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What to expect from Donald Trump in the sphere of missile defense: the ball is in the American court

01.06.2017 16:32

Valeria Shatskaya

On November 8, 2016 the Republican candidate Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton and won the presidential election. His first days of presidency have shown that the new commander-in-chief is in serious mood. Even in his presidential campaign he paid attention that he wants to make a military "so strong and powerful and so respected, we're not going to have to nuke anybody."Speaking about missile defense, Mr. Trump has called for investment in the DDG-51 Flight III guided missile destroyer and for modernization the Navy's Ticonderoga-class cruisers. In accordance with the Breaking Defense, both ships "are essential to the comprehensive ballistic missile defense system".

Recently Donald Trump has demonstrated his tough stance toward Syrian question. That is why it is interesting how his administration will act in the sphere of missile defense. There are several experts’ opinions about his plans in this sphere. For example, a foreign policy reporter for CQ Roll Call, Rachel Oswald in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists says, "Trump's views a mystery". She quotes Philip Coyle, a former White House adviser to Obama on defense, science, and technology issues, who claimed that if Trump was going to repair relations with Moscow, he could stop working on missile defense in Romania and Poland: "If he wanted to pick one thing that Russia would approve of, it would be to temporize on the phased adaptive approach in Europe."Well, it is not the secret that such decision will definitely improve relations between Russia and the USA as Moscow has expressed its concerns over the BMD shield for many times.

However, as Rachel Oswald writes, Trump may meet the opposition from a Republican-dominated Congress, which is willing to appropriate more money for the BMD. But not only Republicans, many Democrats strongly support this idea too. For instance, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee's Europe and Regional Security Cooperation subcommittee. As she says: "I am part of a majority in the Senate and in Congress who believe that all of the efforts that we are taking in the Baltics and in Eastern Europe are very important both to deterring Russia's threat to Eastern Europe and also in reassuring our allies there that we are going to do everything we can to stand with them. "Saheen's words are extremely important, as she does not hide the fact that the US missile defense system in Europe is oriented against Russia.

I would like to emphasize that she did not say that the European Phased Adaptive Approach was devoted against Iran or North Korea. Among other things, Congress has asked Pentagon to "develop but not explicitly test military capabilities that can be used to neutralize any advantages gained by Russia through its development of intermediate-range missiles".

Returning to the US BMD, during the last high-profile gathering of members of the national security community, which was held on December 6, the experts spoke for more investment in the US ballistic missile as well as for enhancing its own nuclear capabilities to strengthen deterrence. The authors for the National review Henry F. Cooper, Malcolm R.O'Neill, Robert L. Pfaltzgraff Jr. and Rowland H. Worrell went further: they suggested bringing back the Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). According to them, "President-elect Trump should direct the Pentagon to revive SDI plans for destroying ballistic missiles in their boost phase, shortly after launch — when a ballistic missile is most vulnerable and before it releases its nuclear warheads and decoys. We should not continue depending solely on the more expensive midcourse- and terminal-phase intercept capability. "If Trump agrees to this proposition, it will be a clear sign to Moscow that the new President is not interested in the US-Russian rapprochement, but instead he wants to undermine strategic stability and considers Moscow the US enemy. It is obvious that Mr. Trump wants to rekindle the former American military strength. But for what price? It feels like history did not teach Americans and they do not remember the Cuban missile crisis.

It seems that Trump took a tough stand toward missile defense. Navy Vice Admiral Charles Richard, deputy commander of U.S. Strategic Command payed attention to the growing space threats from Russia and China. If Washington is concerned about the space capabilities of Russia, nothing will prevent the deployment of the BMD program in space against Moscow. Therewith Ronald Reagan offered this idea in the past.

At present, it is clear that the 45th President of the USA will not reject the deployment of the US global BMD system. It should be remembered that many US service members have voted for Trump as he promised them the American leadership in all areas. Nonetheless, whether Trump wants or not, the US BMD system in Europe will play a vital role in Moscow-Washington relations. In case if he comes out for a transactional approach in policy, that will bring hope that Trump will choose cooperation with Russia rather than confrontation. But at current Mr.Trump's actions seem similar to Ronald Reagan's ones. Only time will tell. Meanwhile, as it is said, the ball is in the American court.