U.S. Turnabout on ICBM Interceptor May Impact Nuke Talks With Russia

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Friday announces plans to deploy 14 additional ballistic missile interceptors in Alaska. Experts said the decision to curb antimissile efforts in Europe could improve the chances for further U.S.-Russian nuclear arms reductions talks (AP Photo/(AP Photo/Cliff Owen).
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Friday announces plans to deploy 14 additional ballistic missile interceptors in Alaska. Experts said the decision to curb antimissile efforts in Europe could improve the chances for further U.S.-Russian nuclear arms reductions talks (AP Photo/(AP Photo/Cliff Owen).

The U.S. Defense Department's announcement on Friday that it was pulling back from plans to develop a next-generation ICBM interceptor for fielding in Europe might have a positive impact on nuclear arms reduction discussions with Russia, which strongly opposed the antimissile system as a threat to its long-range strategic forces, according to the Associated Press.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said insufficient funding from Congress for the Standard Missile 3 Block 2B interceptor as well as North Korean progress toward a long-range ballistic missile led to the decision to shift funding toward Ground-based Midcourse Defense. The system over the next four years is to be expanded by 14 new ballistic missile interceptors in Alaska.

There are presently 30 interceptors fielded at two sites in Alaska and California under the GMD system, which is the United States' principal domestic defense for defeating a limited ICBM attack on the homeland.

The Block 2B interceptor never got off the drawing board. It was to have been the capstone of the Obama administration's "phased adaptive approach," which aims to field increasingly advanced sea- and land-based missile interceptors around Europe as a hedge against ballistic missile strikes from the Middle East. The first phase of the Obama plan has been implemented and the second and third stages are on track to respectively be finished by 2015 and 2018, according to the Pentagon.

Moscow focused much of its opposition to the Obama antimissile plan on the final interceptor phase and directly tied achieving a resolution on that issue to any future bilateral nuclear arms control talks.

"Canceling Phase 4 opens the door to another round of U.S.-Russian nuclear arms reductions," Arms Control Association research director Tom Collina said in an interview with AP. "We give up nothing since Phase 4 was not panning out anyway. This is a win-win for the United States."

Moscow on Monday said it continues to have issues with the Obama phased adaptive plan, AP separately reported.

"This is not a concession to Russia and we do not see it as such. We will continue a dialogue and seek the signing of legally binding agreements that all elements of the U.S. missile defense system are not aimed at Russian strategic nuclear forces," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said.

While the administration said its updated plan was not a concession to Moscow, Representative Michael Turner (R-Ohio) said it was further proof of a under-the-table agreement suggested by President Obama's "hot mic" comment in March 2012 to then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he would have "more flexibility" on the issue after the November presidential election, Foreign Policy reported.

China on Monday also voiced its opposition to the U.S. plan to strengthen antimissile capabilities against North Korea, Reuters reported. "Actions such as strengthening antimissile (defenses) will intensify antagonism and will not be beneficial to finding a solution for the problem," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said to journalists.

North Korea is broadly assessed to not yet possess the military capability to hit the mainland United States with a nuclear-tipped  ICBM, Reuters reported on Saturday.

Hagel on Friday said changes to U.S. missile defense planning were also influenced by the North's new road-mobile strategic missile.

The Defense Department said plans to acquire 14 more ground-based interceptors under the GMD system are contingent upon the missile performing well in planned live trials. The GBI missile has had a troubled recent testing history though the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency says technical problems have been solved.

Fort Drum in upstate New York is a leading contender to host a third GMD interceptor site in the United States, according to the Ottawa Citizen. Hagel said the U.S. military was conducting initial environmental studies on several candidates for a possible third interceptor site.

The Obama administration provided an advance alert on the change of plans to Poland, which beginning in 2018 is to host part of the European missile shield, AP reported. Deployment of medium-range interceptors at Redzikowo "will go forward as scheduled," Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman said on Monday in Warsaw.

March 18, 2013
About

The U.S. Defense Department's announcement on Friday that it was pulling back from plans to develop a next-generation ICBM interceptor for fielding in Europe might have a positive impact on nuclear arms reduction discussions with Russia, which strongly opposed the antimissile system as a threat to its long-range strategic forces, according to the Associated Press.