The Iranian threat
The new administration faces a tough decision after it takes office in January. Will it continue the deployment of a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, urging their parliaments to ratify the agreements with the United States? Or will it cancel such plans, appearing to bow to Russian objections that such a missile defense will undermine Moscow's strategic deterrent capability?
Opponents claim there is no current threat from Iranian missile deployments except to the far southeastern borders of Europe. Others argue that even should Iranian missiles be able to threaten Central Europe, no such "real" threat exits because any missile strike from Tehran involves a known "return address." In this view, NATO would respond with massive force against any missile strike the mullahs might contemplate. In short, deterrence would work as it did with the former Soviet Union.
Further, even should deterrence alone not be adequate, a deployment of U.S. missile defenses such as THAAD, Patriots or Aegis cruisers would be sufficient to deal with the current short- and medium-range ballistic missile threat from Iran, say critics. As such missile defenses are mobile, they can be deployed where they are needed and do not entail a fixed site that can cause political problems. But in sufficient numbers this alternative would cost $40 billion. The proposed site, in contrast, would cost 10 percent of this total and provide complete protection of Europe and the eastern United States.
Some have suggested that even if the Iranian ballistic missile threat is serious, the abandonment of U.S. missile deployments in Central Europe could be exchanged for Moscow's willingness to support additional and tougher sanctions against Iran within the context of the U.N. Security Council. In this view, if Russia were to vote with the United States, sufficient pressure could be placed on Tehran to eliminate its nuclear weapons program, thus rendering its ballistic missile programs far less threatening.
While these views have a certain surface appeal, if adopted they would make it impossible to eliminate Iran's burgeoning nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, to say nothing of its continued support for Hezbollah, Hamas and other terror organizations. Iran seeks nuclear weapons as top cover for its terrorist activities and its goal of driving United States military and diplomatic strength first from the Middle East and then elsewhere. As a recent Institute for Defense Analysis report found, the proposed site in Europe is a sound technological response to such a threat.
The mullahs have not accepted the idea of an emerging democratic nation in Iraq, despite their puppet Sadr being defeated and the success of America's changed strategy, popularly known as "the surge." Iran also wants to defeat any stronger sanctions or economic measures that would be affective in driving Iran away from its nuclear program. They are dedicated to the terror campaign against Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel and the United States.
Their nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs are for intimidating the U.S. and its European allies into a policy of appeasement. While many critics of U.S. policy toward Iran repeat the mantra that a dialogue with Tehran is the key to a new relationship, the Mullahs have made clear that the only appropriate U.S. policy is one which withdraws from the Middle East, including coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and eliminates support for the government of Israel.
Iran can hold at risk many of our allies with their current ballistic missiles which have a 2,000 kilometer range. Recent tests of multiple stage rockets by Tehran underscore that Iran has moved beyond the Scud rocket technology whose unitary characteristics made enhanced range capability unlikely. But now, with both solid rocket propellant and staged rocketry, it is simply a matter of time before Iran can threaten all of Europe, according to experts. When such a capability will be fully deployed is not known, but that is not a reason for complacency especially given reports that Russian technicians have been reportedly assisting Iranian rocket makers. As such, our capability to deploy a defense against such missile threats takes time, measured in years, while the Iranian threat is not governed by our timetables or defense decisions.
At a recent Prague Security Institute conference, I noted that our proposed missile defense deployment in Central Europe would give allied diplomats and policy-makers the ability to counter Iranian coercive threats through careful and timely actions. In short, retaliatory threats or surrender to blackmail would not be our only options. True, this reality makes the job of providing for the common defense a lot tougher. The new administration will have a lot of support if it accepts this reality and asks for all of us on a bipartisan basis to do what we need to do - deploy missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic.