U.S. Seeks Foreign Aid in Missile Defense
By Bradley Graham, Washington Post Staff Writer. June 29, 2002
The Bush administration is embarking on a plan to enlist foreign governments and firms in its missile defense program by launching a round of official visits next month to NATO capitals and later to Asian cities to discuss potential cooperation.
Pentagon officials consider foreign support, in the form of basing rights for radars and interceptors as well as technological assistance, to be critical in developing the antimissile system. But so far, U.S. allies have reacted warily to the administration's ambitions for erecting a global missile defense system.
Explaining the timing of the new push, defense officials said the demise this month of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty had opened the way for formal talks about foreign participation.
"The treaty specifically prohibited us from sharing blueprint-quality type information with our allies, certainly against long-range threats," said Lt. Gen. Ronald T. Kadish, director of the Missile Defense Agency. "Now that's gone away. . . . We need to start talking to our allies about what their desires might be, what our needs might be, and see if we can come together in some agreement."
Officials described the upcoming discussions as largely exploratory, aimed at getting a better idea of what foreign contractors may have to offer and possibly allowing U.S. officials to outline some notional system architectures. Among some of the options likely to come up, they said, are basing a radar in Turkey for early warning of missile launches from the Middle East; stationing interceptors in one or more central European countries; or using British shipborne radar technology.
But substantial obstacles stand in the way of extensive foreign involvement, according to diplomats and representatives of several leading foreign defense firms. Little enthusiasm exists abroad for missile defense. And with European military spending on the decline, NATO members see shortfalls in such areas as strategic airlift and precision munitions as more deserving of new money than antimissile systems.
The last time the United States invited allied participation in a missile defense drive -- during the mid-1980s under President Ronald Reagan -- foreign firms found the experience disappointing.
Besides, several diplomats noted, the Bush administration has yet to define what a missile defense system ultimately will look like. Its program consists largely of a set of experimental projects intended to test the feasibility of land- and sea-based interceptors, airborne lasers and space-based weapons. Bush and his aides have reserved judgment on which technologies might best be incorporated into a system aimed at striking enemy warheads.
"How far can dialogue and engagement go at this point without a clearer idea of the architecture?" asked one European diplomat who follows the issue.
Nonetheless, the administration has made foreign participation a central feature of its missile defense vision for strategic and political reasons.
"Geography counts in missile defense," Kadish said at a Pentagon news conference this week, meaning that the closer the United States can station radars and interceptors to potential missile launch sites in Asia and the Middle East, the better.
Baker Spring, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said: "The thinking also is that if you can get foreign firms involved, they will bring their countries around."
Underscoring the goal of internationalizing missile defense, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld last year dropped the reference to "national" in what the Pentagon, under the Clinton administration, had called its National Missile Defense program.
Several cases of bilateral cooperation in development of shorter-range antimissile systems exist, including the Arrow program with Israel, the Medium Extended Air Defense System with Germany and Italy, the Standard Missile III program with Japan and an observation satellite program known as RAMOS with Russia.
As another possible model for foreign participation, U.S. officials point to the Joint Strike Fighter program, which is offering shares linked to levels of foreign government contributions. But this "pay to play" approach has limitations in the area of missile defense, because some allied contributions, such as basing rights, cannot be easily valued. Additionally, the missile defense effort is unlikely to provide the sort of big, lucrative production runs associated with major jet fighter programs.
Some foreign industry representatives also question the technical contribution that foreign firms could make, given the advantage held by U.S. companies.
Further, many foreign defense contractors are generally wary of international joint ventures, with the layers of bureaucracy and conflicting governmental budgeting practices that often are involved. And they worry about Congress going along with an initiative that runs counter to its normal "buy American" preference.
They also cite U.S. legal barriers -- including controls on the export of technical data and rules barring access by foreigners to sensitive data -- that would have to be removed to facilitate cooperation.
"We're eager to compete and participate, but it's complicated by things such as black-box technology restrictions," said Samuel Advock, executive vice president in the United States for EADS, a large defense and aerospace consortium controlled by German, French and Spanish interests.
© 2002 The Washington Post Company