Monday, September 06, 2004

The Ring Goes South

The turmoil in the Caucasus may indirectly affect US efforts to contain the imminent Iranian nuclear capability. AFP reports that the United States is studying the deployment of boost phase interceptors (BPI) in Iraq, Afghanistan and Central Asia to guard against any potential threat from Teheran.

Sep 05, 2004 -- A key component of national missile defense, whose development is receiving priority this year, is likely to strategically tie the United States to Iraq, Afghanistan and some of the authoritarian former Soviet republics, requiring permanent US military bases there, according to officials and scientists involved in the project. "It raises issues of basing it in places like Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Iraq or the Caspian Sea," the Rhode Island senator (Jack Reed) told AFP. "And that introduces geopolitical considerations."

While key variables remain unknown, experts agree that if Iran, as expected, produces an intercontinental ballistic missile sometime within the next decade, the United States will not be able to counter it just from ships patrolling the Gulf. "Discussions are underway with international partners on ways in which they may be able to cooperate," replied a defense official when asked whether the governments of Iraq, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan had already been approached.

Through much of the Cold War the expected missile trajectory would have followed the Polar Route, arcing over Canada into Continental United States. This is no different. What has changed is that Iranian missiles start out a little further south than their Cold War Soviet counterparts. A published analysis of BPI systems by the Congressional Budget Office concludes that an effective intercept would have to take place about 1,500 km (1,000 miles) from the launch point, in the first 320 seconds from firing. The physics requires that BPI engagements occur over Central Asia.

The recent flurry of Islamic terrorist attacks against Russia, notable the Beslan massacre, necessarily means that WMDs in the hands of Jihadis, whether purposely donated or acquired through misadventure, pose as serious a threat to Moscow as anyone else. Nuclear armed Iranian missiles, although controlled by the Mullah's state, would still constitute a potential threat to Russia, if only in the same sense as American weapons during the Cold War, and be met by deterrent measures in the absence of any Russian SDI capability.

The irony is that Russia, largely for commercial reasons, has been one of the principal suppliers of nuclear technology to Iran. Since the terrorists who massacred Ossetian schoolchildren may have bribed their way past checkpoints, Putin may wish to reconsider whether it is wise, or even survivable, to do business with the devil.