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Misguided About Missile Defense

Russian President Dimitri Medvedev says Russia may deploy short-range missiles in the Baltic Sea region, if the United States proceeds with plans to build a missile defense system in Europe.

The defense system planned by the U.S. consists of 10 interceptor missile silos in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic. The U.S has repeatedly emphasized that the missile shield is not directed against Russia. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the U.S. has made it very clear to Moscow that the potential problem emanates from the Middle East:

"We have gone a long way toward providing the necessary assurances to Russia that this system is not aimed at them, but is aimed at a very limited threat coming from Iran."

Mr. Gates says that the U.S. has made a number of proposals to the Russians to answer any concerns, including a proposal, subject to host nation approval, to allow Russian representatives to inspect the interceptor sites in Poland and the Czech Republic. And, he said, the U.S. has offered other transparency measures as well:

"I've proposed to President Putin, now Prime Minister Putin, that we would not operationalize the sites until the Iranians had tested a missile that could reach most of Western Europe, not to mention a good part of Russia."

U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack also emphasized the limited and defensive nature of the proposed missile shield:

"The small number of interceptors that will be located at the missile defense site [in Poland] would easily be overwhelmed by the Russian forces. This missile defense system is designed to protect against rogue states, for example Iran, who are working on long-range missile technology."

Mr. McCormack said that the Russian response articulated by Mr. Medvedev is "disappointing." The U.S. continues to discuss this issue with the Russians, and has recently provided Russia with a proposal for transparency and confidence building measures. But the fact remains, said Mr. McCormack, that a missile defense system aimed at protecting Europe against missiles fired from rogue states is important to the security of the NATO alliance.