Missile defense reversal may ruffle some allies in Europe
WASHINGTON — By adding 14 interceptors to a missile defense system based in Alaska and California, the United States is abandoning a critical part of a European system strongly opposed by Russia.
The decision could provide a potential opening for new arms control talks with Moscow, but it's likely to make some allies in Europe unhappy.
The Obama administration on Friday cited development problems and a lack of money in announcing the cancellation of the interceptors set to be deployed in Poland and possibly Romania early next decade, the fourth and final phase of a missile defense shield.
The fourth phase was intended to defend against Iranian long-range missiles, which do not exist.
A senior State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of diplomatic sensitivities, said Poland and Romania were informed of the decision before the announcement, but Russia was not.
The decision to cancel the interceptors for Eastern Europe was criticized by Republicans in Congress who have charged that President Obama has undermined allies while pursuing his goals to drastically cut nuclear weapons.
“President Obama's reverse course decision will cost the American taxpayer more money and upset our allies,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., who heads the House Armed Services subcommittee that oversees missile defense programs.
The shift in U.S. missile defense plans in Europe is the second major change to the program since Obama has been in the White House. It could cause unease among allies, including Poland and Romania, who view the system as a sign of engagement in the region and a counterweight to Russia.
Fome experts said that not going forward with the final phase was a good sign.
“The United States should not cancel phase four to appease Russia. The simpler reason is that the United States does not need phase four,” Tom Z. Collina wrote in Foreign Policy, explaining that the interceptor missile had technical issues and that the United States had better options to guard against potential Iranian long-range missiles.
Missile defense has been a contentious issue since President George W. Bush sought to base long-range interceptors in Central Europe to stop Iranian missiles.
Obama reworked the Bush administration's plan soon after taking office in 2009. He canceled an interceptor planned for Poland and radar in the Czech Republic, replacing the high-speed interceptors with slower ones that could stop Iran's medium-range missiles.