Plan for missile shield scrapped
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama abruptly canceled a long-planned missile shield for Eastern Europe on Thursday, replacing a Bush-era project that was bitterly opposed by Russia with a plan he contended would better defend against a growing threat of Iranian missiles.
The United States will no longer seek to erect a missile base and radar site in Poland and the Czech Republic, poised at Russia’s hemline. That change is bound to please the Russians, who had never accepted U.S. arguments, made by both the Bush and Obama administrations, that the shield was intended strictly as a defense against Iran and other “rogue states.”
Scrapping the planned shield, however, means upending agreements with the host countries that had cost those allies political support among their own people. Obama called Polish and Czech leaders ahead of his announcement, and a team of senior diplomats and others flew to Europe to lay out the new plan.
“Our new missile defense architecture in Europe will provide stronger, smarter and swifter defenses of American forces and America’s allies,” Obama said in announcing the shift, which U.S. officials said was based mainly on a May U.S. intelligence assessment that Iran’s program to build a nuclear-capable long-range missile would take three to five years longer than originally expected.
The replacement system would link smaller radar systems with a network of sensors and missiles that could be deployed at sea or on land. Some of the weaponry and sensors are ready now, and the rest would be developed over the next 10 years.
The Pentagon contemplates a system of perhaps 40 missiles by 2015, at two or three sites across Europe. That would augment a larger stockpile aboard ships. The replacement system would cost an estimated $2.5 billion, compared with $5 billion over the same time frame under the old plan. The cost savings would be less, however, because the Pentagon is locked into work on some elements of the old system.
The change comes days before Obama is to meet with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at the United Nations and the Group of 20 economic summit. Medvedev reacted positively, calling it a “responsible move.