President Obama, Hiroshima and the Nuclear Threat

    1464178666141.jpg By Dr. Hisashi Nakaruma
    President Obama, Hiroshima and the Nuclear Threat

    May 25, London: President Obama will attend the G7 Summit in Japan this month and “will make an historic visit to Hiroshima with Prime Minister Abe to highlight his continued commitment to pursuing the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons”, according to a press release from the White House dated May 10, 2016.

    There is a critically important issue that President Obama should discuss with Prime Minister Abe in order to take a concrete step towards his vision of a world free from nuclear weapons: cancellation of the planned deployment of the SM-3 Block IIA in Europe.

    The USA and Japan have been co-developing the SM-3 Block IIA, an anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system to intercept ballistic missiles launched against the USA and its global allies.

    In Europe the deployment of the Block IIA interceptors to defend NATO allies and the USA is expected to start from 2018. The planned deployment is the implementation of Phase 3 of the Phased Adaptive Approach for missile defense in Europe program (EPAA) which President Obama approved in September 2009. The EPAA is designed to deal with the threat posed by Iranian ballistic missiles.

    Phase 3 of the EPAA will involve the deployment of Aegis ballistic missile defense (BMD) destroyers and cruisers equipped with the Block IIA interceptors around the Mediterranean basin and in the North Atlantic. Land-based Block IIA interceptors are also to be deployed in Redzikowo, Poland.

    These deployments of the Block IIA interceptors will enhance the ABM capability to address intermediate-range ballistic missiles in comparison with that of the presently deployed SM-3 Block IA/1B interceptors, and will have a limited capability to address intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

    The USA has repeatedly made it clear to Russia that the EPAA poses no threat to its strategic deterrent. However, Moscow considers the EPAA as a threat to its national security because the Block IIA interceptors will have the capability to engage its ICBMs if they should be launched. The Russians believe this deployment of ABM capability by the USA and NATO will upset the strategic balance between Russia and the USA. They believe that Russia will be obliged to restore the equilibrium as the nuclear balance is upset by the implementation of the EPAA.

    The Russian President, Prime Minister and high ranking military officials have made it clear that Russia will respond “militarily” to the development of the EPAA. The military countermeasures Russia is considering include the modernization of the Russian nuclear triad, increasing the number of deployed nuclear platforms and targeting EPAA facilities in Europe. Russia has also expressed its view that it may be forced to consider withdrawing from New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty).

    There have been a number of studies in the USA, Russia and Europe to analyse the technical basis of Russian concerns over the capability of the SM-3 Block IIA. Some of these computer simulations, but not all, show that it is theoretically feasible for the Block IIA interceptors to engage Russian ICBMs on flight paths to the USA if the interceptors are launched from the Aegis BMD vessels deployed in the North Sea, for example. Interception from the North Sea is the earliest possible chance to engage Russian ICBMs during midcourse flight if they are launched from the western part of the Russian mainland against US east coast cities. A second chance of interception will arise when the ICBMs are descending after passing the apogee of their flights, if Aegis BMD vessels are also deployed in the north-western Atlantic. 

    These simulations imply that the Russian concern about the erosion of its strategic nuclear deterrent by the further development of the EPAA is not, at least technically, groundless. At the same time, the credibility of these simulations has limitations because detailed technical data concerning the capability of the SM-3 Block IIA are not in the public domain and the countermeasures which ICBMs can take against interception make a significant difference in real engagement.

    However, the most important issue here is not whether the Block IIA interceptors can intercept Russian ICBMs. The critical issue is not technical, but perception. Even at this stage of the EPAA development Russia perceives it as a threat to its national security. As long as this perception remains it will continue to take military countermeasures.

    The situation is exacerbated by Russia’s suspicion that the ultimate aim of the EPAA is to counter Russia’s strategic forces, not the Iranian missile threat. It is likely that this suspicion will be consolidated as long as the EPAA continues to develop despite the fact that the relationship between Iran and the USA has significantly improved. It is also within the bounds of possibility that the EPAA is used in some quarters in Russia in order to justify their demands to modernize Russia’s nuclear arsenals and to develop high-technology weaponry to match US standards.

    The present diplomatic and military relations between the USA and Russia will not only lead to a chronic stagnation of nuclear disarmament but could also trigger a new nuclear arms race between the two states, involving NATO member countries as well as Japan. In order to avoid this President Obama and Prime Minister Abe should make the following decisions.

    President Obama should immediately start to review the EPAA and cancel the implementation of its Phase 3. He should, at least, postpone the deployment of SM-3 Block IIA in Europe for an unlimited period.

    The President should keep to his statement made in Prague on April 5, 2009:

    “As long as the threat from Iran persists, we will go forward with a missile defense system that is cost-effective and proven. If the Iranian threat is eliminated, we will have a stronger basis for security, and the driving force for missile defense construction in Europe will be removed.”

    Prime Minister Abe can make President Obama’s decision to cancel or postpone the planned deployment of the SM-3 Block IIA easier. Japan should remind the USA at this stage that it would not be able to transfer the SM-3 Block IIA to third parties in Europe because of the existence of a joint statement between the USA and Japan.

    On June 21, 2011 the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and their Japanese counterparts issued the following joint statement at the conclusion of the US-Japan Security Consultative Committee meeting.

    “…transfer of the SM-3 Block IIA to third parties to be requested by the Government of the United States may be allowed,… in cases where the transfer supports the national security of Japan and/or contributes to international peace and stability, and when the third party has sufficient policies to prevent the further transfer of the SM-3 Block IIA.”

    It is hard to assume that transferring the SM-3 Block IIA to NATO member countries in Europe supports the national security of Japan since Russia is furious about the EPAA and it has its military front in Asia as well. It will not contribute to international peace and stability. On the contrary, as we have seen, it will further disturb political and military stability between the USA and Russia, potentially leading to a new nuclear arms race.

    All Rights Reseved with The Oslo Times


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