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Letter to Senate Leadership on the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and Missile Defense

December 18, 2010

Dear Senator:

As the Senate considers the New START Treaty, I want to share with you my views on the issue of missile defense, which has been the subject of much debate in the Senate's review of the treaty.

Pursuant to the National Missile Defense Act of 1999 (Public Law 106-38), it has long been the policy of the United States to deploy as soon as is technologically possible an effective National Missile Defense system capable of defending the territory of the United States against limited ballistic missile attack, whether accidental, unauthorized, or deliberate. Thirty ground-based interceptors based at Fort Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, are now defending the nation. All United States missile defense programs--including all phases of the European Phased Adaptive Approach to missile defense (EPAA) and programs to defend United States deployed forces, allies, and partners against regional threats--are consistent with this policy.

The New START Treaty places no limitations on the development or deployment of our missile defense programs. As the NATO Summit meeting in Lisbon last month underscored, we are proceeding apace with a missile defense system in Europe designed to provide full coverage for NATO members on the continent, as well as deployed U.S. forces, against the growing threat posed by the proliferation of ballistic missiles. The final phase of the system will also augment our current defenses against intercontinental ballistic missiles from Iran targeted against the United States.

All NATO allies agreed in Lisbon that the growing threat of missile proliferation, and our Article 5 commitment of collective defense, requires that the Alliance develop a territorial missile defense capability. The Alliance further agreed that the EPAA, which I announced in September 2009, will be a crucial contribution to this capability. Starting in 2011, we will begin deploying the first phase of the EPAA, to protect large parts of southern Europe from short-and medium-range ballistic missile threats. In subsequent phases, we will deploy longer-range and more effective land-based Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) interceptors in Romania and Poland to protect Europe against medium-and intermediate-range ballistic missiles. In the final phase, planned for the end of the decade, further upgrades of the SM-3 interceptor will provide an ascent-phase intercept capability to augment our defense of NATO European territory, as well as that of the United States, against future threats of ICBMs launched from Iran.

The Lisbon decisions represent an historic achievement, making clear that all NATO allies believe we need an effective territorial missile defense to defend against the threats we face now and in the future. The EPAA represents the right response. At Lisbon, the Alliance also invited the Russian Federation to cooperate on missile defense, which could lead to adding Russian capabilities to those deployed by NATO to enhance our common security against common threats. The Lisbon Summit thus demonstrated that the Alliance's missile defenses can be strengthened by improving NATO-Russian relations.

This comes even as we have made clear that the system we intend to pursue with Russia will not be a joint system, and it will not in any way limit United States' or NATO's missile defense capabilities. Effective cooperation with Russia could enhance the overall effectiveness and efficiency of our combined territorial missile defenses, and at the same time provide Russia with greater security. Irrespective of how cooperation with Russia develops, the Alliance alone bears responsibility for defending NATO's members, consistent with our Treaty obligations for collective defense. The EPAA and NATO's territorial missile defense capability will allow us to do that.

In signing the New START Treaty, the Russian Federation issued a statement that expressed its view that the extraordinary events referred to in Article XIV of the Treaty include a "build-up in the missile defense capabilities of the United States of America such that it would give rise to a threat to the strategic nuclear potential of the Russian Federation." Article XIV(3), as you know, gives each Party the right to withdraw from the Treaty if it believes its supreme interests are jeopardized.

The United States did not and does not agree with the Russian statement. We believe that the continued development and deployment of U.S. missile defense systems, including qualitative and quantitative improvements to such systems, do not and will not threaten the strategic balance with the Russian Federation, and have provided policy and technical explanations to Russia on why we believe that to be the case. Although the United States cannot circumscribe Russia's sovereign rights under Article XIV(3), we believe that the continued improvement and deployment of U.S. missile defense systems do not constitute a basis for questioning the effectiveness and viability of the New START Treaty, and therefore would not give rise to circumstances justifying Russia's withdrawal from the Treaty.

Regardless of Russia's actions in this regard, as long as I am President, and as long as the Congress provides the necessary funding, the United States will continue to develop and deploy effective missile defenses to protect the United States, our deployed forces, and our allies and partners. My Administration plans to deploy all four phases of the EPAA. While advances of technology or future changes in the threat could modify the details or timing of the later phases of the EPAA--one reason this approach is called "adaptive"--I will take every action available to me to support the deployment of all four phases.


Signature of Barack Obama


NOTE: Identical letters were sent to Sens. Harry M. Reid and A. Mitchell McConnell.

Barack Obama, Letter to Senate Leadership on the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and Missile Defense Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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