- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 18, 2010

President Obama on Saturday reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to building a long-range missile defense system in Europe that likely will be opposed by Russia and might prompt Moscow’s withdrawal from the arms treaty known as the New START.

In a letter to Senate leaders aimed at allaying concerns voiced by treaty opponents that the new arms treaty will constrain missile defenses, Mr. Obama said that “as long as I am president and as long as the Congress provides the necessary funding, the United States will continue to develop and deploy effective missile defenses to protect the United States, our deployed forces, and our allies and partners.”

Significantly, Mr. Obama stated in the letter that the Pentagon is committed to all four phases of its European missile defenses. The Pentagon will begin deploying the first phase of sea-based missile defenses in and around Europe next year, he stated, and will then start fielding advanced, ground-based SM-3 anti-missile interceptors in Romania and Poland to protect Europe and U.S. forces from Iranian and other medium-range missiles.

“In the final phase, planned for the end of this decade, further upgrades of the SM-3 interceptor will provide an ascent-based intercept capability to augment our defense of NATO European territory, as well as that of the United States, against future threat of ICMBs launch from Iran,” Mr. Obama said. A copy of the letter was obtained by The Washington Times.

The president’s statement clarifies a recent internal State Department fact sheet on missile defense circulated recently on Capitol Hill and first reported by The Times that mentioned the first three phases of the European missile defense plan but omitted the fourth — a program of advanced SM-3s capable of hitting long-range strategic missiles. The ommission led some members of Congress to question the administration’s commitment to defending the continental United States from long-range missile attack.

The SM-3, currently deployed only on Aegis-equipped warships, is the centerpiece of the administration’s so-called European Phased Adaptive Approach (EAPP) that was put in place of an earlier plan to deploy larger high-speed ground based interceptors in Poland. That plan was canceled amid Russian government objections that the interceptors and related radar would be able to counter Russian strategic missiles.

The Senate on Saturday defeated by a vote of 59 to 37 an amendment to the START treaty introduced by Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, that sought to strip language in the START preamble that links strategic offenses and defenses.

Treaty critics say that langauge gives Russia, which has vowed in a unilateral statement to withdraw from START if the U.S. expands its missile defenses, leverage against future U.S. defenses.

Mr. Obama, in his letter, stated that the United States “does not agree with the Russian statement.”

“We believe that the continued development and deployment of U.S. missile defense system, including qualitative and quantiative improvements to such systems, do not and will not threaten the strategic balance with the Russian Federation, and have provided policy and technical explanations to Russia on why we believe that to be the case,” Mr. Obama said.

The president noted that improvements in both numbers and effectiveness of U.S. missile defenses would not justify Moscow’s withdraw from the treaty under a provision for pulling out of the treaty.

 Mr. Obama said regardless of Russia’s actions, “my administration plans to deploy all four phases of the [European Phased Adaptive Approach].”

“While advances of technology or future changes in the threat could modify the details or timing of the later phases of the EPAA — one reason this approach is called ‘adaptive’ — I will take very action available to me to support the deployment of all four phases,” he said.

The Senate continued debate on ratification of the treaty on Saturday and is expected to vote on it in the coming days.

Treaty critics argued during the debate that Russia is using the treaty as a way to limit U.S. missile defense systems, which it views as undermining its strategic deterrent.

Treaty proponents said the agreement is needed to monitor Russian strategic arms development.

Mr. Obama stated in the letter that the Pentagon currently has 30 ground-based interceptors deployed in Alaska and California that “are now defending the nation” against limited balistic missile attacks, whether accidental, unauthorized or deliberate.

He also noted that NATO agreed during a recent summit in Lisbon to collaborate on misile defenses and invited Russia to take part.

“Irrespective of how cooperation with Russia develops, the alliance alone bears responsibility for defending NATO’s members, consistent with our treaty obligations for effective defense,” Mr. Obama said. “The EPAA and NATO’s territorial missile defense capability will allow us to do that.”

A Senate aide close to the START debate said the president’s letter should have been sent to Russians since it is not part of the treaty unless it becomes a formal “understanding” between U.S. and Russian officials.

“If you were going to turn this letter into an understanding, it would almost be what you have drafted as an understanding for the McCain amenment,” the aide said.

Also, the president’s letter failed to mention the need to continue development of the 30 ground-based interceptors, including a two-stage advanced version that is a hedge against emerging long-range missile threats, the aide said.



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