Two items of note for today’s summary — France may be seriously studying missile defense and Russia’s at it again (re. European Phase Adaptive Approach – PAA).

Parlez-vous la Défense de Missile Balistique ?

A recent 65-page study on BMD, written by three members of Parliament at a think tank linked to the National Assembly (“Defense et Strategie”) argues for France committing to building, or at least contributing to a BMD system to counter the growing threat from nations hostile to Europe (in general) and France (in particular). The authors, members of leading centrist parties, assert that the threat will grow over the next 15 years, especially from the likes of Iran, and (and this is a new argument) that a BMD is necessary to strengthen France’s nuclear deterrent. In doing so, they also acknowledge that the political will to move forward is lacking in France and Europe (surprise!) and is an attitude that they seek to change.

It is also perhaps worth noting that it was the Obama Administration’s decision to press with the PAA over the former GBI-centric system the Bush Administration had planned that pushed the authors into the study. The reason? Their view that an American-led system and architecture establishes American industry as a threat, or ‘double risk’ for Europe — double since the Europeans and NATO have yet to devise a comprehensive BMD policy in line with 21st Century threats and if one country equips itself with an American C2 system, it must, perforce, equip itself entirely with compatible US parts.” Note that the Japanese don’t seem to mind with the incorporation of Aegis BMD into their cruisers and establishing joint development for elements of the SM-3 system. The rub, of course, is as the report goes on to say, that the lack of a BMD system would leave European companies blocked from accessing certain export markets. Sort of like the ones cruise missiles like the EXOCET have been pitched to. That worked out well for all involved (cf. USS Stark).

Obligatory snark about export sales and French aspirations to industrial prominence aside, the study is significant in that it acts as both another venue voicing concern over Iran’s long-range missile progress (no one but the most ardent partisan would argue the French are sock puppets for the US, especially where maters of intelligence are concerned) and it may well be a bellwether signal that Europe proper may be moving off the dime in terms of serious consideration of ballistic missile defense on the Continent. One method suggested would be the formation of industrial partnerships to develop a European BMD based on France’s current highly advanced technology and cited the ASTER missile system as an example.

This will be a most interesting topic to follow for any one of a number of reasons. As anyone who has worked with/in NATO will attest, gaining consensus for action is the key for success, be it in planning or operations. But in the world of missile defense, one of the hardest things to accomplish is establishing a sound architecture for command and control of the system. Hard enough when only one or two countries or AORs are in play, and almost Stygian where the defended area encompasses many borders and nations. Seams abound and where seams and gaps reside, ballistic missiles readily fill. In no small degree this is one of the major challenges Navy faces as it moves down the four-phase PAA for the defense of Europe with sea- and shore-based Aegis BMD/SM-3 integrated with TPY-2 and THAAD batteries. Perhaps in the interest of integration and economy, France ought to look closer at what the US has already accomplished with international partners like Japan, Israel, Britain, Spain and the Dutch across a variety of programs and capabilities.

(note: the study may be found here:

In the meantime, Russia continues to work a campaignof disinformation, hoping to disrupt and thwart the deployment of BMD in Europe…

Iran No Threat to USA, Europe ‘In Foreseeable Future’ – Russian Foreign Minister

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaks at a press conference in Moscow Photo: AFP/GETTY

In an article in today’s Ria Novosti, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov took a direct shot at the US’s proposed missile defense plan for Europe and the US:

“It is evident that Iran currently poses no threat to the U.S. and European countries… At the moment, Iran has no missiles capable of striking Europe, let alone the U.S., and is unlikely to develop [such missiles] in the foreseeable future,” Lavrov said.

Pressing the point, in another article he surfaced a concern that the US has repeatedly, since the days of the GBI deployment, detailed to the Russians is not the case:

U.S. officials admit that the missile defense system in Europe might be able to hit Russian inter-continental ballistic missiles by 2020. (ed. Note – it was said at the time that phase 4 would have a limited capability against some ICBMs – the US has never made the statement Lavrov attributes – SJS)

“The U.S. administration says its global missile shield program is not directed against Russia. However, our conclusions on the true potential of the future missile defense system should be based on specific military and technical factors, not on words,” Lavrov said.

“We will not accept a state of affairs when a missile defense system poses a threat to Russia’s nuclear deterrence potential,” he went on.

The question one must ask — is Lavrov playing a “bad cop” to Medvedev’s “good cop” (and that is stretching it given Medvedev’s comments re. linking missile defense with the follow-on START treaty) where his rhetoric is merely used to address the home audience’s concerns, or, are we seeing a glimpse of Putin’s approach when he ceases being the power behind the throne and assumes the full mantle of national leadership as many expect when he is eligible once again? If the latter, then this Administration is going to have its hands full. Caution in dealing with our European allies, especially with Poland and the like, is the watchword. After unilaterally changing direction on one missile defense plan for Europe and the US by the switch from GBI’s to the PAA (and, for the record, I thought this was a proper shift) – another such shift that reduces or places additional limits in any way on the planned system will have negative consequences for perceived US leadership on the Continent.

We can expect that the Russians will continue to press this issue relentlessly – and our leadership, especially State and DoD had better be ready to just as relentlessly push-back.

Posted by SteelJaw in Foreign Policy
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  • RADM (Ret) Ben Wachendorf

    I agree this will be most interesting to watch. A few personal observations:

    1. Neither the Bush era plan for 20 ABM interceptors in Eastern Europe, nor whatever number of SM-3 interceptors the Obama administration decides to deploy on US Navy ships clearly pose any significant military threat to Russia. Russian military leaders know this, but that does not mean it is not a hot topic designed for Russian public consumption as illustrated above.

    2. The Russian culture has a much greater tolerance for human suffering and loss than the US culture where every life has great value. Russia lost 28M in WWII (as I recently said elsewhere in this blog, Stalin was responsible for some of those losses). The heroic perseverance of the citizens in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) during extreme adversity for 1000 days is but one past example of this. A more recent example is the Russian government reaction to a terrorist hostage taking scenario at the Nord-Ost theater in Moscow several years ago. Russian military and police forces used gas to subdue all occupants which tragically resulted in the deaths of many hostages. I make this point because there are those in the US who believe investment in Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) should be our highest priority. One of their justifications for this view is the destruction resulting from a single ballistic missile is unacceptable. I do not believe the Russian culture shares that view.

    3. I also agree that the command and control challenges associated with ballistic missile defense are enormous, especially if the warhead of the incoming ballistic missile is believed to have a WMD payload. The geometry of launch point, target and interceptor sites have many permutations, but suffice it to say that if BMD engagement is even possible, the decision to launch the interceptor must be made in a few minutes at most, in seconds in some scenarios.

  • Admiral:

    Concur all — I’d also add that where BMD will find it’s best fit in the strategic arena, will be in a limited deterrence scenario. IOW, if confronting a regional power with a small/limited nuclear capacity to threaten the US homeland, overseas territories or possessions and the US citizens therein, having the ability to counter that without escalating to a nuclear exchange would, I think, strengthen our position and offer more COAs to the NCA. The extant nuclear deterrent then would be reserved for the likes of Russia or China (though some argue China is only seeking a limited deterrent). Where we really need to work is building all capabilties, not just the kinetic end-game, to counter the rapidly growing theater and regional conventional ballistic AND cruise missile threat. The latter is getting overlooked despite the fact that as many as 9 nations are working hard on land-attack cruise missiles on the order of TLAM with some looking to market the same overseas…
    v/r, SJS