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U.S. Official Defends Spending on NATO Missile Shield, Under GOP Attack

By Rachel Oswald

Global Security Newswire

The USS Lake Erie fires a Standard Missile 3 Block 1B interceptor in a Pacific Ocean trial last month. Though the Obama administration has canceled plans for a European-based ICBM interceptor that would have been used to protect the homeland United States from strategic missile attacks, the remaining elements of a planned NATO ballistic missile shield would still offer benefits to U.S. national security, a senior State Department official said last week (U.S. Missile Defense Agency photo). The USS Lake Erie fires a Standard Missile 3 Block 1B interceptor in a Pacific Ocean trial last month. Though the Obama administration has canceled plans for a European-based ICBM interceptor that would have been used to protect the homeland United States from strategic missile attacks, the remaining elements of a planned NATO ballistic missile shield would still offer benefits to U.S. national security, a senior State Department official said last week (U.S. Missile Defense Agency photo).

WASHINGTON -- A senior State Department official on Friday said that a ballistic missile shield being established in Europe would contribute to defending the U.S. homeland, despite a recent decision to toss out plans for an advanced ICBM interceptor site in Poland.

In March, the Pentagon canceled plans to develop and field in Poland the Standard Missile 3 Block 2B interceptor, which would have been used principally to protect the United States, due to concerns about the utility of the weapon and its technological feasibility. Nonetheless, some Republicans on Capitol Hill are advancing past arguments that Washington spends too much on European missile defense at the expense of homeland defense.

The expenditures in Europe have particularly come under debate as the Obama administration and Capitol Hill contemplate cuts in military spending as part of overall federal deficit reduction.

An amendment to the House version of the fiscal 2014 defense authorization bill, which the Republican-dominated lower chamber passed earlier this month, would order the executive branch to seek funding from fellow NATO members to pay part of the costs of the phased adaptive antimissile system.

The Obama team in 2009 announced it would offer this system to the alliance as its national contribution to collective missile defense. At that time, there was no corresponding U.S. demand that NATO members foot part of the bill for the project, though a number of countries are also developing antimissile capabilities that are to be integrated into the U.S.-European Phased Adaptive Approach, sometimes termed "EPAA."

“Some people have said, ‘Well, the allies should be paying more of the burden,’ but that's just not how NATO works,” the State Department official said at a Capitol Hill event. The senior official requested anonymity to offer more candor in discussing the issue.

The White House has threatened to veto the bill if it comes before President Obama with the text on the funding split still in place. The administration argues that the measure runs “contrary to NATO alliance processes, contrary to longstanding NATO alliance principles.”

The amendment, which was sponsored by Representative Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), would specifically order Obama to discuss with NATO how to secure a minimum of 50 percent financing from the alliance for the “infrastructure and operations and maintenance costs of Phase 1” of the EPAA initiative. The first stage of the missile shield encompasses a U.S.-supplied X-band radar fielded in Kurecik, Turkey; a command-and-control center based in Ramstein, Germany; and two U.S. Aegis system-equipped guided missile destroyers that are in rotation in the Mediterranean.

The measure would also direct the Obama administration to attempt to secure NATO common funding for at least half of the costs for the second and third phases of the missile shield. Phase 2 anticipates around 2015 having four U.S. Aegis missile destroyers home ported in Rota, Spain, and fielding a radar unit and 24 Standard Missile 3 Block 1B interceptors in Romania. Under the third phase, expected to be carried out around 2018, 24 SM-3 Block 1B and 2A missiles are to be installed in Redzikowo, Poland.

The Obama administration reportedly opposes any defense authorization bill language that would require it to persuade the alliance to pay for U.S. missile defense systems that were voluntarily proffered by the United States in 2009 as its national contribution to NATO collective defense.

Historically, member states pay all of the costs of their voluntary contributions, according to Steven Pifer, Brookings Institution Arms Control Initiative director.

“Very few times can I remember where the U.S. has said, ‘We are going to [voluntarily] commit this, but NATO has to pay X amount of it,’” Pifer said on Monday.

Defense equipment purchases that are funded jointly by NATO "have to meet certain criteria, they have to go through a long [review] process,” said  Barry Pavel, a former White House National Security Council senior director for defense policy and strategy under the George W. Bush and Obama administrations.

In the view of the Obama administration, the EPAA initiative does not meet the benchmarks for being a project that warrants NATO common funding, Pavel said in a Monday interview.

Precise cost estimates of what the United States has spent, and plans to spend, on the NATO missile shield are hard to come by, as different elements of the Defense Department -- including the Navy, Army and the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency -- are making contributions to the effort.

However, in late December, former Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) noted that over the next five years, the United States had programmed $5 billion for homeland missile defense, compared to $20 billion for regional missile defense beyond U.S. borders. Other regions where the U.S. military is working to improve antimissile capabilities include East Asia and the Middle East.

“The Republicans on the [House Armed Services Committee] believe we are spending too much, that there is too much focus on the regional efforts to combat short and regional missiles … and not enough focus on national missile defense,” said Kingston Reif, nuclear nonproliferation director at the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, in an interview last week. “They are blowing it way out of proportion.”

Others disagree. “It’s not surprising to me that the response in Congress to that is if you are taking out of the EPAA that final element that was supposed to be the thing that would provide direct protection to U.S. territory to longer-range ballistic missiles, then what is the incentive for the U.S. to fund [European defenses] at levels above 50 percent?”  Baker Spring, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, told Global Security Newswire on Monday.

Even with the cancelation of the Block 2B interceptor, the European missile shield “still provides important contributions to the defense of the United States,” said the State Department official.

The official specifically highlighted the U.S.-supplied X-band radar that has been operating in Turkey’s Kurecik province since 2012. The radar’s location just 400 kilometers from the Iranian border is intended to provide critical early-warning and tracking data of any ballistic missiles launched by Tehran. Iran does not currently possess an operational ICBM, but Pentagon analysts think the country could be a few years away from testing such a capability. Tehran’s short- and medium-range missiles presently can reach many parts of Europe.

“It is a very good location,” the official said of the Turkish installation.

The official added that the SM-3 Block 1A interceptors currently deployed on Aegis warships in the Mediterranean, and the Block 1B and 2A missiles to be fielded in the coming years at bases in Romania and Poland, provide critical protection to radars in Greenland and the United Kingdom that are part of the U.S. homeland missile defense system.

“U.S. homeland defense, as it is currently configured, really is dependent on forward-deployed radars in the United Kingdom and in Greenland,” the official said, referring to efforts to protect installations at Fylingdales air base and Thule, respectively.

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