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Mediterranean Quarterly 11.4 (2000) 1-22
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U.S. Missile Defenses and Europe
W. Bruce Weinrod
Close to a decade after the end of the Cold War, the transatlantic security relationship remains solid. At the same time, inevitable differences of perception and of immediate interests have manifested themselves. The issues include the relationship between the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the defense dimension of the European Union as well as policy toward Iran. However, it seems fair to say that the security issue with the most potential for causing serious differences between the United States and its European NATO allies is missile defense.
The United States is currently engaged in the development of two types of missile defense: theater missile defense (TMD) and national missile defense (NMD). The general distinction between TMD and NMD is as follows: TMD involves the deployment of antiballistic missiles with limited ranges that can protect relatively small areas (such as military forces, bases, and equipment) from short-range ballistic missile attack. NMD involves the deployment of antiballistic missiles that can protect wider areas, such as a nation's territory, against long-range ballistic missile attack. Other technologies, such as lasers, may also be used in the future.
The United States has in fact deployed TMD systems for some years. There exists a strong consensus in the United States for the development of improved TMD capabilities. While not all Americans support NMD, the official policy of the United States is to develop and then deploy an NMD system.
Both theater and national U.S. missile defenses have implications for [End Page 1] European security, the transatlantic relationship, and the military capabilities of NATO. Thus, understandably, Europeans are interested in the implications of U.S. missile defenses for Europe.
European members of NATO have accepted, although not always enthusiastically, the initiation of programs to develop TMD capabilities for NATO. But significant concern has been expressed in Europe about a potential U.S. deployment of NMD.
Both TMD and NMD have the potential to enhance the security of the United States and Europe and also to reinforce strategic stability. At the same time, European concerns are understandable. The Clinton administration, unfortunately, failed to lay the groundwork for TMD and especially NMD with America's European allies. Many Europeans were unaware of the U.S. NMD program until very recently and do not yet understand details of the program or its rationale.
However, the United States should make every effort to discuss both programs with European allies and also, to the extent possible, develop programs with the Europeans that can protect both the United States and other NATO nations. With a sustained and carefully crafted diplomacy, it is possible to develop a common approach on this very important transatlantic issue. This should be the goal of the next U.S. president and his administration.
The Security Context for Missile Defense
During the decades-long Cold War, the primary focus and concern regarding nuclear missile attack was on long-range ballistic missiles. Such missiles had the capacity to reach U.S. territory from the Soviet Union and to inflict massive devastation on civilian population centers.
During this period, the possibility that the Soviet Union might launch nuclear missiles against either the United States or European NATO nations was perceived as ever present. The United States maintained a strategic nuclear capability primarily, although not exclusively, to deter or if necessary respond to a Soviet use of nuclear weapons. Separately, England and France each developed independent nuclear capabilities for its own additional protection. [End Page 2]
At the same time, Moscow also possessed numerous short-range missiles, which could cause serious damage to both military and civilian targets on the territory of European NATO nations. The most dramatic example of such a missile was the Soviet SS-20 intermediate-range nuclear missile deployed by Moscow in the 1980s.
Both national and theater missile defense concepts were considered by the United States during the height of the Cold War. However, missile defense technology was at a rudimentary stage, and truly effective defense systems were not available...