Budget restrictions at the U.S. Defense Department and a vehement Russian posture are not expected to stop the United States from deploying ballistic missile interceptors in Poland, Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) said on Thursday during a trip to Warsaw (see GSN, Sept. 16, 2011).
Washington intends to field 24 Standard Missile 3 interceptors close to Poland's border with Russia under the Obama administration's program to establish a European missile shield, the Wall Street Journal reported. The "phased adaptive approach" replaced a Bush administration effort that would have fielded 10 long-range missile interceptors in the Eastern European state.
The United States says the weapons are needed to counter a developing ballistic missile threat from Iran. The Pentagon, though, is now faced with cutting at least $450 billion in spending over the next decade.
“Indications are that despite defense cutbacks, we’re going to maintain the commitment to build the Polish missile-defense system, and that is because the threat from Iran is growing, it’s clear that Iran’s nuclear programs are accelerating,” Mark Kirk said to journalists.
“My hope is that we stay on schedule for a 2018 full operational capability of 24 interceptors at Redzikowo to defend NATO and the United States,” the lawmaker said. “The Russians have been pretty hostile to missile defense. They say that in some way this threatens their nuclear deterrents, but we’re going to build only 24 interceptors in Poland and last I checked Russia has more than 24 nuclear weapons. … We need to defend a free, sovereign and independent Poland regardless of what Russia thinks.”
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev last fall said his government was prepared to install ballistic missiles in territory neighboring Poland if the two former Cold War foes could not resolve their dispute over the antimissile plan. He cited withdrawal from the U.S.-Russian New START nuclear arms control deal as another potential outcome of a continued impasse.
The United States and NATO have worked to draw Russia into their missile defense plan for Europe, so far without success. Washington has sought to assuage Moscow's concerns, and is reported to be considering providing information to Russia regarding its missile defense technology and activities. Kirk said that Congress has moved to curb such transfers of information (see GSN, Jan. 6).
“I’ve expressed some concerns here about having Russians enter the NATO defense system. I think that’s a mistake. The Congress has passed restrictions, saying that no classified data, hit-to-kill technology, or telemetry can be given to the Russians, as well as any other data, and if there’s a proposal to give it to the Russians, that a 60-day delay be imposed,” according to Kirk.
He noted Russia's connections to Iran and cautioned that information passed to Moscow could end up in Tehran.
“Dmitry Rogozin, who’s the deputy prime minister of Russia in charge of these affairs, is scheduled to go to Iran. My worry is that anything we give to him is immediately given to the Ahmadinejad government -- and the whole point of the Polish missile-defense system is to defend against Iran,” Kirk said.
“We should not let the Russians accomplish by diplomacy what they can’t accomplish by espionage, especially given the Russian relationship with the Iranians. I believe everything that we give to the Russians immediately goes to the Iranians,” he stated.
The lawmaker also said Russia is wrong to play down the threat posed by Tehran's nuclear and missile programs. Iran says its atomic efforts have no military component.
"You could see a scenario when Chechens might get access to a weapon. At that point, a weapon could be used just as well against Russians as against NATO. I think the Russians inaccurately perceive the danger,” Kirk said (Marcin Sobczyk, Wall Street Journal, Jan. 12).