The amusing thing about clichés is that they have a basis in reality. “Stuff” really does happen. So it can be hard to resist using clichéd phrases on occasion because they can be extremely apt.
Having read recent published reports regarding the breakdown in talks between the United States and Russia over this country’s plan to deploy sophisticated theater missile defenses in Europe, the phrase “a perfect storm” comes to mind. Such a storm is created when powerful forces intersect, creating a maelstrom at the center. One such force is the U.S. plan to deploy a robust missile defense capability, the Phased Adaptive Architecture (PAA) to Europe.
The first of four phases consisting of surface ships equipped with the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS) and the Standard Missile (SM) 3 Block IA has already been fielded. The remaining three phases of the PAA, employing enhanced versions of the Aegis BMDS and more capable versions of the SM-3, will be deployed at sea and on land at regular intervals between now and 2020. European air and missile defenses will be able to tie into the PAA’s network of sensors; some countries may even acquire versions of the SM-3 to create their own theater missile defense capability. The ultimate configuration of the PAA will provide the means to defend against intercontinental ballistic missiles fired from the Middle East against Europe and even the United States.
A second force that threatens to intersect with U.S./NATO plans for theater missile defenses is Russian opposition to that very plan. Moscow has been opposed to the deployment of all but the most innocuous ballistic missile defenses since the halcyon days of the Soviet Union. The reason then and now are the same: missile defenses may diminish the deterrent value and military utility of Moscow’s premier security instrument, its nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles. Since the fall of the Soviet Union and the collapse of its military machine, Russia has had to rely almost exclusively on its missile force for its security needs and as virtually the only means of preserving its status as a major world power.
Moscow has made it clear that it opposes the deployment of the PAA and that it will adopt countermeasures. Soviet leaders have threatened to deploy nuclear-capable theater ballistic missiles into Kaliningrad in Eastern Europe. It has even threatened to withdraw from the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the centerpiece of the Obama Administration’s program to reset relations between Washington and Moscow.
Washington has been trying to strike a bargain with Moscow to no avail. The administration has offered to provide data that will demonstrate the limited capabilities of the PAA. However, the chief U.S. negotiator, former representative Ellen Tauscher, has been clear that since Washington is certain that the PAA poses no threat to the Soviet strategic deterrent, the United States will not agree to any limits on deployments of theater missile defenses in Europe. This includes allowing a Russian finger on the button.
At the same time, tensions with Iran are increasing and North Korea, which has proliferated ballistic missile technology to Iran and other nations, is about to test a space launch vehicle/ICBM. So the need for a theater missile defense is increasing at precisely the time the Russians are digging in their heels. Now Moscow has raised the ante, warning that it will treat the decision to go ahead with a missile defense shield for Europe as a “litmus test” on the future of U.S.-Russian relations.
So the Obama Administration is caught in the middle between its European allies and the commitment to them, its pursuit of better relations with Russia and the need to counter the proliferation of ballistic missiles. See why the cliché the perfect storm seems so apt.
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