Romania agrees to host US missile interceptors

Romania's decision to host US missile interceptors is not widely seen as a threat to Russian defense capabilities, unlike the scrapped plan for a missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Vadim Ghirda/AP/File
Romanian President Traian Basescu, shown in this December 2009 file photo, said Thursday that his country's top defense body had approved a US proposal to host antiballistic interceptors as part of a revamped US missile shield.

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Romania will allow the United States to place interceptor missiles in the former pro-Soviet country as part of President Obama’s revamped missile shield plan.

The move is unlikely to invoke the same level of ire from Russia as former President Bush’s plan to place a larger defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, which Mr. Obama shelved in September.

Reuters reports that Romanian President Traian Basescu said the Supreme Defense Council on Thursday approved the US offer, brought to Romania by Ellen Tauscher, US Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security. The plan will put at least two short-to-medium-range missile interceptors in Romania that will be operational by 2015.

The facilities in Romania will be part of Obama’s plan to develop a land- and sea-based missile shield in Europe focused on protecting against threats from Iranian medium-range missiles. In September he scrapped a Bush administration plan to develop an expensive and untested missile shield in Europe with components in Poland and the Czech Republic. That plan had raised tensions with Russia, which considered US missile facilities near its border a threat, and the decision to shelve it was welcomed in Europe, as The Christian Science Monitor reported.

Romanian newspapers Nine O’Clock and Financiarul both reported positive reaction among Romanian politicians to the decision, with the senate speaker calling it “one of the most important matters of national security Romania has ever faced.” A supporter of US military efforts, the European Union and NATO member has previously sent troops to Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Romanian president made clear that the decision to host the US system should not be seen as a statement against Russia. "The new system is not against Russia. I want to categorically stress this, Romania (will) not host a system against Russia, but against other threats," he said, according to Reuters.

Russia and the US hit the "reset button" last March, though it was soon apparent that warm smiles and handshakes might not be enough to bring the two nations together.

State-owned Russian news agency RIA-Novosti reported Friday that the interceptor missiles could pose a threat to Russia.

“This weaponry, without a doubt, could significantly reduce Russia's deterrent capability," said Col. (Ret.) Igor Korotchenko, editor-in-chief of the National Defense magazine.
He said SM-3 missiles would be able to intercept Russian ballistic missiles shortly after launch and on their initial flight trajectory.
"Russia must warn Romania that if the elements of the U.S. missile shield are placed in the country they will become a target of Russia's preventive missile strikes," Korotchenko said.

But The New York Times reports that Romania’s move is unlikely to cause a large rift with Moscow because the location of the interceptor missiles is less threatening.

Dmitri V. Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, said the Romanian announcement would not come as a complete surprise to Russian leaders, since it “was one of the options people had in mind.” He said the Romanian site was farther from the Russian border, and – unlike the proposed Polish site – would not allow the interceptor missiles to stop a Russian missile headed to the United States over the Arctic Ocean, a possibility that had aroused anxiety in Moscow.
“Of course, people who would be interested in portraying any kind of missile system as potentially a threat will be able to use this, but I don’t think the government has much interest in playing this up,” Mr. Trenin said.

Al Jazeera offers this video broadcast of the plan:


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