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“I think it’s possible they may have taken a more active approach to dealing with these immediate threats in Southeastern Europe than was envisaged under the plan adopted in 2005-06, which really was driven more by how to enhance defense of the U.S. homeland using a third site after number one in Alaska, number two in California, rather than focusing first and foremost on defense of our forces and our allies in Europe,” he said, acknowledging that the Obama policy is a “shift of focus from homeland to NATO-wide defense.”

However, he asserted that “we were not downgrading defense of the homeland by any means with this decision” because a forward-based radar will go ahead and will be able to provide radar coverage of any missiles headed for the United States.

Critics of the new policy, including former Missile Defense Agency Director Lt. Gen. Henry A. Obering, have said that the new policy will leave the continental United States vulnerable to a long-range Iranian missile attack because the SM-3 is not as capable against that threat as a ground based interceptor.

“The SM-3 Block 2B, when it finally arrives, will give you an additional anti-ICBM capability,” Mr. Vershbow said. “Not too much later than the GBIs in Poland. But the overall architecture, of course, will have many more interceptors and be capable of dealing with much larger potential attacks than 10 GBIs in Poland which basically could assuredly deal with five incomings.”

Mr. Vershbow said the decision was made ahead of completion of the Pentagon’s major strategic review of missile defenses because of the ongoing debate with NATO and Russia, which opposed the Poland and Czech defense sites.

“We thought it would be counterproductive to delay this artificially while the rest of the review went on,” Mr. Vershbow said.

The announcement was “rushed,” he said, because of concerns that the plan was leaking out “in a distorted way.”

Poland may still base SM-3s, and some command and control systems may still deployed in Czech Republic, he said.