Saturday, May 20, 2006

After decades of denial, European countries are starting to recognize their security also would be strengthened by a missile defense. West European governments have spent years denigrating America’s missile defense plans as unnecessary “star wars.” But now, thanks to Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons and longer-range missiles, and the support of NATO’s new East European members, NATO finally is stepping up to the plate.

On May 10, Marshall Billingslea, NATO assistant secretary general, presented the results of a four-year study of the missile threat to Europe and how to defend against it. While the report is classified, Mr. Billingslea said it found a missile defense of Europe technically and financially feasible. Now, he said, it is up to NATO nations to decide what to do. Recommendations are expected by next year.

Separate from the study, NATO is about to request industry proposals to analyze various missile defense architectures and determine ways to integrate the theater missile defenses some members already have, or are buying or developing. Germany, the Netherlands and Greece have Patriot PAC-2 interceptors, Spain will get them soon, and the Dutch are upgrading to the PAC-3. Germany, Italy and the U.S. are jointly developing MEADS, a mobile theater missile defense that will use an enhanced version of the PAC-3 interceptor.

The SPY-1 radars on Aegis-equipped ships in the seas around Europe will provide missile warning and some ships will carry missile interceptors. In addition to U.S. Aegis ships, Spain and Norway are adding Aegis-equipped frigates, and last month the German navy revealed plans to develop a theater ballistic missile defense for some of its frigates.

France, Italy and Great Britain are jointly developing the Aster 30, an air defense system now in flight-testing, to be deployed by their navies. It is being upgraded to a missile defense capability and can be deployed on land as well as on ships. NATO member Turkey has just allocated nearly $1 billion to buy a missile defense system.

The proposed contract would study ways to integrate these and other European missile defenses so the sensors and interceptors of various countries work together as an “alliance shield,” through a unified battle-management and command-and-control system. Each country has its own limited missile defenses, if any.

The goal is to find how to link those national systems so data from land-, sea- and space-based sensors can be consolidated and provided to available interceptors. This likely will require NATO-wide common systems and communications. This integration is planned to start this year using a very experienced international industry team that will do more than just study the problem.

The already completed classified NATO study announced last week is broader. It is a 10,000-page assessment of how to defend Europe’s territory, cities and armed forces against ballistic missiles of any range or capability. It reportedly considers issues concerning “territorial missile defense” of NATO. In other words, a national missile defense for Europe.

Any missile defense for NATO will help protect the United States. The plan to build a third ground-based missile defense site in Europe is a key part of America’s national missile defense, especially to protect the Eastern United States against missiles from Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East.

It is gratifying our NATO allies finally are getting involved, but it is important to sustain the momentum. The Polish, Czech, Romanian and Bulgarian governments, new NATO members in Eastern Europe, are eager to cooperate, but the Pentagon has been slow in selecting the site in Europe.

In the 2007 defense budget now before Congress, the House authorized funding for 10 interceptors for the European site, but cut the money to start work on it. The Senate Armed Services Committee, however, authorized full funding, recognizing the requested amount is needed regardless of the site’s location. The Pentagon should select the site and present the plan to build it to Congress and the country, explaining its importance to defend both the East Coast and our allies in Europe. The House should defer to the Senate in conference.

Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called for destruction of Israel. Those who support him are a threat to both Europe and America. We cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of history and brush off his statements as ravings of a madman.

James Hackett is a contributing writer to The Washington Times and is based in Carlsbad, Calif.

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