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"Se se pudessem interrogar as estrelas perguntar-lhes-ia se as maçam mais os astrónomos ou os poetas." Pitigrilli


"Se se pudessem interrogar as estrelas perguntar-lhes-ia se as maçam mais os astrónomos ou os poetas." Pitigrilli

European missile defense: why bother?

by Taylor Dinerman
Monday, March 26, 2007

If NATO were an effective alliance with a real future it might be worth it for America to invest billions of dollars and substantial political capital in setting up a European extension of the Ground Based Missile Defense System (GMD). However, it seems that no American leader can count on Europe for anything other than insults, sneers, and obstruction. Sure there are a few exceptions: politicians in the UK, Denmark and Poland, for example, have gone out on a limb to support the US in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, but always against the will of a large segment of their own population.

A more profound question is why we should want to place any interceptors on foreign soil in Europe or anywhere else. The political cost is substantial and the military value of placing these weapons in Europe, rather than in Maine or Virginia, is marginal. In fact such weapons will give our allies a veto over whether or not an ICBM aimed at a US city will or will not hit its target. Once the system is operational, a British or Polish politician would have, at best, a few seconds to make up his or her mind to allow a GMD interceptor to launch. In the future a European leader might be in a position to decide whether a nuclear weapon would or would not explode over New York or Washington.

There is no reason why a more effective system cannot be based in orbit. A new version of Brilliant Pebbles or an orbital battlestation armed with a dozen or so miniature interceptors would be far more effective and would not be subject to the vagaries of European politics.

A US GMD based in the UK or Poland would provide Europe with a significant defense against intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBM) at little or no cost to them. France, which seeks to make the EU into a military superpower rival to America, finds this possibility disturbing. In an editorial in the February 24th issue of Le Monde, it was pointed out “If this shield remains purely American, Europeans will find themselves more than ever tributary of the United States.” The article does not reveal how the Europeans pay this supposed “tribute” to the US.

Yet, over the years, the European NATO nations have invested ridiculously small sums into this technology while non-NATO Europeans have done even less. A minor exception is the Medium-range Air Defense System (MEADS). Germany and Italy are cooperating with the US on MEADS, based on the PAC-3 version of the Patriot. Why should the US continue to invest in a program that only gives both sides the illusion that they can effectively cooperate?

There is a very, very remote possibility that Spain and Norway may someday follow Japan’s example and buy the American SM-3 sea-based interceptor They have a small number of warships with Aegis radars compatible with the SM-3, but actually buying the US missiles needed to give themselves an effective capability seems out of the question. Some day it might be possible to integrate the SM-3 missile with a European radar and fire control system, but the cost of such a development program would be huge.
This US system might have made sense for the UK, but they chose to go with the pan-European (mostly French) Aster missile and its derivatives for their Type 45 Air Defense Destroyer. It will be a long time before this missile has the capabilities of the SM-3. Britain could, in fact, be defended from IRBM attack by a combination of SM-3 Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) missiles and a few PAC-3 units in strategic locations. This, however, would require substantial funding, and there is no sign that they will make this investment any time soon. It will be at least a decade, maybe more, before Europe has the kind of homegrown missile defense technology that the US has today.

The tidal wave of anti-Americanism that is washing over Europe will not recede any time soon. Iraq and Bush are simply excuses for it. Before Iraq and before Bush they were complaining about America as a “hyperpower” and were trying to find ways to bring it to heel. Keeping up any sort of “special relationship” or friendship, especially in the missile defense field with a continent so full of hostility, seems a bit illogical.

Europe had its chance to cooperate with the US missile defense program in the 1980s. They treated Reagan’s and George H.W. Bush’s offers of cooperation with contempt, while greedily trying to cash in on SDI research contracts. The train has now left the station, and US technology is far to valuable and sensitive to be shared with those who never invested any money or political capital in it.

Many Europeans affect to believe that America needs their bases and airspace in order to project military power worldwide. This may once have been so, but things are changing rapidly. Why should America bother with bases in Germany or the UK when it can base non-nuclear weapons in space that are even more effective and devastating than ones dropped or fired from air-breathing vehicles such as B-52s?

Some nations in Europe deserve better than being told, “Sorry, you’re on your own.” Poland, for example, has not only stood with us in Iraq and elsewhere, but has, throughout history shown a unquenchable desire to be free. Defending Poland from space would not require the US to ask permission from Germany, Sweden, or anyone else.

If America were to channel some of the funds it now spends in Europe into a new space-based military force, future Presidents will have undreamed of military alternatives. As for our former friends, they have always hated the idea of having US missiles, aircraft, and troops in their neighborhood, and they will be able to live without them. In the future, they may also have to learn to live with US space weapons orbiting over their heads.

Taylor Dinerman is an author and journalist based in New York City.