News / USA

Missile Defense Controversy Remains After START Accord

US President Barack Obama discusses the START treaty, during a phone call with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev in the Oval Office , 26 Mar 2010
US President Barack Obama discusses the START treaty, during a phone call with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev in the Oval Office , 26 Mar 2010



Friday's announcement of a new U.S.-Russia strategic arms reduction treaty was achieved partly because the negotiators agreed to separate the issue from the controversy over the U.S. missile defense program.  Russia has strongly opposed the program, but U.S. officials say missile defense has become an integral part of security for the United States and its allies, and they predict significant advances during the next two years.

After President Barack Obama announced the agreement at the White House Friday morning, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates made this simple declaration. "Missile defense is not constrained by this treaty," he said.

That was good news for the large and growing segment of the U.S. defense establishment and defense industry devoted to missile defense.  At an annual conference for such people this week, Gates' deputy, William Lynn, made this almost triumphant statement to several hundred government workers and industry executives.

"The high-pitched partisan debate over whether to invest in missile defense is no longer with us," he said. "Ballistic missile defense is without question an important part of our current and future strategy.  We are committed to developing new missile technologies to their fullest."

Controversy is not over yet

Lynn was referring to decades of controversy over whether it was possible to develop a missile that could hit and destroy an incoming missile in flight, and to do so at a reasonable and sustainable cost.  The controversy is not completely over, but the Obama Administration's ballistic missile defense review, released in February, endorsed what had largely been a program supported by Republican Party presidents and members of Congress.

Now that the decision has been made to move forward with what the review called an "integral" part of U.S. defenses, the second ranking U.S. military officer, General James Cartwright, says the American military commands will spend some time figuring out how to use the various aspects of the system in their regions.

"What makes sense for the Gulf region, what makes sense for Europe, what makes sense for the Pacific, they're not going to be the same.  And how we figure that out and how we move in a direction that's both effective and affordable is the work that has to be done over the next two years," he said.

The $10-billion U.S. missile defense program involves a combination of systems designed to detect and intercept missiles coming from short, medium and long distances.  There are only minutes - sometimes seconds - to react, and the incoming weapons are traveling faster than the speed of sound. 

Russian deterrent

As a result, the United States needs radar installations and anti-missile launch sites in key regions, particularly in Central Europe to counter the growing missile threat from Iran.  And Russia, the U.S. partner on strategic arms reduction and in the effort to convince Iran not to develop nuclear weapons, has not been at all happy about that.

Russia says the European missile defense system changes the balance of power and threatens its nuclear arsenal.  But Andrew Kuchins, director of the Russia and Eurasia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says that's not the real reason for Russian opposition.

"They understand that these systems don't have the capability to compromise the Russian strategic deterrent.  What they want to do, I think, is try to block the development of missile defense capabilities in general so as to make it more costly for the United States to deploy conventional forces into the [European] theater," he said.

"Conventional superiority"

But Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn says the ability to project conventional power without the threat of missile attacks is crucial to the U.S. global security strategy, and its treaty obligations.  

"This risk could push our forces further from the battle space, compromising our ability to bring our conventional superiority to bear.  The credibility of our security guarantees to allies and to partners especially in the Middle East and East Asia depends on our ability to project power despite these threats," he said.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton indicated Friday she wants to talk more with the Russians about missile defense.  "We continue to look for ways to engage with Russia on missile defense in a way that is mutually beneficial and protective of countries' security against these new threats we face in the world," she said.

Russia has offered some cooperation on missile defense in the past, but has resisted the kind of system U.S. officials have proposed.  Still, the Obama Administration is determined to move forward with plans to put missile defense installations in Poland and Romania.

Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, James Miller, says there will be major developments during the next few years.  "I think we're on a very good path to making a sea-change in our missile defense posture within the coming three-to-five years," he said.

Miller says U.S. missile defense capability is not as good as it should be in some areas, particularly the Middle East, but he expects that to change significantly, and soon.

You May Like

Video In US, Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy

Holiday marks date Columbus discovered Americas, but some are offended by legacy because he enslaved many natives he encountered More

Video Through Sports, Austria Tries to Give Migrants Traction

With 85,000 people expected to claim asylum in Austria this year, its government has made integration through joint physical activities a key objective More

Video Kickboxing Champion Shares Sport With Young Migrants

Pouring into Europe by hundreds of thousands, some migrants, especially youngsters, are finding sports a way to integrate into new host countries More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemeni
Henry Ridgwell
October 12, 2015 4:03 PM
The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemen

The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video No Resolution in Sight to US House Speaker Drama

Uncertainty grips the U.S. Congress, where no consensus replacement has emerged to succeed Republican House Speaker John Boehner after his surprise resignation announcement. Half of Congress is effectively leaderless weeks before America risks defaulting on its national debt and enduring another partial government shutdown.

Video New Art Exhibit Focuses on Hope

Out of struggle and despair often comes hope. That idea is behind a new art exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. "The Big Hope Show" features 25 artists, some of whom overcame trauma and loss. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy as US Holiday

The second Monday of October is Columbus Day in the United States, honoring explorer Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. The achievement is a source of pride for many, but for some the holiday is marked by controversy. Adrianna Zhang has more.

Video Anger Simmers as Turks Begin to Bury Blast Victims

The Turkish army carried out new air strikes on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets on Sunday, a day after the banned group announced a unilateral cease fire. The air raids apparently are in retaliation for the Saturday bombing in Turkey's capital Ankara that killed at least 95 people and wounded more than 200 others. But as Zlatica Hoke reports, there are suspicions that Islamic State is involved.

Video Bombings a Sign of Turkey’s Deep Troubles

Turkey has begun a three-day period of mourning following Saturday’s bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara, that killed nearly 100 people. With contentious parliamentary elections three weeks away, the attacks highlight the challenges Turkey is facing as it struggles with ethnic friction, an ongoing migrant crisis, and growing tensions with Russia. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Afghanistan’s Progress Aided by US Academic Center

Recent combat in Afghanistan has shifted world attention back to the central Asian nation’s continuing civil war and economic challenges. But, while there are many vexing problems facing Afghanistan’s government and people, a group of academics in Omaha, Nebraska has kept a strong faith in the nation’s future through programs to improve education. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Omaha, Nebraska.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video In 'He Named Me Malala,' Guggenheim Finds Normal in Extraordinary

Davis Guggenheim’s documentary "He Named Me Malala" offers a probing look into the life of 18-year-old Malala Yousafsai, the Pakistani teenager who, in 2012, was shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for her right to education in her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Guggenheim shows how, since then, Malala has become a symbol not as a victim of brutal violence, but as an advocate for girls’ education throughout the world. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

Video Paintable Solar Cells May Someday Replace Silicon-Based Panels

Solar panels today are still factory-manufactured, with the use of some highly toxic substances such as cadmium chloride. But a researcher at St. Mary’s College, Maryland, says we are close to being able to create solar panels by painting them on a suitable surface, using nontoxic solutions. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs