U.S. admits mistakes over missile system

A senior U.S official has admitted that his country should have consulted more widely, especially with Russia, before announcing plans for a missile defence system in Eastern Europe.

The U.S. Under-Secretary of State, Eric Edelman, said there was probably not enough information provided to Russia and other European countries about the prospective system.

This came after a meeting between Russia and NATO aimed at dispelling Moscow's concerns over the U.S. plans to deploy a missile defence system in Eastern Europe.

At the meeting NATO backed Washington's claim that the missile shield extension would not threaten Russia. The U.S. insists the shield is meant as protection from countries like Iran and North Korea.

Head of the U.S. Missile Defence, Lieutenant General Henry Obering, defended the U.S. position on the issue in an exclusive interview for Russia Today.

At first he commented on the latest round of talks between the U.S., the Czech Republic and Poland over the proposed missile defence system's deployment.

“We have received approval from our government, of course, to enter into discussions with the Poles and with the Czechs. We just received notification last week from the Czech government that they are also willing to enter into these discussions. There has been some exchange of information and notes for both countries and the U.S. So, things are progressing, and, I think, from a very positive perspective,” said Lieutenant General Henry Obering.

As far as the system itself is concerned, Mr Obering announced that “the system has been tested and it has been proven in the critical areas. What we are doing is we are doing it differently, and that is probably why this criticism about how we are approaching this. In the past, where you had a weapon system that was going to go out and replace an existing weapon system or an existing capability, it demanded a testing protocol that ensured that you were replacing that capability with a system that was much, much better, than what you had in the field. Now, we did not have a situation in missile defence. We did not have any defence against these ballistic missiles. So, we chose a different approach in terms of how we develop and how we test and then field these capabilities. So, we believe that the system does work, we have confidence in this system. Is it perfect? No, in fact we are going to continue to improve it, continue to make it more robust over time. But certainly we believe that we have tested the critical components of the system and we have certainly tested it enough that we believe that it offers a capability where there was none before.”

General Obering also spoke on the reason behind choosing such locations as the Czech Republic and Poland for placing the U.S. missile defence system.

“The fact is that it is all determined by the physics and by the geography. In choosing our sites and locations, the first thing we were concerned about was North Korea. When we began to deploy the capabilities and deploy the system's components, we had our attention turn to North Korea. That is why we were able to put a radar forward base in Japan. That is why we were building out the interceptor sites in Alaska and in California, and while we tied in radars in the Pacific to those sites, we were more concerned about North Korea in terms of their maturity in this threat. Now we are turning our attention to Iran. And so looking at Iran and the potential attack trajectories into the U.S. and into Europe, if you look at the coverages between launch points in Iran into the U.S. and launch points from Iran into Europe, it turns out that Poland and the Czech Republic are the most ideal locations to cover both those spans of trajectories, so there is an ability to cover the variety of trajectories that you may have from Iran into both the U.S. and Europe. There is also an element of range, because you can be too close to the threat, and today we do not have the ability to intercept a missile while it is in its boosting phase. We do not have that capability and it will not be available to us for, probably, another 10 years or so. And so it is important that both from the trajectory prospective as well as from the range away from the threat country; that is why Poland and the Czech Republic were chosen, because it maximises the coverage of the protection of Europe as well as the protection of the U.S. And it is at the optimal range back from Iran, so we can kill the missile while it is in its mid-course phase and not in a boosting phase. If we had the ability to destroy a missile in a boosting phase that would clearly be our preference. But that would not be available to us for many years,” the high-ranking American military official believes.

General Viktor Prudnikov, former Head of Russian Air Defence Forces, does not agree with it.

“The possibility of deployment, as the media points out, has put us on alert, and it could not be otherwise. We are now talking of a radar base in the Czech Republic and elements of an antimissile defence system in Poland. When we analysed the trajectory of missiles to be launched, we saw that they are not designed to protect the West from Iran or North Korea, because there are no such weapons there. It is quite obvious that such elements of an anti-missile defence are effective at bringing down ballistic missiles during the initial part of their launch,” he underlines.

Viktor Prudnikov also expressed concern over the possible deployment of the elements of the U.S. anti-missile defence system in the territory of the former Soviet Union.

“We can imagine how this might happen if we analyse our current relations with the Transcaucasian countries. Armenia is one of our strategic partners and it is unlikely that its military and political leaders will agree to deploy elements of the U.S. anti-missile defence system on their territory. In Azerbaijan we have a beyond visual range radar station. And we are open for negotiations to use its information not only for Russia's national security but for the national security of all concerned countries. Thus we have Georgia who remains. But it is still too early to talk about the deployment of elements of U.S. anti-missile defence system in Transcaucasia in the near future. So let's monitor the situation and act accordingly,” he said.

General Obering stressed that the new system is not targeted against Russia.

“In the case of Russia particularly, there has been a lot of concern expressed about, well, the U.S. is not being honest, this is really targeting against Russian missiles or this is a pretext for putting offensive missiles in these locations, and that is just flat not true. First of all, from a numbers perspective, we are talking about up to 10 interceptors, a number that we arrived at based on again where we see the Iranians headed in the future. That is no match for the hundreds of Russian missiles, ICBMs, and certainly no match for the thousands of warheads that those missiles carry. So, it does not change from a numbers perspective the balance between the U.S. and Russia. It also does not change from a performance perspective, because we have optimally situated the interceptors, for example, we propose to do so in Poland. They are not optimally situated to try to counter a Russian missile. So, by the time we are able to launch interceptor, if we try to catch a Russian ICBM – we cannot. We get into what we call a ‘tail chase’ and you just cannot catch the Russian ICBM. So from a performance perspective it is not a threat. And these are defensive missiles. These are defensive interceptors. There is no warhead on these interceptors,” Mr Obering adds.

Meanwhile, Moscow says the deployment of a missile defence system in Eastern Europe may threaten the strategic balance between Russia and the United States.

Viktor Prudnikov is sure that “the deployment of an anti-missile defence system is a strategic issue”.

“If it does take place, it might upset the balance which we secured a long time ago, first between the U.S. and the Soviet Union and then between the U.S. and Russia. It was a situation that suited virtually everyone. Now the decision of one side could shift this balance. There are no grounds for it,” the Russian military warns.

Head of the U.S. Missile Defence tried to address the criticism expressed in Europe over the proposed missile defence system.

“The first one is an argument that I just outlined – being prepared for a threat that we believe is emerging and not being faced with the situation where the Iranians fire a long range missile in a test one day. And especially when you combine this with their ambiguity in their nuclear programme, then you are way behind in trying to catch up. So you want to try to avoid that, so, there is a sense of urgency. The other thing that we are trying to discuss and outline is that this is well within the NATO context. And that is in terms of, first of all, this could be considered a U.S., Czech and Polish contribution to a broader missile defence capability, which we think is important. We think that it is certainly enhances the security of all those nations, including Russia for example. And I will tell you why. One of the reasons, why North Korea and Iran have been developing these missiles in the past, is because they are very attractive. And the reason they are attractive is because they are valuable, because there has not been a deployed missile defence against those historically. Therefore, it makes it very attractive to these nations. If we could deploy an effective missile defence system that is capable of negating these missiles, it begins to lessen their value and therefore lessen their proliferation. So, it enhances the security of the nations, our NATO allies as well,” he warns.

General Obering also expressed his view on Russian concerns that the system may eventually in a long term threaten the Russian nuclear arsenal.

“First of all, it will not hold them in the long term. Again, even if we have these interceptors in place in the radar sites, they do not threaten the Russian capabilities. But we are really open to participation in terms of missile defence in general with respect to Russia. There have been several attempts in the past that have been stalled for various reasons. We would like to use this as maybe an attempt to regenerate the energy and trying to work together in missile defence. I have talked about the transparency in terms of visit and that type of thing. So we hope we are going to open up a new broad dialogue with respect to Russia on how we can make them more of a partner as we go through this in the future,” he states.

Viktor Prudnikov also believes dialogue on the issue is necessary.

“Some time ago we proposed to work together with NATO on issues concerning missile defence. When we created a united air defence system for the CIS countries, we started closer cooperation with NATO on two aspects. The first one dealt with the work of air defence systems in the CIS and Europe. The second one concerned the possible creation of a unified air defence system. It is worth mentioning that any air defence system consists of several sub-systems. Those include space surveillance system and beyond visual range location. And it is not a secret to anyone including NATO that Russia is now using stations that are located in Ukraine and Belarus. Had we taken into account all these factors, we could have started the negotiations and escaped the escalating tension provoked by the one-side decision,” he points out.

“The U.S. says it is ready for a full discussion over its missile defence program. Our experts who will take part in the negotiations will examine the issue in detail. And I hope they will manage to persuade not only the general public in America and other NATO countries, but also their authorities, that this measure is not needed. It cannot be done by just one party. It is sure to have long-term negative implications,” Viktor Prudnikov supposes.

Mr Obering does not believe the issue will provoke a Cold War and lead to another arms race.

“I think that just based on the technical merits and the capabilities as well as the limitations of what we are proposing. I think it becomes obvious and we are going to have continued dialogue with Russians on those capabilities and limitations of the system. I think the arms race that we have to be worried about is what is happening inside Iran. That is the arms race the Russians should be concerned about. That is the arms race that the Europeans and our NATO partners should be concerned about. And that is certainly the arms race that we are focused on, certainly not Russia,” he concluded.