The proposed US missile defense system would offer an insurance against Iranian nuclear blackmail. The United States estimates that by 2015 Iran may possess missiles with nuclear warheads and a range of more than 5,500km: the missile shield could impede Iran’s capacity to hold the West hostage with these terror threats. The use of the words “terror” and “blackmail” is appropriate when describing Iranian nuclear ambitions, as such imprecise and unreliable nuclear warheads serve no real military purpose other than to threaten hundreds of thousands of civilians.
Even if by 2015 Iran’s capacity to launch atomic weapons against the US or countries in Western Europe is unclear, Tehran could still use nuclear blackmail to conduct its own offensive operations without Western interference. No democratically elected leader in an open society would be able to convince citizens to challenge Iranian interests (for instance to fight against aggression brought upon the so-called “Zionist entity” we know as the State of Israel), if it were moderately plausible that such a challenge would be “responded to” with a nuclear attack on that nation’s soil. Germany and Europe should make it their mission now to strengthen the reliability of the American missile defense system, as such enormous potential for blackmail would be eliminated with the construction of a reliable missile defense shield.
The most effective forum for this mission would be NATO, which has been involved in strategic missile defense since 2002. At the Prague summit, the alliance ordered a feasibility study meant to investigate the options for a NATO system that would protect against the full spectrum of ballistic missile threats. Study estimates presented in April of 2006 show that the technical capacity of the system to deter threats is possible at a manageable cost. A more in-depth study in the application of the system was ordered by the Riga NATO summit in November of 2006. The results are expected at the end of June 2007.
The Pentagon wants to have its central European missile defense system operational by 2012 in order to allow for a three year security buffer period. This buffer seems appropriate given the experience with North Korea, which was able to build ballistic missiles as well as nuclear warheads with much swifter progress than was initially expected. Washington is concerned about a further loss of time due to long discussions among NATO allies and has therefore addressed both Poland and the Czech Republic bilaterally. These two-party agreements would allow the US to maintain control over its system, which has already cost more than 100 billion US tax dollars.
Nevertheless, Germany should concentrate on the development of a missile defense system within NATO. The planned US system does not cover the entire NATO territory: a major portion of Turkey and parts of southern Europe would remain unprotected. These gaps in coverage could be remedied with additional tactical missile defense systems, linked to the planned strategic defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic. NATO should focus on the development of a common strategy and concrete concept in this area, relying on its long experience with transatlantic cooperation in the development of weapons. It would make sense to integrate the US system in Europe with the plans offered in NATO’s feasibility study.
The United States will continue to protect itself from ballistic missile threats through the strategic missile defense program. Germany and Europe should strive for inclusion in America’s plans. Cooperation in the development of a common missile defense within the framework of NATO could lead to substantial strategic synergy.
Jan-Friedrich Kallmorgen is co-publisher of the Atlantic Community and head of the Transatlantic Program at the German Council on Foreign Relations.
Andreas Beckmann is a senior consultant at the Atlantic Initiative and a security analyst based in Berlin.
Translated by William Nuland
Related Material from the Atlantic Community:
- Eckart von Klaeden on Europe Needs a Debate on Missile Defense
- Ronald Asmus on Healing Transatlantic Relations Through Missile Defense
- Wess Mitchell on Missile Defense: Washington’s Deal With Prague
- Radek Sikorski on Taking Poland for Granted