U.S.-Japan Anti-Missile Test a Good Sign for the European Missile Defense Sites

U.S.-Japan Anti-Missile Test a Good Sign for the European Missile Defense Sites
U.S. Navy photo by Leah Garton
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The February 3rd test of the new U.S.-Japan ballistic missile interceptor was successful. That is good news for our allies in the Pacific region—especially in light of North Korea’s ballistic missile launch only nine days later.

Designed to intercept medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles, the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIA will surely contribute to stability in the volatile Pacific. But the SM-3 Block IIA is also part of the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA)—the plan to defend U.S. allies and forward-deployed troops in Europe from the Iranian ballistic missile threat. Meaning, the February 3rd test was good news for our European allies as well.

The successful test could not be timelier. Iran has conducted several ballistic missile tests since President Trump took office. The Obama administration’s misguided Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and lifted restrictions on selling advanced technologies to the rogue regime and gave it a massive influx of cash with which to buy it. Now reinvigorated, the Iranian ballistic missile threat will not diminish anytime soon, making the ability to implement the EPAA all the more urgent.

Currently, the United States plans to establish two missile defense sites in Europe: one in Romania and the other in Poland. The Romanian site reached initial operational capability last year; the Polish site is expected to get there next year. Both sites are based on a proven and currently operational ship-based Aegis missile defense system.

These missile defense sites are more than just a tangible sign of U.S. commitment to European security. They are a visible reminder of U.S. presence in the region—a presence is all the more important in light of Russia’s efforts to undermine the security of the Central and Eastern European states.

No, the sites are not “aimed” at Russia in any sense of the word. And Russia fully understands that the EPAA, as currently planned, does not have the capability to shoot down its long-range ballistic missiles. But Moscow does seek to create a sort of security buffer zone for itself within NATO’s Eastern flank, and that entails pushing back any U.S. presence in the region—including missile defenses.

Both Polish and the Romanian governments spent significant political capital to pursue missile defense cooperation with the United States. The proposal to host a U.S. site in Romania passed that country’s parliament almost unanimously, despite threats from Russia.

It was perhaps slightly more painful for Poland; our allies in Warsaw got burnt when the Obama administration decided to cancel a previous missile defense project on their territory on the anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland.

That cancellation was supposed to ease tensions with Moscow as the Obama administration “reset” the relationship. But the maneuver yielded no cooperative sentiment on the part of the Russians and only increased their demands. Yet another cancellation would not only discredit U.S. credibility with its European allies but also further encourage Russia’s aggressive behaviors.

European allies’ political contributions are real and must not be taken for granted by the Trump Administration. Poland will contribute treasure as well, pouring resources into construction and operation of the future missile defense site at Redzikowo.

These contributions include land for the base, financing construction of infrastructure to protect and supply it, and a few hundred soldiers to assure the physical security of U.S. assets on the ground. Warsaw has also committed to exempt U.S. personnel on the ground, both civilians and the military, from value added tax on purchases in Poland. Romania has made similar contributions to the development of its site.

In a world of actors hostile to the interests of the U.S. and its allies, ballistic missile defense cooperation is more important than ever. We are witnessing it in the Pacific, with the development of the SM-3 Block IIA interceptor. And we’re seeing it in Eastern Europe, with the facilities under development in Romania and Poland.

Missile defense is not a one-way street. In these collaborative projects, the allies’ contributions are tangible and significant, serving U.S. interests as well as their own. In a world in which the ballistic missile threat continues to grow, cooperative, mutually beneficial partnerships such as these are increasingly necessary.

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