Moscow – NATO’s U.S.-led missile defense program has reached a new stage with a missile defense site in Romania that became operational Thursday. On Friday, U.S. and Polish officials held a symbolic ground-breaking ceremony at another site in Poland, which should enter service in two years. The new sites add to the existing missile defense capability on U.S. ships in the Mediterranean and reflect Washington’s determination to press ahead with its missile defense plans despite Russia’s protests.
In Moscow, President Vladimir Putin sarcastically dismissed the U.S. claims that the missile shield isn’t aimed against Russia, saying that the program poses a major security challenge. Putin pledged that Russia will take retaliatory steps that would allow to maintain a strategic parity with the United States.
The United States started deploying missile defense components under President George W. Bush, arguing that the system is needed to protect from missile threats from such nations as North Korea and Iran. In 2001, Washington withdrew from the 1972 U.S.-Soviet Anti-Ballistic Missile, or ABM Treaty, shedding all restrictions in order to pursue works on the anti-missile shield.
Russia has described the ABM Treaty, which effectively banned missile defenses with exception of just one single area for each nation, as a pillar of international security and sharply criticized the U.S. for spiking it. By effectively banning missile defenses, the ABM Treaty made sure that a country that would launch a nuclear attack wouldn’t be able to deflect a counterstrike, the concept called the Mutually Assured Destruction, or MAD.
Putin has argued that by developing a missile shield, the United States is trying to create a potential to destroy Russian missiles if they are launched in a counterstrike. He argued that Washington is aspiring to get an advantage and offset the strategic nuclear parity between Russia and the United States, and warned that Moscow will take the necessary countermeasures. President Barack Obama has rolled back some of his predecessor’s plans regarding the missile defense, but he eventually moved to deploy missile defense sites in Europe as U.S.-Russian relations worsened over the Ukrainian crisis and other disputes.
The U.S. system, called the European Phased Adaptive Approach, envisages a steady growth of the number of interceptors and their capability. Russian military officials say that while the U.S. system in its current shape doesn’t threaten Russia’s nuclear forces, it could eventually become powerful enough to engage them. The Russians say that the U.S. could feel tempted to strike Russia without fear of retaliation.