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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Iranian Missiles and Russian Threats

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Europe has long been neglecting the new strategic threats arising from missile proliferation. For some years now, the international community has been devoting a great deal of attention to the Iranian nuclear program. Germany has been playing an active role in the efforts of the international community to dissuade Iran from pursuing its nuclear plans. Tehran's parallel development of delivery technology in particular would make a nuclear-armed Iran a direct threat to us.

Iran is investing very heavily in the development of long-range missiles. Within five to 10 years it could be capable of building its own medium-range ballistic missiles with a range of 3,000 kilometers. Munich, for example, is 2,760 kilometers from Iran. Although this means that Iranian ballistic missiles do not yet pose a direct threat to Germany, Tehran can already reach Athens or Istanbul with the Shahab III missile, which is an improved version of the North Korean No Dong and was tested in 2004. In other words, Iran already poses a direct threat to Greece, our European Union partner, and Turkey, our NATO ally.

As a matter of urgency, Germany, Europe and NATO must formulate their policy on the basis of a substantiated threat analysis and reach agreement on the need for an anti-missile shield. Given that weapon systems can take up to 10 years to develop, we should actually be taking the first steps already to create an anti-missile capability. Japan, by contrast, is already modernizing its missile defenses around Tokyo. In 1998, North Korea tested a two-stage missile that violated Japanese air space, and parts of it landed in Tokyo Bay. That set alarm bells ringing in Japan and led to the country's participation in the U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense program. Besides land-based surface-to-air launchers, Japan has also introduced Aegis cruisers equipped with the same kind of anti-missile defenses.

Opponents of a defense system for Europe argue that Iran has no interest in threatening the continent. This is naive. The ability to threaten Europe is undoubtedly part of Iran's strategy of reducing the scope of Western influence in the Middle East. Iran is seeking to become the dominant regional power. To that end, it has an interest in reducing the influence of the United States in the Middle East. The same purpose would be served if it were able to drive a wedge between the United States and Europe by threatening Europe with nuclear arms if it were to engage in operations in the Middle East. This would hold Europe hostage, as Tehran is doing right now in the case of 15 British sailors.

Opponents of active prevention also cite the fierce criticism that President Vladimir Putin has leveled at the U.S. missile-defense plans, which, in his words, would "inevitably lead to an arms race." This immediately raised the specter in Germany and elsewhere of a new arms race. That's despite the fact that Putin completely ignored the fact that the planned U.S. system, with only 10 interceptor missiles, would be utterly incapable of neutralizing Russia's current arsenal of 3,300 deployable nuclear warheads, for which strategic delivery vehicles are available. It also studiously ignores the fact that Russia was well informed about the missile-defense plans, both on a bilateral basis by the United States and through the NATO-Russia Council.

It was disingenuous when Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in an article in a German daily newspaper, sanctimoniously asked whether Europe had actually been consulted, while at the same time the chief of the Russian General Staff and the commander of the Russian Strategic Missile Forces threatened to make the missile-defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic "targets for the strategic missile forces" and declared that Moscow could pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

The same attitude was displayed when Vitaly Churkin, Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, rejected the British request for a UN Security Council resolution demanding the immediate release of the British soldiers seized by Iran. Russian foreign policy is devoid of credibility when it pretends to be the guardian of European interests on the one hand while supplying Iran with surface-to-air missiles on the other. Moscow should abandon the old zero-sum game from the Cold War era and recognize its own interest in regarding Europe as a common security area. Russia is also a potential target for Iranian missiles. Moscow should give more serious consideration to offers of cooperation from both the United States and Europe than it has in the past.

In this context, the establishment in Europe of some of the components of a comprehensive, globally structured U.S. missile-defense system against new potential threats is in the interests of Europe and in the interests of Russia. This is made all the more valid by the need to avoid recourse to military action against rogue states that possess nuclear arms and ballistic missiles or those that aspire to such capabilities. It is particularly inconsistent of the opponents of an anti-missile shield to accuse the United States of military interventionism while they themselves seek to prevent the creation of an alternative to military action. The credibility of the U.S. nuclear shield, after all, serves to ensure that those allies and other nations whose security is guaranteed by the United States feel no need to develop their own nuclear arms programs. These security guarantees have precluded such programs in the past. The U.S. missile-defense program will serve the same purpose. In this way it does not foment a nuclear arms race but seeks to prevent one.

NATO is the right body to integrate the U.S. missile-defense system into a strategy for European security. The involvement of Russia and its possible participation should be further discussed in the NATO-Russia Council. The Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council also includes those EU member states that are not NATO members. Treating the issue within the EU framework, on the other hand, would be counterproductive, partly because the United States would not be at the table and partly because it could cause a split in the European camp.

It is also in the true interests of Poland that the matter be dealt with in NATO. The project is not suitable for the creation of a special relationship with the United States outside the NATO framework. That would only accentuate existing differences between European NATO allies and play into the hands of those elements in Russia who seek to weaken NATO and sow the seeds of alienation between the United States and Europe.

Eckart von Klaeden is foreign-affairs spokesman for the Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union parliamentary group in the Bundestag and a member of the CDU executive board. This comment appeared in The Wall Street Journal.