“The radar is a phenomenal asset for all the NATO countries to have,” Riki Ellison, president of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance (MDAA) told CNSNews.com. “We have a void [in this part of Europe] that can now be covered with this device. The radar has the ability to track anything moving over European air space.”
All 26 member-nations in NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) support the radar installation.
As stipulated in the U.S-Czech agreement signed as part of the European Site Initiative, the large radar system will be positioned in a remote forest area southwest of Prague. The U.S.-European Midcourse Radar (EMR), as it is known, will complement emerging defensive systems, said Ellison.
For instance, the information gathered by the radar in the Czech Republic can be fed into correlating systems in the United Kingdom, Greenland, and the United States, said Ellison. With Iran test-firing several short- and medium-range missiles just a few weeks ago near the Strait of Hormuz, the importance of the new agreement cannot be overstated, he said.
“The Czech Republic has stepped forward ahead of everyone else to engage the threat,” said Ellison. “The agreement will put us in a stronger position to defend freedom with high technology. It will also prevent our European allies from being intimated or threatened by non-democratic societies.”
Iran now has the largest force of ballistic missiles in the Middle East, U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry Obering recently told members of Congress. He estimated that there are several hundred short- and medium-range missiles in the country’s arsenal.
Iran is also developing an extended range version of its Shahab-3 rocket, which could strike Israel and U.S. bases in Eastern Europe, according to Obering.
In addition, the Defense Intelligence Agency estimates Iran could have an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of reaching the United States by 2015.
That potential threat can be met, said Ellison, referencing the test results of existing anti-missile systems in the United States, in Europe and on the high seas. The European Site Initiative calls for 10 ground-based interceptors (GBIs) to be installed in Poland, for example, where they would operate in tandem with the Czech Republic’s radar to blunt an attack from Iran.
The GBIs have been successfully tested 100 percent of the time since December 2002 when they were matched against Scud-type weaponry, the MDAA reports.
America’s negotiations with Poland, however, have not been as smooth. In exchange for participating in U.S.-led missile defense, Warsaw has insisted on a stronger U.S. commitment toward long-term military assistance.
“Poland has been more mercenary in their negotiations, and it’s clear the government in Warsaw wants more from the U.S,” Ellison said. “But they understand the threat, and I think this can be resolved.”
Another problem is Russia’s opposition to U.S. missile defense plans in areas formerly controlled by the Soviet Union. But it is not missile defense per se that Russia objects to so much as it is the presence of U.S. forces in areas that once fell under the Soviet sphere of control, said Ellison.
“I think Russia has forgotten that the Czech Republic is a NATO member and when they threaten the Czech Republic, they threaten the 26 nations representing NATO,” Ellison said. “Most of the time the Russians are not very credible with their threat -- they are more bravado.”
The United States should proceed more methodically than it has with missile defense in Europe, Michael O’Hanlon, a national security expert with the Brookings Institute, a liberal group, told CNSNews.com. While the Russian position is not reasonable in his view, there is no compelling reason for the U.S. to rush ahead with plans in Eastern Europe.
“I remain of the view we have to be a little careful here,” said O’Hanlon. “I don’t think Russia’s reaction is appropriate, and in fact, I think it’s partly contrived and somewhat exaggerated to put it kindly.
“But they’re still painting themselves into a certain position, and frankly this missile defense program, while I think in the end a good idea, is not desperately and acutely needed tomorrow. We should not be squandering what’s left of our good relations with Russia,” he said.
O’Hanlon also said there is ample room for the United States to offer assurances to Moscow that could be parlayed into future partnerships. The two countries could, for example, work together to pressure Iran into pulling back on its uranium enrichment program, he said.
Russia already has from 70 to 100 missile-interceptors surrounding, said Ellison, so it is difficult for them to argue against strategic defenses.
“I believe our political will is very strong on this point,” he said. “There’s a threat from Iran that’s real, and we are not going to start asking Russia for permission to protect our own citizens and our allies. And we are certainly not going to allow Iran to hold European cities hostage.”
The missile defense assets planned for the Czech Republic and Poland will bolster defenses not just for Southern Europe but for the eastern United States as well, Ellison said.