BMD Focus: Poland blocks base -- Part 2

By MARTIN SIEFF, UPI Senior News Analyst  |  June 3, 2008 at 1:14 PM
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WASHINGTON, June 3 (UPI) -- Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk is holding out for vastly increased military aid from the United States before he will allow Washington to build its base for Ground-based Mid-course Interceptors -- GBIs -- in his country.

However, Tusk knows that the Democrats controlling both houses of the U.S. Congress since the 2006 midterm elections have just slashed by one-third the funds the White House wanted to build the base.

Neither the Democrats running the key committees and subcommittees in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, nor Tusk and his government in Warsaw, want to be blamed for outright refusing to allow the new base to be built. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the almost-certain GOP presidential nominee, could make much of that as a campaign issue this fall. And Tusk's government does not dare to outrage the Bush administration and American public opinion by an outright refusal.

But both the Tusk government in Warsaw and the Dems on Capitol Hill do not need to clash head on with the White House on the BMD base issue. It is in both their interests to simply run out the clock on the issue until a new Congress with probably a far larger Dem majority in both houses and a new president are elected in November.

If McCain wins, he almost certainly will push energetically to get the BMD base built. If Sen. Hillary Clinton wins and, as widely expected, appoints Richard Holbrooke as her secretary of state, the BMD base policy will probably still be vigorously prosecuted. But it remains to be seen whether a President Barack Obama would choose to do so, or whether he would treat the issue as a disposable bargaining chip to ease relations with Russia.

If built, the Polish base would be the second-largest concentration of the ultra-fast, ultra-expensive GBIs in the world. The main deployment of GBIs so far has been at Fort Greely, Alaska, to protect the United States from ICBM attack across the Pacific from Asia.

The GBI program has been the gold star in the Bush administration's ambitious ballistic missile defense programs over the past seven and a half years. It got off to a very shaky start during President Bush's first term in office, owing to the decision by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his top lieutenants to throw out of the window the engineering protocols and standards that the legendary Gen. Bernard Schriever had laid down for the U.S. Minuteman ICBM program back in the late 1950s and early 1960s. But in recent years, under the direction of Missile Defense Agency chief Lt. Gen. Henry "Trey" Obering and his deputy, Maj. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly, the program has gone a lot better.

The GBI program could not defend the United States against any massed attack from Russia or against any attack by several or more ICBMs armed with MIRV -- Multiple Independently targeted Re-entry Vehicle -- warheads. GBIs are so expensive and difficult to build that 20 to 30 are as many as can be deployed in the next few years, even if the next administration remains as committed to the GBI program as the current one.

However, Russia's rapidly mobilizing Strategic Missile Forces already have well over 2,400 warheads and are moving to make their road-mobile and hardened bunker-protected Topol M main launch vehicle entirely equipped with MIRV-ed warheads -- meaning at least 10 warheads per missile -- within the next few years. No feasible BMD program currently being deployed by the United States can possibly defend against that magnitude of attack.

The GBI program, however, still makes a great deal of sense, because it can be effective against any Iranian or North Korean limited attack, or even against one by China's current strategic missile forces. The Chinese have not been able to effectively develop and deploy MIRV technology on their own, and so far the Russians have shown no inclination to sell it to them.

But for GBIs to be able to intercept Iranian-launched ICBMs in good time, they would need to be launched from Central European sites. The Polish location would be ideal for them. Therefore, by deliberately dragging his feet on allowing the base to be built, Tusk may be putting the survival of tens of millions of Americans in East Coast cities, including Washington and New York City, at risk.

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