On 12th May 2016 a ceremony took place in Romania to commission the ground missile complex “Aegis Ashore” at the Deveselu Air Force base in the south of the country.
This Russian military-political leadership paid careful attention to this event, as did the leaders of many other countries around the world. The reason for that is very simple: this is not a harmless defensive facility.
In accordance with the so-called “Phased Adaptive Approach” for the deployment of a global infrastructure for US ballistic missile defence (“BMD”) the systems which will be based at Deveselu air base will include US Mk-41 launchers for the combat and information management system “Aegis”. These will eventually be equipped with”Standard-3″ 1B interceptor missiles as used on US combat ships as well as AN/SPY-1 radars for target acquisition and guidance.
The “Standard-3” 1B missiles are the most advanced U.S. missile defence interceptor. US experts say they can hit all types of medium-range and shorter-range ballistic and cruise missiles up to a maximum range of 5500 km. Under the terms of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty signed in 1987 Russia does not have such missiles.
It would seem that deployment of such high-technology elements of the US missile defense system should enhance the security of the people of southern and central Europe, but is that really so?
The declared technical characteristics of the “Standard-3” missiles allow them to maintain “security” from hypothetical missile attacks within a horizontal radius of more than 500 km from the place of their deployment horizontally and up to an altitude of about 250-300 km. Thus, the zone of operation of these missiles covers the whole territory of Romania and of a number of neighbouring countries including the European part of the Russian Federation.
In other words these missiles can intercept ballistic and cruise missiles not just over the territory of Romania, but also over the territories of other states, including Russia.
More destabilising still is the claim the BMD base at Deveselu can protect itself – and by extension Romania – from strikes by Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles and Russian cruise missiles of extended range.
This is an wholly mendacious claim. Firstly, a militarily weak country such as Romania would be most unlikely by itself to be a target for Russian nuclear weapons. Secondly, deploying a US BMD base makes Romania such a target. Thirdly, if the BMD base in Romania were attacked by Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles equipped with the sort of modern technical means needed to penetrate US BMD – something not only technically feasible but under active consideration by the Russian military and by Russian missile designers – then the US BMD base would hardly be able to protect even itself.
At the same time no one can ignore the fact that deploying a BMD base to Romania and in the near future in 2018 in Poland will plant a powerful destabilising mine under Russian-Romanian and Russian-Polish relations. After control of the use of interceptor missiles from the territories of Romania and Poland will be in the hands of Washington, not of Bucharest or Warsaw. This follows from the bilateral agreements that have led on the deployments of the US BMD bases in Deveselu and Redzikowo.
Which conclusions can be drawn from all this?
It is logical to assume that by deploying of land and sea-based missile defence system in the European area, in the Middle East and in the Asia-Pacific region the US is pursuing very different and distinctive goals. Of these one, which was discussed at a top level meeting of representatives of the Russian Ministry of Defence of Russia and of the Russian military-industrial complex with the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin – and which looks very convincing – was described by President Putin with these words: “launchers, which will be placed after the commissioning of these bases in Romania and Poland can be easily used for emplacing medium-range and shorter-range missiles” – in other words missiles of an offensive not of a defensive nature.
The US Navy has already deployed since 2011 warships equipped with the “Aegis” BMD system in the seas and oceans around Europe. There are more than 30 warships equipped with such a system, each ship carrying an average of 30-40 “Standard-3″ interceptor missiles. This already existing very large naval deployment puts the proposed land based deployment in its proper context.
Deploying a number of Mk-41 universal naval launchers to land bases in Romania and Poland adds little to the already existing BMD capability provided by the naval deployment. However these launchers can without wmodification house a wide range of missiles, including the notorious land-based “Tomahawk” cruise missiles whose deployment in Europe was prohibited by the Soviet-U.S. Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty of 1987. Deploying offensive land-based “Tomahawk” cruise missiles in Romania using infrastructure supposedly created for BMD missiles could threaten almost the whole of Russia’s European territory.
The U.S. and NATO have mixed their nuclear and conventional arms in the so-called “Chicago Triad” since 2012 following an agreement hammered out at the NATO Summit in that city. Commitment to maintaining this Triad was confirmed by the NATO Summit in Wales in September 2014, and will probably be reconfirmed at the next NATO Summit to be held in Warsaw in July. This “Triad” is deployed on the “front lines” in the confrontation with Russia as forward-based weapons.
The philosophy behind this Triad is what explains why the USA is “defending” the inhabitants of Bucharest, but not those of Rome, Athens, Berlin or London by deploying BMD bases in Romania but not in Italy, Greece, Germany or the UK. Quite simply the US BMD base in Romania is much closer to the sites of Russia strategic nuclear forces than would have been the case if it had been deployed on the territories of Italy, Greece, Germany or especially the UK.
There is probably another reason for deploying the BMD base in Romania – one that may seem cynical but which is probably true. This that in case of retaliation against the new U.S. anti-missile ‘shield’ the citizens of other countries – specifically those of Romania – can be victims rather than those of the US.
Would the United States have spent – in vain – billions of dollars to keep the not so developed Romanian economy afloat save in its own self-interest? Perhaps there are serious people around who believe it did so for entirely disinterested reasons. However one thing is for sure: Russian politicians and experts do not suffer from that sort of naivety.
Are the threats from the American BMD components in Europe critical to Russia? Apparently now they are, in part because of the presence of the combined “Chicago Triad”, which combines offensive assets with a military doctrine that allows for a US initial nuclear first strike.
Thus we see emerging on the European continent the third in a row of US challenges to regional and global stability and world peace. The first was the series of actions taken by Washington in 1962 which unfolded as what the West calls “the Cuban Missile Crisis”. The second was the adoption in 1979 by NATO leaders of the so-called “double-track decision” which paved the way for the deployment of nuclear ballistic and cruise missiles in Europe within strike range of the USSR. The third is the construction of the US BMD bases in Europe which is now underway.
In face of this latest challenge we should note the Russian leadership’s determination to take adequate countermeasures. These will be based on a comprehensive assessment of the balance of power in Europe and the world.
As has already been said, plans for Russian Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles capable of overcoming anti-ballistic missile defences far more advanced and capable than the most sophisticated anti-missile defence systems planned by NATO and the US already exist. Russian long-range air and sea-based non-nuclear cruise missiles used against the terrorist organisations in Syria have already proved their exceptional capability. The combat capabilities of the Russian Navy and of Russia’s electronic warfare capabilities are also being enhanced in a programme announced in 2008.
In the meantime the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin has warned that: “the countries of Eastern Europe which house the U.S. first strike missiles are becoming legitimate targets for the Russian retaliation strike.”
This is not Moscow’s choice. This is a necessary and forced response, prompted by the growing threat stemming from the United States of America.
Amongst the list of potential Russian countermeasures we could see Russia’s withdrawal from the INF Treaty, and even from the START-3 Treaty (known in the West as “New START”) which was signed in Prague in 2010.
It is also clear that there will be no further discussion with Washington of any possible new treaty limiting or reducing strategic offensive nuclear weapons. Nor will there be negotiations on a treaty to reduce the number of tactical nuclear weapons. Talks on such treaties will not happen whilst US nuclear missile and missile defence supported by general-purpose forces move towards Russia’s door step.
This hardly exhausts the list of possible countermeasures the details of all which remain classified.
What are the alternatives?
The short answer is that the US and NATO should reverse the dangerous course they have embarked on. They should close the BMD base in Romania, withdrawing all their missiles from there, and cease building its twin in Poland. The US should also withdraw its tactical nuclear weapons from Europe and Turkey and cease its and NATO’s provocative aerial displays over the Baltic States, which moreover use dual-capable aircraft capable of carrying nuclear weapons.
The US should also commit itself together with Russia to a policy of non first use of nuclear weapons and ideal to a policy of no use at all.
As the same time there should be serious negotiations for a new multilateral treaty on BMD – one which involves other states, not just the US and Russia as the old ABM Treaty did – and which limits the number and capability of such systems and prohibits their deployment beyond national borders.
Some in the West will balk at these steps saying they are unreasonable. They are in fact the only reasonable response if the danger current US and NATO actions is creating is to be ended.
The author is Chief Adviser, Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, a Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, a Professor, of the Russian Academy of Military Sciences, a Member of the Scientific Board of the National Institute of Global Security Research, a Member of the Gorchakov’s Foundation Club and a Global Senior Fellow National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST), Global Think Tank Network (GTTN) in Islamabad Pakistan. He is also a Ph.D., Senior Researcher (Academic Rank)