Missile Defense and the "Russian Veto"

May 5, 2011

By Chris Jones

Frank Gaffney wrote last week that the Obama administration has an “ideologically driven hostility to the idea of protecting the American people and their allies from missile-delivered threats.” Or so he claims. This argument is pieced together by a number of misleading statements about the Obama administration’s actions on missile defense. In order of appearance:

1. In office, Mr. Obama has hewed to his anti-missilephobic line. Notably, he has slashed billions from the U.S. missile-defense program.

A little context is needed. In FY10, the MDA budget was reduced by $1.4 billion (not plural) . Since then, however, General O’Reillly explained in April 2011 testimony that the FY11 request was $324 million higher than FY10 and the FY12 request was $48 million higher than the FY11 request. All told, that puts the reduction at about a billion dollars annually, coming mostly from programs that Secretary Gates was pretty clear did not work like the ABL, KEI, and MKV. Upward trends in the missile defense budget requests for the past two fiscal years signal a pretty strong commitment to the missile defense even if the topline has been reduced during of the most fiscally strained environments our government has faced.

2. And he killed the NATO-agreed-upon plan for defending Europe and the United States

In the narrowest sense, the Obama administration did cancel the plan to put ground-based interceptors in Europe.  They then replaced the previous plan with the new European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA). Thanks to a leak, the rollout wasn’t pretty but the new strategy has had pretty strong endorsement from many quarters on both sides of the Atlantic. That includes Congressional Republicans who noted in their 14 April letter to Obama, the primary source for Gaffney’s article, that

Russia continues to protest the planned deployment of U.S. missile defense in Europe especially phases 3 and 4 of the Phased Adaptive Approach, which would defend the United States and NATO against an attack by ICBM’s.

In addition the the EPAA, the administration played an instrumental role in getting NATO to adopt missile defense as a core mission in the 2010 Strategic Concept. Given the divergence within the alliance on the utility of missile defense, especially when you factor in the sticker price, that is a very important accomplishment.

3. At best, his “phased-adaptive” alternative will delay by years the placing of defenses effective against the array of missile threats that Russia’s client, Iran, is currently fielding.

The administration has a pretty strong counter to this argument. As explained in December 2009, the Phased Adaptive Approach (PAA) decision was based on intelligence determinations that: 1. Iran is developing short and medium range missiles faster than previously thought, 2. It will take Iran longer to develop an ICBM than previously thought. Therefore, the administration argues, the PAA provides the ability to field an operational system against the most relevant Iranian missile threats faster than before.  

4. Worse yet, systems capable of protecting us here at home as well may never get off the drawing boards.

There are two things too keep in mind about this statement. First, the United States is currently protected against limited long-range missile strikes against the United States.  As DASD Brad Roberts explained at the 13 April SASC hearing, “The United States is protected against limited ICBM attacks as a result of investments made over the past decade in the ground-based midcourse defense (GMD) system. Thirty Ground-Based Interceptors (GBIs) are now deployed to defend the homeland.” Second, it is not clear what systems Gaffney is referring to. Should it be the programs cancelled in 2009, Secretary Gates' declaration that, "All were plainly unworkable, prohibitively expensive and could never be practically deployed — but had nonetheless acquired a devoted following" still rings true.

5. The first fruit of this campaign was the so-called New START agreement from which the Russians declared they would withdraw if the United States made “quantitative or qualitative improvements” to its anti-missile capabilities.

Linton Brooks offers perhaps the best explanation for why the unilateral statements exchanged between the United States and Russia in New START are not a big deal:

“New START” does not constrain ballistic missile defenses. The Russians have made a unilateral statement, however, that significant improvement in U.S. defenses would justify their withdrawal under the supreme national interests clause.
As you know, all arms control treaties have a clause that allows a side to withdraw under supreme – if it believes its supreme national interests require it. Most treaties require a certain period of notification in that you explain why. That’s the clause the United States used to withdraw from the 1972 ABM Treaty.
So at one level, the Russian statement is simply a statement of fact. It has no legal effect. It is interesting to note that the Soviets made almost the same statement to me in June of 1991 as we were winding up our negotiations. The United States ignored that statement, and the United States should ignore this statement. It is an attempt to manipulate the U.S. political process and we should not allow it to succeed.


6. Now, Team Obama’s anti-missilephobes are beavering away at a new deal with the Kremlin, in the hopes of having a “collaborative approach” hammered out in time for a NATO-Russia summit in June. Moscow has been emboldened by the combination of this incipient deadline and the palpable disinterest of Mr. Obama’s negotiators in protecting U.S. missile-defense options

This claim brought back memories of late 2009 when the administration was criticized for giving away the farm to get New START finished up before Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in December. Didn’t happen. Obviously the administration wouldn’t mind having the outlines of what a collaborative approach could look like done before June but that does not mean they are going to make large concessions just to make it happen.  In fact, the administration should be given pretty good, albeit not perfect, marks for the lack of major missile defense limitations in the New START treaty.

7. Ivanov has staked out an extreme stance, insisting “on only one thing: that we’re an equal part of” a U.S. missile-defense system in Europe. In order to remove any shadow of doubt, Mr. Ivanov elaborated further: “In practical terms, that means our office will sit, for example, in Brussels and agree on a red-button push to start an anti-missile, regardless of whether it starts from Poland, Russia or the U.K.” This “red-button” is obviously envisioned as the tactical counterpart to the strategic veto over U.S. anti-missile systems that Russia feels the Obama administration has effectively afforded it. It may be a negotiating bluff, designed to facilitate acquiescence to less outlandish, but still-insidious, demands. On the other hand, Moscow clearly thinks it worth a try, given the concessions already made by America’s anti-missilephobes.

This is the major new development that, according to Gaffney, proves the US is selling missile defense down the river.  After a closer look, however, this argument is not persuasive.  For starters, according to the Weekly Standard, Foreign Minister Lavrov directly refuted the letter:

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the concerns of senators unfounded, and the letter itself - political self-promotion of its authors.
The head of Russian diplomacy, Sergei Lavrov believes that the letter of 39 senators, motivated by a desire of politicians to attract attention. "Russia does not need his veto power in the global system of missile defense, it is impossible to imagine" - Lavrov said Friday after meeting Russia-NATO Council in Berlin.

Furthermore, regardless of the Russian stance, there has been no indication the administration takes these Russian demands seriously. Brad Roberts laid out the situation in recent testimony:

We're mindful of the challenges. We are -- we reject cooperation that would in any way limit our missile defenses. You know the shorthand, NATO will defend NATO, Russia will defend Russia, and we will seek to reinforce each other's defense where there is mutual benefit in doing so. We will not compromise essential technologies. There is no discussion of sharing "hit-to-kill" with Russia.
We've made clear that cooperation will require successful conclusion of the Defense Technology Cooperation Agreement. As you know, this has been under discussion with Russia since it was proposed by the Bush administration in 2004. We've also made it clear that any classified information that's required for discussion with the Russians on this topic would only be discussed after a thorough review under our national disclosure policy.
So we hope that we're being mindful of the risks while being clear about the opportunities. We're working two parallel paths, as you know, the NATO-Russia Council pathway with Russia where we are exploring the possibility of cooperative systems in defense of common spaces, where as you know we resumed the Theater Missile Defense Cooperation that was being pursued under the Bush administration and we were developing a joint analysis for a future framework of cooperative activities.
Bilaterally, we're also working to pursue parallel work on joint analysis in order to better understand the capabilities we would each contribute and on the Defense Technology Cooperation Agreement.

In other words, no reason to think the administration is interested in negotiating away missile defense capabilities any time soon.