On Wednesday, Iran announced it had tested what it said was a new missile. But Iran has a history of exaggerating its accomplishments in weapons development, variously claiming stealth aircraft that aren't and missiles that don't exist. Western experts reckon there was actually nothing new this time either - and in fact there may not even have been a "this time":
Andrew Brookes of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies said: "I think the Iranians just keeping on rejigging the same missile and putting a new logo on it. It's basically the Shahab 3 with a different name, and the purpose of the test firing is to tell the world, 'don't forget us', we have missiles that can reach 2,000 kilometres."
"However, the launching of these missiles is not that meaningful because the Iranians have not developed an advanced minituarised warhead to fit into the front end, unless they are getting help from North Korea or Russia, and Moscow says it is not supporting Iran's missile programme.
... Duncan Lennox, editor of Jane's Strategic Weapons, said:.. "What is not clear is whether the test firing took place today or whether it's a photograph taken out of the archives but from the pictures it looks like a two-stage missile with a range of 1,900-2,000 kilometres."
And Dr. Jeffrey Lewis also notes that there's even scepticism over whether this rebranded missile, by either name, is actually solid fuelled - which makes a vast difference to its military usefulness as liquid fuelled missiles need a long time sitting on their launchers while they're filled with fuel (which can easily explode anyway) during which time they are sitting ducks for airstrikes.
Even such a missile is capable of hitting Tel Aviv, however - and the Israelis are supremely confident they could shoot it down before it did. It cannot reach Rome, Athens or Prague from Iran, and as such doesn't constitute any kind of threat to Europe. (Although it could reach Tbilisi, Georgia - but then again, so could earlier, far less sophisticated Iranian missiles, it's only 500 or so miles.) Even if Iran had missiles that could target Europe - and ever has warheads worth doing that with - as Dr. Lewis has previously noted, the Aegis cruiser platform would be a better alternative to the multi-billion boondoggle the Bush administration has proposed in Eastern Europe, both more effective and more sensitive to Russian concerns.
So what's going on? Well, Spencer Ackerman recently spoke to a bunch of Pentagon officials and military experts for a piece in the Washington Independent about Obama's relationship with the military and its supporters. Their unanimous advice was: "Consult, don’t steamroll — and don’t capitulate." and to make it clear there's only one Commander in Chief. In an adjunct piece at his FDL home, Spencer directly tackles the military budget and attitudes to "big ticket" procurement:
One of my sources for the piece is a Pentagon official who requested anonymity. He made a really interesting point that, alas, had to fall out of the piece. Despite the unsustainability of half-trillion-dollar military budgets during this period of dire financial hardship, the services will cling to their favorite big-ticket programs with an icy death-grip. If Obama's really going to make painful cuts to unnecessary defense programs, he's got to go all-out, making it clear that he's in charge and the cuts are happening no matter what. If he doesn't do that, he's going to get rolled throughout his presidency.
And he specifically links that to missile defense and Gen. Oberling, who told the AP:
The Air Force general who runs the Pentagon's missile defense projects said Wednesday that American interests would be "severely hurt" if President-elect Obama decided to halt plans developed by the Bush administration to install missile interceptors in Eastern Europe.
Oberling is due to retire in a couple of weeks. Does anyone doubt that his next job will be for either one of the contractors who stand to gain big-time from the ABM program or one of the neocon think tanks who have pushed it so hard as part of their "New American Century" plans? Those think tanks - themselves heavily funded by the very same arms manufacturers - have made explicit that missile defense should eventually include space-based weapons and be aimed at Russia too (thus Russia's consternation at the current plans) and intend a January push to sway the Obama administration and public opinion in an attempt to prevent Obama cancelling the program, as he has previously indicated he might.
These vested interests intend trying to steamroller Obama from word one, and Oberling is willing to bend the truth all out of shape in their service. He's pushing, as one ex-military writer puts it, "a ballistic missile defense system that doesn't work to defend it from ballistic missiles that don't work either." And the Cheneyites of the Right are willing to start Cold War II to get it, and the money for their arms-making allies that it represents.
However, Obama has said he'll cancel the program if it doesn't work as advertised - and the interceptors to be used at the European sites haven't even been tested yet. European leaders, too, are beginning to sound sceptical notes:
France's U.S.-friendly president sent a clear message Friday to the next American administration: Plans for a U.S. missile shield in Eastern Europe are misguided, and won't make the continent a safer place.
... "Deployment of a missile defense system would bring nothing to security ... it would complicate things, and would make them move backward," Sarkozy said at a news conference with Medvedev. Medvedev smiled and pointed his finger at Sarkozy in approval.
...Sarkozy said he was worried about Russia's threat to deploy short-range Iskander missiles near Poland in response to the U.S. move.
"We could continue between Europe and Russia to threaten each other with shields, with missiles, with navies," he said. "It would do Russia no good, Georgia no good and Europe no good."
Sarkozy said he would discuss the missile issue with NATO counterparts at a summit early next year and proposed a pan-European security conference after that, to include Russia. Medvedev welcomed the idea.
All the more remarkable because:
1) Sarko wasn't just speaking for France - he was meeting with Medvedev as part of an EU-Russia summit and France currently holds the EU presidency.
2) His remarks came just days after the US missile defense supremo said that US interests would be "severely hurt" if the program was cancelled. Obviously, Sarkozy doesn't think that French or European interests would be likewise negatively affected.
Previously posted in a different form at Newshoggers