsend in remarks on Capitol Hill last week said the fiscal crisis in Europe made it more important than ever that the missile shield be built to defend the continent. "In Chicago, we expect to further that goal by taking steps to advance the implementation of our missile defense system," he said (United Press International, May 14).

Note to our Readers

GSN ceased publication on July 31, 2014. Its articles and daily issues will remain archived and available on NTI’s website.

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