A new configuration of missile defense systems, the Obama administration is planning to deploy, provides for the refusal of the deployment of Ground-Based Interceptor (GBI) rockets in Europe, capable of intercepting long-range ballistic missiles and the deployment of the SM-3 sea- and land-based missile systems. These systems are designed to intercept short- and medium-range missiles. This decision has removed some of the Russian claims, but not all of them.
The European missile defense is a system with the participation of Russia, and the NATO missile defense is ‘a separate outline of the American missile defense system in NATO’s clothes, whose the third and fourth phase, in general, is already threatening Russia’s strategic potential,” such was the Russian point of view on the issue
“The European missile shield will be more flexible, more efficient, cheaper, more up-to-date, technologically more advanced, more durable, will respond to modern threats to the United States, their forces in Europe, its allies, NATO, will take into account Russia’s concerns, will be integrated with the NATO missile defense...” this is how Obama himself and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates described the missile defense new configuration.
The main difference between the new configuration and the old one is the lack of the long-range silo-based GBI interceptors. Missiles of this type with a range of up to several thousand kilometers, when deployed in Europe could pose a real threat to the SRF units being based in European Russia and to the Northern Fleet strategic missile carriers. During the first phase of deployment, with only 10 interceptors of this type to be deployed in Europe, this threat is not very much severe, however, in case of increasing the number of missiles, and in combination with the GBI launchers, stationed in Alaska, the degree of threat increases significantly. Especially during a gradual reduction of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces. In case of a first-strike surprise attack destroying most of the deployed strategic nuclear forces, the U.S. system is able to capture the overwhelming majority of intact missiles, which fundamentally undermines the very concept of nuclear deterrence.
A degree of threat even further increases with the deployment of an aerospace echelon of the missile defense system - atmospheric and orbital flight vehicles, capable of shooting down missiles and their warheads.
However, all these plans, which came to full flower under the Bush administration, in 2009 were considerably revised. That was the result of the Obama administration’s different ideology in whole, and of the global economic crisis, which made reconsider a number of key plans for the development of the U.S. armed forces and missile defense systems in particular.
As a result, it is planned to deploy in Northern Europe Navy cruisers and destroyers equipped with the combat information and the AEGIS information management system. These ships are equipped with the SM-3 missile interceptors designed to intercept medium- and short-range missiles.
The SM-3 missiles can be also deployed in ground-based installations. In combination with appropriate electronic detection equipment, such a ‘shield’ can actually protect Europe from Iranian missiles, however, without undermining the global balance of power.
The same missiles are to appear on the southern flank too - ships with SM-3 interceptors will be patrolling in the Mediterranean Sea, and the deployment of the SM-3 ground-based version in Romania and some other countries of southern Europe is under discussion.
Alongside with that the threat to Russia’s strategic potential, even if put off, is not eliminated. If at the first stage it is planned deploy SM-3 block I missiles in Europe, at the second one, closer to 2020, they will be replaced by block II missiles, capable, according to the predicted performance characteristics, to intercept intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The deployment of such missiles once again puts on the agenda the strategic balance between our countries. In conditions of reducing nuclear arsenals, a preemptive disarming strike may be fatal - missiles for a retaliatory strike will be intercepted by the missile defense system.
Russia counters the U.S. missile defense system with the development of penetration aids - mobile systems with multiple warheads, a new sea-based system, etc, but in perspective such a development could lead to a resumption of the arms race when it becomes clear that the balance of forces is impaired and the basis of nuclear deterrence - mutually assured destruction - is undermined.
One may argue as much as he wants that in new circumstances, this principle is not applicable, but until in both countries there is still a danger of deep political differences fraught with a new round of ‘cold war’, this principle should be kept.
The full-fledged cooperation in creating a joint ABM system could actually raise the degree of confidence; this system would be capable to protect both Russia and the United States and Europe from the objective threats of missile attack. In any case this system will not be able to undermine the strategic balance by virtue of the fact that the nuclear potential of any of the great powers will greatly exceed its capability, designed to intercept missiles launched from the territory of the rogue states. The question is whether not so much the official Washington itself, as the elite of the U.S. in whole is ready for such steps.
It is obvious that European elites are ready for such cooperation to a far greater degree - Paris, and Berlin, and Rome have repeatedly said that it is impossible in principle to build a European security system without Russia’s participation. Whereas the policy of the 90s when the U.S. tried to achieve security for itself by creating an overwhelming military superiority, today will not cause anything but rejection.
It is obvious that while Barack Obama occupies the White House, returning to this policy is not possible. However, there remain a year and a half before the U.S. presidential election, and so far it is impossible to predict whether Obama will remain head of state. At the same time one can not be sure that a Republican President will return to confrontation: rhetoric about the ‘aggressive and authoritarian Moscow’ today is not always able to scare even the Eastern Europeans, and as to European giants, it will rather alienate them from Washington. From this perspective, the many times predicted breakdown of NATO may become real just in case of an especially strict hawk’s appearance in Washington, who would not only call for confrontation with Russia, but would also try to provoke conflicts along its borders - in particular by the missile defense capacity building.