28 June 2007
Does Europe need an anti-missile defence shield?
By Dave Webb
European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs
Subcommittee on Security and Defence



Thank you very much for inviting me here and for the opportunity to address the committee on this very important matter. I am a professor of engineering at Leeds Metropolitan University and co-director of the Praxis Centre there which is a cross faculty research centre for the study of information and technology for peace, conflict resolution and human rights. I have been interested in the issues surrounding the use of space technology and missile defence for some years and so welcome the chance to contribute to this discussion.

The question today is “does Europe need an anti-missile defence shield” and it is undoubtedly being posed at this time because of the recent request by the United States to position bases in the Czech Republic and Poland as part of its National Missile Defence (NMD) system.

To help tackle the question I would like to consider four associated questions:

  • What is the threat of missile attack?
  • How effective is missile defence likely to be?
  • What are the consequences of deploying a European missile defence system?
  • Are there alternative forms of action?

Before we look at these we will need to say something about what missile defence systems are.

What is Missile Defence?

Missile defence comes in various shapes and sizes to try and combat threats from different types of missile. The US Ground Based Mid Course Defence (GMD) system for National Missile Defence (NMD) currently consists of some 15 silo-based interceptors at Ft Greely, Alaska and two at Vandenberg AFB, California. There are also associated ground based early warning and tracking radars, including those at Thule in Greenland and Fylingdales in the UK (recently upgraded for the NMD role) and a $1 billion sea-based X-band radar to track, discriminate and assess targets from a mobile semi-submersible platform in the Aleutian Islands.

The US has proposed that a further 10 interceptors be based in Poland and a modified X-band radar system moved to the Czech Republic. The U.S. claims it needs to have these sites operational by 2012 in order to counter any possible future threat from Iran or North Korea. Although originally conceived as a system for long range missiles aimed at the US, the suggestion now is that it be combined with the theatre missile defence (TMD) system under consideration by NATO to form an integrated European defence system.

A Charter for an Active Layered Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence (ALTBMD) was approved by NATO in March 2005. The 20-year cost of this undertaking is reported to be 1 billion euros and in addition some 20 billion euros would be spent by individual member states on missile defence batteries. Increasing costs are the cause of some concern; most European NATO states are unable or unwilling to increase spending on defence as other concerns such as education and health take precedence. Despite this, NATO is considering extending the system to protect population centres - leading to the possible eventual integration with the US NMD system.

1. What is the threat?

None of the EU member states appears to have any immediate concern about the threat of a missile attack. There are differences of opinion within NATO on the assessment of threats from ‘states of concern’ but even NATO’s own parliamentary assembly does not have immediate access to classified threat assessments carried out on their behalf. It does seem odd that parliamentary democracies are expected to act on and pay for threat assessments and feasibility studies that they are not even allowed to see.

The United States is very concerned about the threat of missile attack and successive US governments have continued to fund and develop a cut-down version of President Reagan’s unrealistic idea of a missile defence umbrella. In the justification of their 2008 budget request for European NMD sites the US Missile Defence Agency stated that the bases are needed to improve protection of the United States by protecting its existing European based radars and providing additional and earlier intercept opportunities. In addition they would extend this protection to allies and friends and demonstrate an international support for ballistic missile defence. The major threat to these installations and/or the U.S. itself is believed to come from Iran.

Let’s examine this threat in more detail.

Currently Iran has no nuclear warheads and may not obtain any for some time (if at all). It does however, posses a medium-range ballistic missile with a range of 1,200kms but has denied that it is developing the next generation with a range of 2,900kms. Although that denial may be controversial what is certain is that they are not developing the Shahab-5 which, with a range of 6,000kms, would be able to reach greater parts of Europe but still not threaten the US (some 10,000kms away). It has been predicted that Iran may possibly develop missiles that could reach the US by 2015 at the earliest. However, placing a primitive nuclear warhead on an unreliable ballistic missile would be a risky and costly business and even if successful would result in a retaliation so devastating that it would mean national suicide.

The US is preparing for a future potential threat rather than an imminent one. Their desire to place interceptors in Europe requires European co-operation and this can be hastened by persuading Europe that there is an imminent threat to them. There is no evidence that Iran wishes to attack Europe. Their reason for developing a nuclear capability (if they are) could well be the same as that claimed by all nuclear states – for deterrence purposes.

2. Effectiveness

President George W. Bush unilaterally withdrew the U.S. from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in 2002, in order to build an “effective” missile defence system. However, five years later the system has still to prove that it can work in realistic circumstances. During controlled tests, under unrealistic conditions where information is made available in advance that would not be supplied by an enemy, successful intercept has been achieved in only six out of 11 attempts. The satellite networks required for detecting missile launches and tracking trajectories are years behind schedule and way over budget and an effective and operational command and control network has not been established. The annual report of the Pentagon’s testing office, released earlier this year, stated that a lack of flight-test data “limits confidence in assessments” of the system.

A report by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) in March this year concluded that the system “has not completed sufficient flight testing to provide a high level of confidence that [it] can reliably intercept ICBMs.” In addition the system can be readily overcome by numbers. Ten interceptors would be seriously challenged by eleven or more real or decoy warheads.

There is an added complication for the proposed European interceptor site. The ground-based interceptor missiles in Poland will only need to be two-stage missiles rather than the three-stage interceptors in Alaska and California. Research and development on a two-stage interceptor has only just begun. Given the problems encountered when developing the existing interceptor missile can we expect a much easier time for the development of the new one? There is also a question as to whether testing of the new intercepts would be illegal under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty which eliminated nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500kms. If it can’t be tested, how will we know if it works?

So, with missile defence we seem to be considering the use of interceptor missiles that have not so far been developed as part of a costly, unproven system that is easily overcome to defend against a threat that probably doesn’t exist.

3. What are the consequences?

The cost of building the bases in Poland and Czech Republic is estimated to be some $3.5 billion and there is also a probability that the program would later be extended to protect all European territory by the inclusion of sea-based missiles and missile tracking systems in space at considerable (but unspecified) extra cost. The technological problems encountered in developments of this kind are complex and cannot be accurately predicted and massive extra costs and overruns are common.

Perhaps the biggest problem with missile defence however, is how its development is perceived by others. It is argued by some that a workable missile shield would enable the U.S. to strike first with nuclear weapons as any limited retaliation could be dealt with effectively. Even if this is not the intention, it is easy to see how the antagonistic nature of U.S. defence policy leads many states to this conclusion. The highly accurate nuclear missiles in the U.S. arsenal are not required by deterrence but could be used to destroy enemy missile silos. The proposed new U.S. NMD bases are in states formerly in an alliance with Russia which the US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently included in a list of potential threats to US security. Is it so surprising then that Russia has reacted strongly to the NMD proposals calling them an “unfriendly step” with President Putin threatening to target European sites with nuclear weapons?

The U.S. says that the missiles are not aimed at Russia. However, an analysis of the geographic locations and missile trajectories shows that the radar and interceptors could be deployed against Russian missiles from some of its western launch sites and even though 10 interceptors clearly do not pose a threat to the 500 or so missiles in Russia’s nuclear arsenal a Russian Foreign Ministry statement suggests that: “one cannot ignore the fact that U.S. offensive weapons, combined with the missile defense being created, can turn into a strategic complex capable of delivering an incapacitating blow.”

The U.S. proposal to include Russia in further cooperation on missile defenses has generated an interesting response from President Putin who has suggested joint US-Russian use of an early warning radar in Gabala, Azerbaijan. This radar would give a good coverage of missiles from Iran but not of Russian launches because of an intervening range of mountains. However, the U.S. has now said this cannot replace the proposed Czech radar.

Within Europe there is some unease about the deteriorating U.S.-Russian relationship. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has been quoted in a newspaper article in March as saying that, in protecting against a possible Iranian threat, “the price of security must not be new suspicion or, worse still, fresh insecurity.” He also stated that, “[W]e cannot allow a missile defense system to be either a reason or a pretext for a new arms race.” The arms race may already be with us. Russia has already announced new additions to its armoury to overcome the missile shield and missile defence encourages nuclear states to enlarge their arsenals so as to keep their deterrent effective. It can therefore be accused of being responsible for contravening the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Ballistic Missile Defence is not mentioned in the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP), or EU Strategies on Security or Weapons of Mass Destruction. The Secretary General of the Council of the European Union, Javier Solana, has said that the EU has no plans to participate in a US anti-missile system but that its member states are free to join if they wish. However, members may consider that the relevance of the issue to the whole of Europe would suggest that Poland and the Czech Republic should at least consult with other member states before making a deal with the US.

So how will this situation develop? Will EU member states continue to develop their own missile defence systems individually within the framework of the NATO/US proposals? If so, then it appears that the EU has accepted by default that Iran is a threat for European security. This surely is too important an issue to be decided in this way? It will have major consequences in terms of European security and Middle East policies. There needs to be a much more serious and prolonged debate.

We should also not forget the problems associated with hosting US bases. The UK experience can inform the Czech and Polish governments that they are very unlikely to have control over the launching procedures and decisions and the 500 or so US staff to be employed will not be subject to Polish or Czech law. It is clear that the majority of the citizens (over 60%) of these two countries (especially those that live near the proposed sites) do not want the bases.

From a future international perspective, any European systems integrated into US missile defence could eventually be used to target space based interceptors which the Pentagon is keen to develop. Do we in Europe really want to be involved in the weaponisation of space? In 2005 Canada withdrew cooperation with U.S. missile defence because its citizens considered it a first step to the weaponisation of space.

 4. The Alternatives

Participants at an International Conference against the Militarization of Europe in Prague on the 5th May put their names to a declaration which included the words:

“The governments of Poland and the Czech Republic … risk … jeopardising the present framework of international agreements on nuclear non-proliferation and conventional arms control throughout the world, but especially in Europe. What we really need is disarmament as a precondition to peace and genuine human security. To face the impending ecological crisis we need international cooperation and trust, not confrontation.”

The people of Europe have high expectations of their governments. Extending missile defence to European NATO allies may seem logical to some, but it will mean that diplomacy and multilateral arms control are sacrificed to the unilateral use of force – as was the case in Iraq.  Clearly, the developing US agenda of missile defence does not fit with the cooperative security model that European governments support. There are other ways.  

The statement to the Preparatory Committee for the 2010 NPT Review Conference by the EU Ambassador includes the following:

“The EU attaches a clear priority to the negotiations without precondition in the Conference on Disarmament, of a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other explosive devices, as a means to strengthen disarmament and non-proliferation. It constitutes a priority that waits to be seized.”

EU countries must seize it and encourage others to do the same.

If we are really concerned about nuclear weapons proliferation we must pursue with increased vigour a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty, develop new international monitoring systems and abide by and strengthen the Non Proliferation Treaty. If we are worried about ballistic missiles we can negotiate a new ABM Treaty or a missile test ban and work for missile-free zones. If we are troubled about the weaponisation of space we can work harder for more cooperative agreements for the use of space, a new Outer Space Treaty and a banning of space weapons. We could make a real attempt to rid the world once and for all from the threat of nuclear annihilation by seriously pursuing a Nuclear Weapons Convention.

But agreements must be effective. The Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (ICOC), agreed in November 2002, established both international norms against proliferation and modest confidence building measures, and has attracted a great deal of diplomatic support.  However, much more effort is needed to turn it into a set of legally binding obligations and to provide real enticements to states like North Korea and Iran to abandon missile development. Without these the Code will have little effect.


In the 2003 EU document entitled ‘A Secure Europe in a Better World, European Security Strategy’, we find the following:

“In contrast to the massive visible threat in the Cold War, none of the new threats is purely military; nor can any be tackled by purely military means. Each requires a mixture of instruments.”

Missile Defence is an example of an instrument applied too late. There is a danger that if a convincing defence against missiles did exist we would put too much faith in that and not enough effort in preventing situations getting to the stage where it might be deployed.

The world is looking to the EU for inspiration – the threat of war between traditional enemies in Europe has been eradicated in a generation. This is a tremendous accomplishment. By building a wall around Europe we would be resorting to the politics of the past. We should be proud of our achievements and engage with states outside the EU to build mutual trust and security. Indeed, if we are to survive as a civilization, as a species, even as a planet, we need to learn how to develop technologies for a positive future and tolerate cultural differences.


MEPs Hold Hearing on US Missile Interceptors in Europe
(Source: European Parliament; issued July 5, 2007)

Plans by the Bush Administration to station missile interceptors and radar stations in Poland and the Czech Republic as part of its "missile shield" were discussed at a public hearing in Parliament on 28 June. Both countries are EU and NATO members and any decision by them will have an impact on Europe's defence. Whether such a shield is needed, who will ultimately control it as well as which countries it would cover were all discussed. MEPs were joined by defence experts for the hearing.  
Washington sees the interceptors as a key part of its defence against intercontinental missiles fired by states such as Iran and North Korea. Tehran's nuclear programme and its development of intercontinental missiles is particularly seen as a new emerging threat to America by the current Administration.  
The US plans have been fiercely resisted by Russia - which sees itself as the target - with both sides at times trading rhetoric reminiscent of the Cold War. At a meeting on 2 July President Putin called for Russia and other European allies to be included in the shield. He has previously offered Azerbaijan as a base for the interceptors and radar stations. These proposals have been given a cautious welcome by President Bush.  
Are Europe and the US threatened by missiles?  
At the hearing - held by Parliament's Committee on Foreign Affairs and Subcommittee on Security and Defence - there were sharp differences about the desirability of the missile interceptors, and the actions of Poland and the Czech Republic in agreeing to the US request.  
Two experts in missile defence - Dr. Patricia Sanders from the US Missile defence agency and Peter Flory - Assistant Secretary General for defence investment at NATO, both agreed on the need for the system. Dr. Sanders spoke of a "real and growing threat" and said that it would be prudent to have "a defensive option instead of pre-emptive strikes and retaliations".  
Two MEPs - Italian Socialist Achille Occheto and Tobias Pflüger, a German member of the European United Left (GUE/NGL) strongly disagreed. They expressed doubts on the probability of the threat.  
Call for Poland and Czech Republic not to go alone  
At the heart of the hearing were calls for EU members to liaise with one another and cooperate on European security and defence policy and within NATO. There was consensus from MEPs and defence experts that if EU members go alone and conclude agreements with the US this was undesirable and could lead to wider escalation.  
Jacek Saryusz-Wolski - the Polish European People's Party and European Democrats (EPP-ED) MEP who chairs the foreign affairs committee said we must "avoid new dividing lines between member states". He called for closer dialogue with Russia.  
Karl Von Wogau (EPP-ED) - Chair of the security and defence subcommittee deplored the "deficit of information" on the issue and said there should be more cooperation with the Union, and with the US and within existing NATO structures. He ended by saying that "to have 2 zones of different security in Europe is unacceptable".  
The threat of a new arms race and the "weaponisation" of space were two issues raised by Professor Dave Webb of Leeds University in the UK. He warned of "creating a costly system aimed at threat that might even not exist".  
Both Poland and the Czech Republic have given there approval for the stationing of interceptors and radar facilities on their territory although polls have a majority in both countries against the scheme (in Poland 57%, Czech Republic 62%).  
Many speakers - including Belgian Liberal MEP Annemie Neyts-Uyttebroeck - agreed that the missile shield should form part of a wider system of defence that involves diplomacy, multilateral arms control and disarmament.  
Will the missile shield actually work and who will control it?  
"Is the anti-missile shield an American system in Europe or rather a NATO/US system for Europe?" That was the question posed by Girts Valdis Kristovskis a Latvian MEP with the Union of Europe for the Nations (UEN) Group. He went on to say that "if it is a system for Europe, its opinion has to be listened to".  
Mr Saryusz-Wolski also raised the question whether "this system secure Europe as a whole?" He also spoke about the issue of debris from intercepted missiles and the danger this could potentially pose to the general public.  
Other MEPs and defence experts raised questions about how effective it would be, who would pay for it and who would participate in decision make - i.e. when should the missiles be fired.  
In a resolution adopted by the Parliament on 25 April MEPs stated that "the US system should be coordinated and interoperable with NATO's Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence (TBMD) system".  
The proposed interceptors are due to be operational from 2011-2013 - given this timetable it is clear that the next US and Russian President's will take the final decision about the missile shield. To what extent the European Union and NATO will be involved remains an open question.

Does Europe need an anti-missile defence shield?
Security and defence - 28-06-2007 - 07:06

The US wants to site anti-missile interceptors in Poland, and a radar system in the Czech Republic, saying this is needed to defend against missile attacks by rogue states. The plans have been criticised by Russia, among others. On Thursday, MEPs discussed whether a missile defence shield was necessary, the role of NATO and the impact on relations with Russia.

At a hearing organised by the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Security and Defence Subcommittee, most of the invited experts and MEPs taking part agreed that bilateral negotiations between Poland or the Czech Republic and the USA should be replaced by a decision taken under the NATO umbrella, and that European Member States need more time and further debates to reach agreement on whether or not Europe needs an anti-missile defence shield. But the experts' opinions on the real imminence of the threats or the usefulness of building a European missile shield varied widely.
The executive director for the US Missile Defence Agency Patricia Sanders said the shield "is a timely proposal", a "win-win situation and cost-effective solution" for NATO system and the US, given "North Korea's and Iran's accelerated missile development and testing". According to American intelligence, she added, Iranian long-range ballistic missiles could be capable of reaching the US before 2015 "and perhaps Europe much sooner". Peter Flory (Assistant Secretary-General for Defence Investment, NATO) explained: "We are seriously concerned on Iran's determination to get longer and longer range missiles. The last tests we saw prove they could reach already countries like Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria or Romania".
Getting NATO on board

The chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Jacek Saryusz-Wolski (EPP-ED, PL), said that "as this plan affects the security of all of Europe, consultations within NATO between the allies should continue" but also recalled that a recent NATO feasibility study concluded that it would be possible to establish a Europe-wide missile defence system, complementary with the US plan. "Having said that, the first and foremost best mean to confront Iran's missile threat is through dialogue, effective multilateralism, and only as last resort through deterrence (...) We should not forget the lesson learned during the crisis in Iraq: a divided Europe will not be listened to, but it will be played off against interests of other actors", he concluded.
Relations with

Russia recently warned that transatlantic relations cannot strengthen Europe's security "at the expense of others" and threatened to target missiles at Europe if Washington went ahead with its missile shield.
Mr Saryusz-Wolski said the system was not aimed at Russia, and Ms Sanders agreed. But François Heisbourg (Foundation for Strategic Research, Paris) said: "Russia may also worry that the Polish and Czech sites are the precursors of wide ambitions (...) The United States can surely give assurances on this point.  I believe that using NATO to manage the project politically, together with the NATO-Russia Council, would be a guarantee that the European system would not be diverted from its initial aims.”
Dave Webb (professor of Applied Global Ethics at Leeds) agreed  that "it is not surprising that Russia has reacted negatively. An analysis of the geographic locations and missile trajectories shows that the radar and interceptors could be deployed against Russian missiles from some of its western launch sites".
During the following debate Achille Occhetto (IT, PES) and Tobias Pflüger (GUE/NGL, DE) voiced their concern on the issue of proportionality - what is the real nature of the threat? Does Iran pose an immediate threat? Annemie Neyts-Uyttebroeck (ALDE, BE) said her group had not reached a final opinion on the need for a European shield but it is "increasingly worried" about reduction in efforts on non-proliferation. If the moment comes to use the missile interceptors in East Europe, who would take the final decision, wondered other MEPs. "Is the anti-missile shield an American system in Europe or rather a NATO/US system for Europe?" asked Girts Valdis Kristovskis (UEN, Latvia).
Alternatives to the anti-missile shield?

Most MEPs agreed on the need to have more time and more debates before taking any action. "Poland and the Czech Republic should not take a final decision before there is a common position taken by NATO, and this implies as well longer discussions with Russia", concluded Karl Von Wogau (EPP-ED, DE), chairman of the subcommittee on Security and Defence.

Committee on Foreign Affairs
Chair : Jacek Saryusz-Wolski (EPP-ED, PL)
Subcommittee on Security and Defence
Chair : Karl Von Wogau (EPP-ED, DE)

REF.: 20070625IPR08243

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