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Thursday, August 11, 2016, 14:29 (GMT+7)
On the US launch of missile defence system in Europe

After lengthy delays, on May 12th 2016, the U.S. suddenly “activated” a missile defence shield in Romania. This marks the commencement of the plan to deploy a missile defence system in Europe and a new difficult period for the US-Russian relationship. So, what is behind this move?

US missile defence system in Romania (photo: VNA)

A convincing excuse?

It is believed that the missile defence system in the Europe was proposed by the U.S. during former President Ronald Reagan’s term, which was targeted at the USSR. After the end of the Cold War, the plan was postponed and then resumed in 2007, with a view to dealing with missiles from Iran and North Korea, which has become a controversial topic between the U.S. and Russia. After it was cooled down, President Obama was thought to resolve this issue after his announcement of resetting US-Russian relations. However, Washington has unobtrusively implemented its plan with adjustments, and the “activation” of missile defence shield in Romania has intensified tensions between the U.S. and Russia.

To give reason for this move, US officials and NATO representatives claimed that their missile defence system is only against incoming missiles from countries like Iran, and that it is not a threat to Russia. More specifically, US Secretary of Defense Representative to NATO Robert Bell affirmed that the Aegis missile defence system in Romania would not be detrimental to Russian strategic deterrence, and in fact, it is not capable enough to do that. He added that Russia’s concern is imagination only. Analysts think that no leaders, especially Russian ones, will believe in his words due to the following reasons.

First, in spite of the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the USSR, a sovereign Russia having a huge nuclear arsenal is still the biggest barrier to controlling the unipolar world led by the U.S.. Thus, using missile defence shield to gain military edge over Russia is a consistent goal of the U.S. to maintain its world number one position. More clearly, in 2012 when discussing this issue, Russia asked the U.S. and NATO to commit themselves in form of a legal document that their missile defence system will not target Russia, but it was rejected.

Second, that Washington affirmed its missile defence system in Europe mainly aims to deal with threats from Iran missiles is not convincing enough as US-Iran relationship is now totally different from before. When the U.S. and Iran still argued with each other over Iran nuclear program 6 years ago, it could be said that Iran’s missiles were worrying. Yet, since the historic deal between the P5+1 group and Iran (2015), threats from this Islamic country have been no longer a compelling reason for the US deployment of missile defence system in Europe.

Third, the activation of missile defence system in Europe falls on the time when relations between Russia, the U.S. and the West are still strained due to Ukraine crisis, which definitely concerns Moscow. Moreover, in spite of the fact it is a defence system, it could become an offensive one at any time if it is “reset”. Hence, people believe that the reason given by Washington for its move is not convincing enough, but it is also not reasonable to affirm that it mainly targets Russia. Are there any purposes else for the activation of missile defence system in Europe?

For many other purposes

According to observers, the US missile defence system in Europe is like “kill two birds with one  stone”, of which affirming its military edge and wielding political influence on the region are the main ones. According to the Plan on missile defence system in Europe officially passed in 2010, the system’s real purpose is to neutralize the potential enemies’ counter-attack possibility right after Washington’s pre-emptive nuclear strikes against them. Accordingly, Washington would take the comprehensively military edge and protect its world number one position. Therefore, the missile defence shield in Romania has been equipped with the latest weapons and equipment, including SPY-1D radar systems, MK-99 fire control systems and MK-41 anti-ballistic missile system. The SPY-1D radar system could detect and track various flying objects, first and foremost new-generation strategic aircraft, ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, being connected with MK-41 systems and deployed on naval ships and land. Besides, this inter-connected system could not only launch anti-ballistic missiles but also strike with cruise missiles when necessary.

Military experts believe that the reason why the U.S. decided to deploy missile defence system in Europe is that it is concerned by Russia’s intercontinental ballistic missile system. Addressing US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, Frank Rose, Assistant Secretary of State who is in charge of arms control, verification and deployment to Romania confirmed that “we are now facing huge challenges from Russia” and that “Russia has owned a modern ballistic missile system for a long time and successfully operated it”. Studies by Western military experts also show that the activation of missile defence shield in Romania might serve the intention of using ultra-high-speed anti-ballistic missiles to destroy Russia’s nuclear missiles right after they are launched. The reason is that after being launched, Russia’s missiles would disperse a lot of heat, thus being easily detected and unable to move and avoid attack. It is calculated that this phase would last within several minutes, which is enough for the US ultra-high-speed missiles (deployed in Eastern Europe) to access and destroy the targets.

 Together with the purpose of gaining military edge, the US deployment of missile defence system in Europe also aims at political purpose. It is believed that the U.S. could take advantage of this system to hype the “risk of an invasion” from Russia, turn “imaginary threat” into a “real one”, and promote an arms race that forces NATO members to increase their defence budget, while they are still wrestling with the debt crisis, immigration issue and terrorism. Moreover, as the system is mainly designed by the U.S., the Europe will depend on the US technology and security, particularly the countries under the US “nuclear umbrella” protectorate. This also causes disagreement among European countries over the system’s role. A number of countries claim that the US installation of missile defence system in Europe is of “no respect” for US allies as these European countries are capable enough to protect themselves from potential missile attacks. Many of French military officials are not content with the US missile defence system due to its high cost and uncertain efficiency. Even in Czech Republic and Poland, there is a wave of protest against the US activation of missile defence system in the two countries as it threatens the national independence and sovereignty, and makes them “hostages” for US political ambitions. Hence, taking political and military control over European countries is one of the US prime purposes in the launch of missile defence system in this continent.

Unpredictable consequences

It is not hard to realize that the activation of a part of the US missile defence system in Europe has impacted on the security of many countries in the region, especially Russia. Right after the US activation of missile defence system, Moscow vigorously responded to the US move in both words and actions. Moscow believes that the true purpose of this system is to neutralize its nuclear stockpile, enabling the U.S. to launch pre-emptive nuclear strikes when in a war. Notably, when deploying anti-ballistic missiles near Russian border, the U.S. and NATO have accidentally besieged and separated Russia to restrict its influence. In this regard, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova stressed: we consider the US deployment of missile defence shield in Romania as a violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) signed by the two sides in 1987. Russian officials also warned that they would adopt various measures to neutralize the US missile defence systems in Europe. In the short term, Moscow would establish 3 new divisions with 10,000 troops to protect the country’s Western and Southern flanks, restore and modernize the early-warning radar stations in Crimean Peninsula. Russian military experts revealed that the country is considering asymmetric responses that are less costly but much more efficient and strong enough to breach any US systems not only in Europe but also in many other regions targeting Russia. Accordingly, Moscow is considering the deployment of Barguzin Nuclear Missile Train, Iskander-M ballistic missile systems in Kaliningrad near Eastern Europe countries in response to the US missile defence shield and possible crises. Besides, Russia is having the idea of developing long-range nuclear missiles which might be invisible and carry many nuclear warheads. To conclude, the US launch of missile defence shield in Romania has directly impacted on Russia security and threatened strategic stability of the whole region. Many politicians worldwide suppose that the missile defence system in Europe will not help protect NATO member states; even it will lead to an arms race in the region. It concerns people that if the situation is not under control, it will possibly commences a new-type cold war in Europe in the 21st century.

Minh Hoang


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