Russian President Dmitry Medvedev arrived in New York today to appear in front of the UN General Assembly and conduct negotiations with his US counterpart Barack Obama.
One may presume that the two leaders will pay special attention to the recent decision of the US administration to shelve missile defense system plans in Poland and the Czech Republic and discuss the drastic changes of the US approach to the issue on the whole.
Medvedev stated shortly before the visit to the United States that Mr. Obama’s decision was obviously a positive sign. The Russian president added that Russia would listen to the USA once the USA listened to Russia. At the same time, Medvedev said that Russia would not be making primitive compromises. He emphasized that the missile defense system must be created though international, not individual effort.
Needless to say that the United States is not ready for it. Moreover, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said September 20 that Obama’s decision was not a concession that the USA had made to Russia.
Obama stated later that the new plans would become an advantage to Russia only if she conducts a much closer cooperation with the USA on the Iranian nuclear program.
Nevertheless, the new missile defense plans of the United States may still contain a significant threat for Russia.
“In the first phase, to be completed by 2011, we will deploy proven, sea-based SM-3 interceptor missiles - weapons that are growing in capability - in the areas where we see the greatest threat to Europe,” Gates wrote in his essay.
“The second phase, which will become operational around 2015, will involve putting upgraded SM-3s on the ground in Southern and Central Europe. All told, every phase of this plan will include scores of SM-3 missiles, as opposed to the old plan of just 10 ground-based interceptors. This will be a far more effective defense should an enemy fire many missiles simultaneously - the kind of attack most likely to occur as Iran continues to build and deploy numerous short- and medium-range weapons,” he continued.
Therefore, the USA will use dozens of SM-3 missiles instead of only ten interceptor missiles that were stipulated in the previous missile defense program. In addition, the radar station, which was supposed to be deployed in the Czech Republic, will be replaced with air-based, sea-based and ground-based detectors.
"The new approach to European missile defense actually provides us with greater flexibility to adapt as new threats develop and old ones recede. Those who say we are scrapping missile defense in Europe are either misinformed or misrepresenting what we are doing,” Gates concluded.
It just so happens that the new concept of missile defense system in Europe is not a concession to Russia at all. The new system, which Robert Gates described, can be a lot more dangerous than what George W. Bush was intended to make.
Let’s take a closer look at the new plans of the US administration. At least two or three cruisers and destroyers with SM-3 missiles on board will be patrolling the European waters of the North and the Mediterranean Seas from 2011.
The vessels will provide the missile shield for Europe for the period until the USA and its allies finish the deployment of the ground-based missile defense system (SM-3 missile launching systems) on the continent.
One vessel equipped with the Aegis system is capable of taking up to 100 SM-3 missiles on board. A Ticonderoga class cruiser of the US Navy has 122 containers with missiles installed in the vertical launching systems. The Arleigh Burke destroyers may have 90 and 96 containers. Eighteen of 80 vessels (equipped with the Aegis system) of the US navy are currently fit to fulfill the missile defense tasks. Sixteen of those vessels are based on the Pacific regions.
The Aegis system is a state-of-the-art integrated naval weapons system. Ticonderoga cruisers and Burke destroyers are capable of detecting, tracking and destroying hundreds of air, ground and surface targets with the help of this system.
The SM-3 missile (Standard Missile-3) is a ship-based anti-ballistic missile used by the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System. The 500-km range missile is 6.55m long and 0.34m in diameter.
The US initiative also contains a geographical constituent. Albania, a Balkan state, or Turkey are already being evaluated as possible locations for the ground-based elements of the missile defense system.
Turkey is an influential regional state. Therefore, building the system in Turkey would mean great success for the White House. Turkey, just like the Balkans, is situated very close to Russia.
George W. Bush was outspoken in his intentions. His policies evoked irritation and rejection. Obama’s administration is more diplomatic. However, Russia should not underestimate the danger that might be hidden in the new missile defense doctrine.