On 28 October, work started at the former airbase at Deveselu in southern Romania on installing elements of the US missile defence system, specifically an Aegis system with SM-3 interceptors.
This means that the missile defence project is being implemented on schedule. From the Russian perspective, the start of work on the missile shield in Central Europe represents a failure of its policy of preventing the deployment of strategic US military facilities within the former Soviet sphere of influence.
However, it is unlikely that Moscow will soften its position and become more flexible with regard to the planned location of anti-missile launchers in Poland.
The Shield in Central Europe
After a pause in implementing the original plan for the missile defence system during the presidency of George W Bush in 2009, which assumed the construction of a global system capable of capturing and neutralising all categories of ballistic missiles, the Obama administration has put forward a new plan for a shield for the region.
This provides for the suspension (at least until 2020) of the so-called fourth phase of the system, involving the deployment of missiles in Europe which could neutralise intercontinental ballistic missiles, while implementing the so-called third phase, based on installing Aegis anti-missile launchers in Poland and Romania, and on activating a radar station in Turkey (radar stations in the Czech Republic were also a proposed element of the Bush plan).
Negotiations are in progress on constructing a future missile defence system for NATO based on elements of the American shield in Europe, a plan which was approved at the NATO summit in Chicago in 2012.
Romania: ¿An aircraft carrier for the US?
The Deveselu base represents the second stage of the project to create a regional anti-missile shield (the first included the launch of the radar system in Turkey, and the deployment in the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea of US Navy ships with Aegis systems).
The anti-missile launchers (3 SM-3 batteries, with a total of 24 missiles) is expected to be operational by the end of 2015. The third stage involves installing the same system in Poland by the end of 2018.
¿Failure of Russian security policy?
Russia has always contested the deployment of elements of a missile defence system within the former Soviet sphere of influence.
It has stated that the anti-missile programme poses a threat to its national security, although to a substantial degree its opposition actually derives from geopolitical causes. Russia made its cooperation with the United States and NATO on the missile defence system conditional on having the right of joint decision over what form the system takes (either by a joint decision-making process, or by imposing technical parameters that limit the system’s activity), as well as international legal guarantees that the system will not undermine Russia’s nuclear potential.
Russia has also put forward its own initiatives, including so-called sectoral missile defence, in which the Russian army would take responsibility for the defence of NATO’s eastern region. So far, Russia’s policy to prevent the deployment of the missile shield in Central Europe has been limited to diplomatic activity and periodic threats to take military measures (mainly by deploying Iskander missiles, which can destroy anti-missile installations, in the Kaliningrad region). The military projects Russia has initiated over the last few months (such as the activation of the radar station in the Kaliningrad region, the deployment of Russian combat aircraft in Belarus, and the delivery of more S-300 missiles) are part of the accepted trend of modernising its armed forces, and have no direct connection with the American system.
Retaliatory measures by Russia (such as the deployment of Iskanders in the Kaliningrad region, possibly in Belarus, or least likely of all in Transnistria) will be postponed, and will ultimately depend on whether the US anti-missile systems are deployed in Poland. It must be regarded as doubtful that Moscow would treat the installation of the SM-3 rocket system in Romania as a signal to moderate its position (as NATO expects), or to show greater flexibility regarding NATO’s deployment of shield elements in Poland, especially as it regards a US military presence on its borders as one of the main threats to its security. An agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear program, as was hoped for after the election of that country’s new president, would undoubtedly serve as an argument against the US deploying its anti-missile units in Poland.