Russia Spurns U.S. Move to Delay European Missile Defense

The U.S. must issue “reliable, legally binding” guarantees that plans to expand anti-missile defenses aren’t directed against Russia, that nation’s Foreign Ministry said, dismissing the Obama administration’s decision to slow work on missile defenses in Eastern Europe.

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said March 15 that the Pentagon will add 14 land-based missile interceptors in Alaska in response to threats from North Korea. To pay for that move and develop an advanced warhead, he said that about $1 billion would be shifted from efforts to develop a missile shield in Poland and Romania.

The Russian response dashed hopes of arms control advocates that the decision could pave the way to improved U.S.-Russian relations and revive talks on reducing both countries’ nuclear arsenals.

The gradual expansion of U.S. defense capabilities is “destabilizing,” the Moscow-based ministry said in a statement on its website today. The head of the Russian Parliament’s foreign affairs committee said yesterday that he wasn’t impressed by the U.S. moves.

“The American side showed their arguments were false and far-fetched” pushing for the European system, and the situation would change fundamentally only if Russia were “in the anti-missile system, not outside it,” Alexei Pushkov said in a phone interview from Moscow.

Putin has opposed U.S. plans to install a missile shield in Eastern Europe, and the disagreement has been one impediment to nuclear arms-reduction talks. While the U.S. has said the European defenses would be aimed at thwarting attacks from rogue states such as Iran, Russia contends it would alter the strategic balance.

Arms Control

Arms control advocates had said they hoped delaying or even canceling the long-range interceptor rocket that was to have been part of a so-called Phased Adaptive Approach to a European missile shield would help Obama resolve Putin’s concerns.

The move “could help open the door to another round of U.S.-Russian arms reduction talks,” Tom Collina, the research director of the Arms Control Association, a Washington-based advocacy group, said in a phone interview before today’s response from Moscow.

Putin’s objection to the missile defense is only one of many differences he has with Obama’s foreign policy, which also include American support for rebels who toppled the late Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi and those battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, both longtime Soviet and Russian allies and arms customers.

China’s Comment

Earlier today in Beijing, China criticized efforts to bolster anti-missile defenses against North Korea, without mentioning the U.S. specifically.

“Intensifying anti-missile deployment and military alliances will only intensify antagonism and will not help resolve the issue,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters. “China hopes the relevant parties can move ahead with regional peace and stability in mind and act prudently on the anti-missile issue in a responsible manner.”

The U.S.-based system that’s being expanded on the U.S. West Coast has interceptors built by Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Virginia, topped by hit-to-kill warheads from Raytheon Co., based in Waltham, Massachusetts. Boeing Co., based in Chicago, manages the $34 billion system that now has 26 interceptors at Fort Greely, Alaska, and four at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The system hasn’t successfully intercepted a test target since December 2008.

Staying Ahead

Hagel said the move to bolster the U.S. Ground-Based Midcourse Missile Defense system was intended to “stay ahead” of threats posed by North Korea and Iran. North Korea has “no idea of negotiating with the U.S. unless it rolls back its hostile policy,” the official Central News Agency said over the weekend.

Shifting some resources from the European system wouldn’t degrade the U.S. commitment to protecting the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Hagel said.

The U.S. is installing a missile shield in Europe in phases. It will be based partly on U.S. Navy ships in the Mediterranean, as well as in Romania and Poland, both former satellites of the Soviet Union.

The final phase that would be postponed involves deploying a faster and bigger rocket. Hagel said the timeline for doing so has now been delayed until at least 2022.

Under the terms of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that took effect in 2011, the U.S. and Russia would be limited to no more than 1,550 strategic warheads.

Republican Response

While some U.S. Republican lawmakers have been critical of Democratic President Obama’s efforts to pursue further cuts in nuclear arms, they initially have supported expanding the missile shield in Alaska.

Yesterday, Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expressed concern about what he called the “non-deployment” of the fourth phase of the Europe-based system. Still, he said on the “Fox News Sunday” program, “most all of us applaud the efforts to beef up our missile defense on the West Coast.”

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