Saturday, January 19, 2008

U.S. Missile Defense Chief Hypes Iran Threat

By Cernig

On Wednesday, U.S. missile defense honcho Lt. Gen. Henry Obering, in a statement at the Czech Republic Foreign Ministry, told Europeans sceptical about the Bush administration's missile defense plan that Iran is "developing missiles today in an accelerated pace":
Obering, director of the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency, said Iran was the third most active country in flight testing missiles last year, behind Russia and China.

"They're developing ranges of missiles that go far beyond anything they would need in a regional fight, for example, with Israel," Obering said.

"Why are they developing missiles today that ... will be possible to reach Europe in few years?" he asked.

...Iran recently announced it manufactured a new missile — the Ashoura — with a range of 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) that was capable of reaching Israel and U.S. bases across the Middle East.

"They also made statements that once you reached that range, getting beyond that is fairly easy," Obering said.
Now, there are three claims in there that really need examining, and no-one in the mainstream has done so. let's break them down.

1) "missiles that go far beyond anything they would need in a regional fight" - If you're going to question Iran about this, then perhaps it would be fair to question other nations with similar capabilities about the same thing. Why does Israel need the 3,000 Km range of it's ballistic missiles, why do the Saudis need their Chinese-bought long-range missiles or for that matter why is Pakistan developing a missile that can reach Tel Aviv when it already has one that can reach every part of India or even as far as Dubai? If non-global powers don't need such missiles after all, why is the U.S. not pressuring it's allies to scrap these missiles? Mainly because every military responds not just to current threats but to possible future threats, no matter how unlikely, I suppose. But concentrating on one demonised nation while ignoring others who have attained or are developing similar capabilities is hype, pure and simple.

2) Iran was the third most active country in flight testing missiles last year - I asked a well-regarded arms control expert about this (I don't as yet have permission to use his name) and he responded by email to say that it was possible, but unverifiable since the administration doesn't unclassify much on its knowledge of various nation's tests. However, he also said, essentially, that if Iran was indeed the third most prolific tester then it was a pretty close race and may not be indicative of any kind of acceleration in their program. In his email, he wrote:
in 2006, there were 51 foreign space launches (Russia 33, Europe 5, Japan, 6, China 6, India, 1).

That leaves 25 ballistic missile launches in press reports (Russia 9, North Korea 7, India 3, Pakistan 3, Iran 2, China 1 and France 1) plus one test by Iran said to include "dozens" of missiles but I don't believe that.

I can imagine that Iran would be third, but I am not 100 percent about how Obering got there. It is very interesting.
Israel tested a new long-range ballistic missile this week. Both Israel and India have also tested antiballsitic missiles in the last six months, something Iran has shown no indication of ever doing. Which is more likely to ignore mutual deterrence, the one without such a defense or the one with it?

3) "[The Iranians] also made statements that once you reached that range, getting beyond that is fairly easy." - You'll note Oberling didn't say whether he believed the Iranian claim. That's probably because he knows it to be a false boast.
Iran's medium-range Shahab-3 missiles are modeled after the North Korean Nodong missiles which are, in turn, based on an early Soviet model. Most experts agree that the Iranian missile system has reached its maximum potential and cannot be stretched into developing longer range missiles. Iran would need to master the extremely complex "multistage" missile technology in order to build them. So far, only a few countries have been able to reach this advanced stage of missile development and some of them, i.e., India and Israel, reportedly have had significant difficulty manufacturing reliable long-range missiles.
That multi-stage technology requires a whole new range of expertise, as Prof. Stephen Fetter explained to one interviewer back in 1996 when the same set of suspects were last hawking ballistic missile defense.
NARRATOR: There is a huge technological jump from building short-range ballistic missiles to intercontinental ballistic missiles. While 24 developing countries now have short-range ballistic missiles, the only countries that can threaten the US homeland are China, Russia, Great Britain and France.

Professor STEPHEN FETTER (press briefing): "Successfully developing long-range multi-stage missiles would require qualitative leaps in technical knowhow along several dimensions, including engine re-entry vehicle and guidance technology.
By the way, those named four nations are still the only ones capable of lobbing a missile at CONUS, over ten years later.

Overall, then, Lt. Gen. Obering didn't tell any flat-out lies to the Europeans. Instead by carefully parsing what he did say, he managed to make Iran look far more of a uniquely expert bogeyman than it actually is and so hyped the threat Iran presents to Europe. However the Russians, unlike the stenographers of the press, already know that it is hype. No wonder they suspect the ABM system may be aimed at them and see it as a threat to the delicate balance of deterrence between the two greatest nuclear powers. In their eagerness to demonise Iran, the Bush administration are playing carelessly with matches in a dynamite factory.

Update Five minutes after I hit "post" I saw this:
Russia's military chief of staff said Saturday that Moscow could use nuclear weapons in preventive strikes to protect itself and its allies, the latest aggressive remarks from increasingly assertive Russian authorities.

Gen. Yuri Baluyevsky's comment did not mark a policy shift, military analysts said. Amid disputes with the West over security issues, it may have been meant as a warning that Russia is prepared to use its nuclear might.

"We do not intend to attack anyone, but we consider it necessary for all our partners in the world community to clearly understand ... that to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Russia and its allies, military forces will be used, including preventively, including with the use of nuclear weapons," Baluyevsky said at a military conference in a remark broadcast on state-run cable channel Vesti-24.

According to the state-run news agency RIA-Novosti, Baluyevsky added that Russia would use nuclear weapons and carry out preventive strikes only in accordance with Russia's military doctrine.

The military doctrine adopted in 2000 says Russia may use nuclear weapons to counter a nuclear attack on Russia or an ally, or a large-scale conventional attack that poses a critical risk to Russia's security.

Baluyevsky spoke amid persistent disputes between Moscow and the West over issues including U.S. plans for missile defense facilities in former Soviet satellites, NATO members' refusal to ratify an updated European conventional arms treaty, and Kosovo's bid for independence from Serbia.
See what I mean about playing with matches in a dynamite factory?

Update 2 And the House, with a Dem-sponsored bill, goes right on enabling this idiocy. They should be more worried about the current face-off between Russia and the U.S. brought about by neoconservatives who still want Reagan's Star Wars program rather than about hypothetical Iranian nukes on hypothetical long-range missiles.

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