The US has deployed a ballistic missile defense destroyer to Spain to boost NATO’s anti-missile shield in Europe. The move, allegedly aimed at curbing the Iranian threat, has sparked talks about Russia possibly scrapping the START nuclear treaty.
The deployment of the Navy destroyer USS Donald Cook, equipped with the Aegis shipboard integrated combat weapons system, was announced by US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday.
“An important posture enhancement is European missile defense in response to ballistic missile threats from Iran,” Hagel said, adding that the US is committed “to deploying missile defense architecture there,” as a part of Phase 3 of the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA).
Hagel also said that over the next two years, three additional Aegis-enabled missile defense-capable destroyers will join the effort to protect NATO countries on the European continent.
“Despite fiscal constraints, the budget that we will release next month fully protects our investment in European missile defense,” Hagel said, reiterating views he also expressed on a visit to Poland earlier last week.
“There are some capabilities that the United States military will continue to invest heavily in,” Hagel told the Munich conference. “We will continue to be the world leader in those kinds of capabilities.”
In his Munich speech, Hagel also mentioned that China and Russia “are rapidly modernizing their militaries and global defense industries, challenging our technological edge and defense partnerships around the world.”
The USS Donald Cook will become the first of four ballistic
missile defense (BMD)-capable ships based in Europe. It will be
joined by the destroyer Ross in a few months, while Carney and
Porter will reach European waters in 2015.
The US Navy estimates that 1,239 military personnel will move to Spain's port of Rota as part of the EPAA plan, according to the Congressional Research Service. The move will cost $92 million, with another $100 million being spent annually on maintaining the ships in Spain.
The Obama administration claims this deployment will serve to protect US allies in Europe from Iranian and possibly North Korean missile threats.
The movement of the four destroyers to Spain and a creation of a ground-based radar is Phase 1 of the EPAA. Phase 2 is the installation of the Aegis Ashore armed with Standard SM-3 IB interceptor missiles in Romania. Phase 3 of EPAA is the creation of Polish Aegis Ashore installation, armed with SM-3 IIA missiles. Phase 4, involving deployment of SM-3 IIB missiles, was canceled by the US in March 2013.
The destroyers in Spain are known as “forward deployed naval forces” (FDNF), as they enable the US Navy to provide more forward-based presence with fewer ships, and also cut down on the transit time when tackling a wide range of threats.
“Permanently forward-deploying four ships in Rota will enable us to be in the right place, not just at the right time, but all the time,” Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said, Defense News reported.
In the meantime, if the US continues boosting its anti-missile capabilities through developing its missile defense system in Europe, Russia may eventually be forced to withdraw from the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), the Russian Foreign Ministry’s top disarmament official, Mikhail Ulyanov, has warned.
"We are concerned that the US is continuing to build up missile defense capability without considering the interests and concerns of Russia,” Ulyanov told Interfax. “Such a policy can undermine strategic stability and lead to a situation where Russia will be forced to exercise [its] right of withdrawal from the [START] treaty.”
Ulyanov said that the legal basis for Moscow to scrap the START treaty is legislated for within the text of the agreement, which Russia says it has so far fully implemented. In certain exceptional cases, involving a known threat to national security, both Russia and the US have the option to quit the treaty.
“The statement on missile defense made by the Russian side on April 8, 2010, at the signing of the START Treaty, explicitly states that such exceptional circumstances include the build-up of missile defense systems by the United States, which threatens the potential of Russian Federation’s strategic nuclear forces,” Ulyanov said. “A similar [regulation] is contained in the Federal Law on the Ratification of the New START treaty.”
Ulyanov said that "at the current stage” Russian experts estimate that the US missile defense system “has not yet reached a level that would represent a threat to the efficiency of Russian strategic deterrence forces.”
Moscow hopes to eventually come to terms with Washington on the issue of European missile shield, Ulyanov said. “Such a chance, of course, remains, but everything depends on the political will of the US.”
The New START Treaty was signed between US and Russia in April 2010 and entered into force after ratification in February 2011. It is planned to last until at least 2021.