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– Suzanne DiMaggio
Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
April 15, 2019
U.S. Pushes Missile Defense in Mideast
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Tom Z. Collina

As part of a broader U.S. effort to focus on Middle Eastern security, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said March 31 that “it is a U.S. priority” to help Persian Gulf states build regional missile interceptor systems to counter missiles from Iran.

Speaking in Saudi Arabia at a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) forum, Clinton said the United States believes “strongly” that “we can do even more to defend the Gulf through cooperation on ballistic missile defenses.” The Department of Defense had announced the broader Middle Eastern security effort in January as part of a new guidance document, “U.S. Priorities for 21st Century Defense.”

According to the 2010 “Ballistic Missile Defense Review Report,” the Obama administration is pursuing missile defense plans in particular regions, such as Europe, called the Phased Adaptive Approach. In that case, the United States is spending billions of dollars to deploy an array of missile interceptor systems, such as the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) interceptor based on Aegis-equipped ships at sea and at two land-based sites in Romania and Poland, in four phases through 2020. NATO is expected to announce at its May 20-21 summit in Chicago that the first phase of the system has established an “interim capability.” (See ACT, April 2012)

The Asia-Pacific region and the Middle East will be among the regions of focus for U.S. missile defense efforts, according to the January Defense Department document. In contrast to U.S. missile defense cooperation with NATO, it does not appear that the United States is offering to pay for land-based missile interceptor deployments or, so far, long-term sea-based deployments in these regions.

In the Middle East, the United States is focused on selling its missile interceptor systems to Gulf states. A number of states in the region already deploy U.S.-supplied Patriot short-range missile interceptors and are considering buying longer-range systems under the U.S. Foreign Military Sales program, administration officials have said.

On Dec. 25, 2011, for example, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) became the first country to buy the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense intermediate-range interceptor system, for $3.5 billion. Buying from the United States ensures “interoperability” with U.S. forces and highlights the “strong ties” between the United States and the UAE, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance Frank A. Rose said April 12 at a missile defense symposium in Abu Dhabi.

As more Gulf states buy U.S. missile interceptor systems, Rose said, the United States will “work to promote interoperability and information sharing” among those states. This aspect of the plan is similar to the one for Europe, where NATO is integrating the new, U.S.-supplied interceptor systems with existing NATO short-range interceptors and sensors.

In the future, as the United States deploys additional Navy ships with SM-3 interceptors, it could assign some of those ships to the Gulf. According to Rose, U.S. mobile systems “can be relocated to adapt to a changing threat, or provide surge defense capabilities where they are needed most.”

In Asia, Japan has purchased U.S. Aegis-equipped ships with SM-3 interceptors, Patriot interceptors, early-warning radars, and command and control systems. The United States and Japan are co-developing the SM-3 IIA missile, which would be deployed in phase 3 of the NATO system. Rose said the United States “stands ready” to work with South Korea on missile defense, “recognizing the North Korean missile threat.”