Inside the Ring

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“We tend to think of today’s military in the terms of high-performance jets, [unmanned aerial vehicles], powerful tanks, supercarriers and smart weapons,” he said. “But I can tell you from personal experience that the real secret weapon in our arsenal is people.”

Vershbow on Iran

Alexander Vershbow, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, recently explained how the Obama administration used a new intelligence estimate as the basis for abandoning a Pentagon plan to deploy long-range missile-defense interceptors in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic.

Mr. Vershbow, a former ambassador to Russia from 2001 to 2005, told defense reporters Oct. 8 that an intelligence estimate on Iran’s long-range missile capability was updated earlier this year under the new administration.

“It was based on accumulated evidence, both in terms of the actual deployments we were seeing and the pace of testing of a wide spectrum of Iranian missiles, including space-launched vehicles, that could be converted into IRBMs or ICBMs,” he said during a breakfast meeting, using the acronym for intermediate-range ballistic missiles and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

“That led us to the judgment on which the new policy was based, namely that they have a much larger arsenal already in the field or coming in within the next few years of short- and medium-range missiles, which argued for, in phase one and phase two, deploying additional assets to deal with those threats,” Mr. Vershbow said.

Mr. Vershbow said the George W. Bush administration policy did not address these near-term threats.

“It only involved the 10 [ground-based interceptors] in Poland that would not actually be deployed until 2017, 2018, and didn’t have the same capability against these short-range threats to Southeastern Europe,” he said.

“But at the same time, the new threat assessment does acknowledge that while the development of ICBMs may be coming along more slowly than our 2005-06 estimate suggested, they’re still coming,” Mr. Vershbow added.

He said the new European missile-defense plan will boost Middle East missile-defense efforts. He said Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states are “extremely worried” about Iran’s development of nuclear weapons and the threat they pose to the region, which has led to greater interest in missile defenses. Some Patriot anti-missile systems are deployed in several nations in the Persian Gulf, and many are interested in buying more Patriots or newer systems, he said.

“They also worry that if diplomacy fails and tensions rise with Iran, between us and Iran or between Israel and Iran, they could be the ones caught in the crossfire in any military dust-ups,” Mr. Vershbow said. “So that also fuels their interest in missile-defense capabilities and other defense capabilities.”

The new approach relies on ship-based SM-3 interceptors and future upgraded versions to be developed and deployed in four phases, with the last resulting in a souped-up version called SM-3, Block 2A.

Mr. Vershbow said “eventually phase four of our system … will take advantage of the next generation of the SM-3, the Block 2A, which is the type of missile that would be deployed both on Aegis ships, but also at the northern land-based site which would provide full coverage of the northern part of NATO Europe against IRBM threats.”

The 2A is still in the early stages of development and “could have some capability against ICBMs, but in the ascent phase, from launch points closer to Iran as compared to the [ground-base interceptors], which would get them in the midcourse,” he said.

Mr. Vershbow was asked by a reporter if the Bush administration would have reached the same conclusion as the Obama national-security team about abandoning long-range interceptors in Europe.

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About the Author

Bill Gertz INSIDE THE RING

Bill Gertz is geopolitics editor and a national security and investigative reporter for The Washington Times. He has been with The Times since 1985.

He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.

Mr. Gertz also writes a weekly column ...

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