Iran Missile Defense in Europe Should Proceed

By Trey Obering and Eric Edelman
Monday, July 6, 2009

The East-West Institute released a study in late May by U.S. and Russian "experts" on the Iranian missile threat that concluded the threat "is not imminent and that in any event the system currently proposed would not be effective against it." The next day, Defense Secretary Robert Gates says, Iran apparently tested a multistage, solid-propellant missile with a range of 1,200 to 1,500 miles, putting much of Europe within range.

The apparent reelection of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and his frequently expressed commitment to pursue nuclear and ballistic missile capability, underscore the importance of proposed U.S. radar sites and missile defense interceptors in Eastern Europe. Critics of the plan frequently recycle the arguments repeatedly invoked by Russian diplomatic and defense officials during rounds of U.S.-Russian diplomacy throughout 2007-08, including two meetings between their foreign and defense ministers.

That thinking goes: There is no near-term, long-range Iranian missile threat; the proposed U.S. system could not defeat such a threat anyway, but placing that system in Europe will threaten Russia's nuclear deterrent.

These tired arguments are not persuasive.

Lt. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly, director of the Missile Defense Agency, has recently drawn attention to Iranian progress in staging missiles and moving from liquid to solid propellants. Many critics of the Europe plan acknowledge this progress. An April report of the National Air and Space Intelligence Center noted that "with sufficient foreign assistance, Iran could develop and test an ICBM capable of reaching the United States by 2015."

Iran's serious search for that kind of assistance was highlighted by New York District Attorney Robert Morgenthau's testimony in May to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He recounted the indictment in April of a Chinese business executive for his deals with Iranian defense operatives to transfer:

-- 15,000 kilograms of a specialized aluminum alloy used almost exclusively in producing long-range missiles.

-- 1,700 kilograms of graphite cylinders used for banned electrical discharge machines.

-- More than 30,000 kilograms of tungsten-copper plates.

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