Hagel: U.S. May ‘Adjust’ Missile Defenses in Europe, As Tensions Rise

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak speak to the media at the Pentagon on Thursday. With tensions running high over Russia's incursion in Ukraine, the U.S. defense chief said planned European missile defenses could be adjusted depending on security needs.
National Journal
Rachel Oswald
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Rachel Oswald
April 18, 2014, 6:16 a.m.

Amid rising ten­sions with Rus­sia, the U.S. de­fense chief said Wash­ing­ton and its al­lies may “ad­just” the tim­ing for field­ing an­ti­mis­sile sys­tems in Europe.

For now, “we are con­tinu­ing with our sched­ule with the en­hanced ad­apt­ive ap­proach to ful­fill the com­mit­ments that we’ve made in the in­terests of Po­land, Ro­mania and our NATO part­ners,” De­fense Sec­ret­ary Chuck Hagel told re­port­ers at the Pentagon on Thursday.

He spoke along­side Pol­ish De­fense Min­is­ter To­masz Sie­mo­niak after hold­ing bi­lat­er­al talks to dis­cuss op­tions for en­han­cing Pol­ish se­cur­ity. The dis­cus­sions came against a back­drop of con­tinu­ing con­cerns about Mo­scow’s in­cur­sion in Ukraine and pos­sible fur­ther med­dling in­to former Warsaw Pact ter­rit­ory.

In re­sponse to a re­port­er’s ques­tion about the po­ten­tial for com­press­ing the timetable for field­ing in­ter­cept­ors in Po­land as a sig­nal to Rus­sia, Hagel said: “We will ad­just where we need to ad­just. Ob­vi­ously the whole point about … mis­sile de­fense is about real threats. It’s not about the­ory.”

The sec­ret­ary also em­phas­ized that U.S. mis­sile de­fense sys­tems in Europe, though, are “not a threat to Rus­sia.”

Mo­scow views U.S. mis­sile de­fenses as a chal­lenge to nuc­le­ar sta­bil­ity on the con­tin­ent. Wash­ing­ton main­tains that the in­ter­cept­ors are in­ten­ded as pro­tec­tion against po­ten­tial mis­sile strikes from the Middle East and do not have the tech­nic­al ca­pa­city to en­gage Rus­si­an stra­tegic nuc­le­ar mis­siles.

Un­der the U.S. “phased ad­apt­ive ap­proach” for provid­ing mis­sile pro­tec­tion to NATO al­lies, in­ter­cept­ors cap­able of de­feat­ing short- and me­di­um-range bal­list­ic mis­siles are due to be in­stalled in Ro­mania in 2015, and sys­tems cap­able of tar­get­ing in­ter­me­di­ate-range mis­siles are slated to be de­ployed in Po­land in 2018. Mo­scow is par­tic­u­larly con­cerned about the in­ter­cept­ors in­ten­ded for field­ing at the Pol­ish Redziko­wo base.

In re­cent weeks, sev­er­al U.S. law­makers have raised the pos­sib­il­ity of speed­ing up the pace for de­ploy­ing in­ter­cept­ors in Europe. The Pentagon’s Mis­sile De­fense Agency says the de­ploy­ment sched­ule could be ac­cel­er­ated if more money is al­loc­ated to the Ro­mania pro­gram, and if there are no ma­jor tech­no­logy-de­vel­op­ment chal­lenges with the next-gen­er­a­tion mis­siles planned for Po­land.

In com­ments to re­port­ers, Sie­mo­niak un­der­lined how cru­cial the in­ter­cept­or de­ploy­ment is to Po­land, which twice be­fore has agreed to host more-soph­ist­ic­ated U.S. an­ti­mis­sile sys­tems only to see those plans can­celed.

The Pol­ish de­fense min­is­ter said Hagel had “re­con­firmed” U.S. plans to im­ple­ment a fu­ture phase of the European pro­tect­ive ar­chi­tec­ture un­der which the ad­vanced de­fens­ive sys­tems would be de­ployed in his coun­try. He also noted the in­ter­cept­ors planned for field­ing in Ro­mania would provide mis­sile-de­fense cov­er­age to Po­land.

Rus­si­an Pres­id­ent Vladi­mir Putin dur­ing a live call-in press con­fer­ence on Thursday cri­ti­cized Wash­ing­ton for its re­fus­al to give Mo­scow a leg­ally bind­ing prom­ise that its in­ter­cept­ors in Europe would nev­er tar­get Rus­si­an nuc­le­ar arms.

“We are told: ‘This is not against you,’” Putin was quoted as say­ing by IT­AR-Tass. “But every­one at the ex­pert level un­der­stands that the de­ploy­ment of these sys­tems close to our bor­der cov­ers the po­s­i­tions of our land-based stra­tegic mis­siles.”

This has not de­terred Rus­sia, said Putin, adding: “We will be pa­tient and will per­sist­ently con­duct ne­go­ti­ations” on the mat­ter.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion last month said it had sus­pen­ded talks with Rus­sia on areas for po­ten­tial an­ti­mis­sile co­oper­a­tion due to Mo­scow’s ac­tions in Ukraine. High-level Rus­si­an of­fi­cials said this month, though, that the sus­pen­sion made little dif­fer­ence be­cause the dis­cus­sions had made little, if any, pro­gress.

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