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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Considers Missile Defense Plans

More than seven months after taking office, President Barack Obama’s administration is actively looking into alternatives to the missile defense plans that roiled U.S.-Russian relations under George W. Bush.

Some of these alternatives entail scrapping missile shield sites in Poland and the Czech Republic, which would please Russia and major EU players like France and Germany but disappoint U.S. allies in Eastern Europe.

Obama has said he would put the controversial missile plans under review, and analysts said the original concept would probably not survive scrutiny.

The U.S. State Department on Friday denied as premature a Polish media report that the plans to station missiles in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic will be ditched. The strategy review “is ongoing,” spokesman Philip Crowley said.

The Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza cited U.S. administration officials and lobbyists as saying that Washington was looking at alternative sites, including Israel and Turkey.

Even the Polish government said the plans were up in the air.

“The missile defense system is now under review,” Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman Piotr Paszkowski told The New York Times in remarks published Friday.

“The chances that it will be in Poland are 50-50,” he said.

As a key indicator of Washington’s new thinking, analysts noted that no discussion about the Polish and Czech sites took place at a U.S. Army-sponsored missile defense conference in Huntsville, Alabama, earlier this month.

“The omission is the biggest departure of strategy from the previous administration,” said Riki Ellison, chairman of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, a Washington-based lobbying group who attended the meeting.

Instead, General Kevin Chilton, the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, responsible for missile defense, identified stability between the United States, Russia and China as a top priority, and presented Russia’s sensitivities to the site in Poland by “moving in a direction away from deployment there,” Ellison wrote in a report published on his web site.

At the same conference, Boeing and Raytheon presented new missile systems that could resolve the U.S.-Russian standoff over Poland and the Czech Republic. Boeing unveiled a surprise proposal for a mobile missile system operated through cargo planes.

The company said that the system would cost less than the silo-based interceptors, which have been reported to cost more than $1 billion.

Raytheon offered a land-based version of its Standard Missile-3 system and said the Pentagon was considering it as an alternative to the Central European plan.

U.S. officials hope to complete their review as early as next month, when Obama is to meet President Dmitry Medvedev at the annual opening of the United Nations’ General Assembly in New York, The New York Times said.

The Bush administration had propelled the plans forward, arguing that Central Europe was a necessary third site, after shields in California and Alaska, to protect the United States and its allies from rogue states. But this elicited fierce opposition not just from Russia, but also from Western European NATO members that champion good ties with Moscow and resent Washington’s decision to implement the shield bilaterally, outside NATO’s framework.

The Kremlin did not react to the missile defense reports over the weekend.

Analysts said it was logical to abandon the Bush-era system, which they called flawed, but stressed that the Obama administration needed to win concessions from Moscow in negotiations over a successor for the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which expires in December. Alexander Konovalov, president of the Moscow-based Institute for Strategic Assessment, said the proposed missile shield in Eastern Europe would be technically hard to achieve and very expensive. “There is a threat from Iran, but it does not justify such a cost. The only decision I expect from a rational administration like Obama’s is to put it on hold,” he said Sunday.

Otfried Nassauer, an analyst with the Berlin Information Center for Transatlantic Security, said the shield’s feasibility had always been in doubt. “U.S. armed forces do not even have the desired rockets yet,” he said by telephone from Berlin. As an alternative interceptor, he mentioned so-called killer drones, high-flying unmanned aircraft put forward by U.S. scientist Theodore Postol earlier this year.

Nassauer also said it was time for Washington to signal that it was moving away from the Bush plans because time was running out to renew the treaty. “START I runs out in December, and they need to show good will,” he said.

Obama and Medvedev have said they want a new nuclear arms deal to replace the 1991 pact as part of an effort by both countries to improve their thorny relationship.

Jiri Pehe, a Czech political analyst and director of New York University in Prague, said that even though Prague and Warsaw would officially voice disappointment if the missile plans were abandoned, such a change should be welcomed because they are unpopular in both countries. “Very few people actually see a real threat from Iran or North Korea here,” he said by telephone from Prague.

Pehe said local arguments for the shield often hinged on the underlying notion that NATO and EU membership was not enough and U.S. military bases were needed to protect the region from Russia. “This is more like a small child calling for help, but our democracies are mature 20 years after the fall of communism,” he said.