According to a recent Reuters report, “Turkey has accepted assurances a planned NATO missile defense system in which it is playing a part is not designed to protect Israel as well.” The report quotes NATO alliance deputy secretary-general, Alexander Vershbow, who told the Israeli think-tank INSS, that “there had been ‘a lot of confusion’ in Turkey, including over the similarity between its NATO radar and a U.S. radar posted in Israel to help it spot any ballistic missile launches by Iran.”
I find this troubling. For one, the European Phased Adaptive Approach, or EPAA, was the centerpiece of NATO’s 2010 Strategic Concept. The Allies agreed in November 2010, “to develop the capability to defend our populations and territories against ballistic missile attack as a core element of our collective defense, which contributes to the indivisible security of the Alliance.” In doing so, the Allies are expected to “further develop NATO’s capacity to defend against the threat of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons of mass destruction.”
To deter these threats, NATO “relies on an appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional capabilities … [Author added emphasis].” For many, an interoperable missile defense system, aimed at intercepting threats to the United States homeland and the European allies, is the most critical mission for NATO moving forward. In this regard, missile defense is intended to “further develop NATO’s capacity to defend against the threat of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons of mass destruction. “(Turkey agreed to all of this language.)
The EPAA system relies on the Aegis combat system currently used on U.S. Navy ships. Over time, the software will be upgraded as required, and will be used to cue SM-3 missile interceptors deployed on Aegis destroyers and at air bases in Poland and Romania. Israel uses the Citron Tree Battle Management Center (BMC), Green Pine (GP) and Super GP Radars, and the Hazelnut Tree Launcher Control Center (LCC) to cue the Arrow missile system. Nevertheless, jointly developed missile American-Israeli defense systems are designed to be interoperable with American systems.
In this regard, the missile defense systems currently being deployed in the Gulf and Japan are also designed to be interoperable with American systems. Thus, from the American point of view, the interoperability of missile defense systems is critical for protecting our closest allies – and for alliance management (Turkey included.) The issue, therefore, isn’t whether the EPAA can be used to protect Israel, but whether or not American allies are holding up their end of the bargain when making decisions about missile defense. And here is where Turkey let the United States down.
In choosing a Chinese missile system, Ankara signaled its willingness to forego interoperability, in favor of independence. Moreover, the recent Israeli centric thinking about the EPAA further underscores how Turkey’s leadership – and I mean the people who make procurement decisions – does not understand how missile defense actually works.