Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Heritage Foundation 33 Minutes

Assessing Iran's Missile Threat
The Heritage Foundation's Missile Defense Expert Baker Spring shared his thoughts on last week's Iranian missile test and the new information about Iran's second nuclear site to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on Monday. Here is a portion of that interview.

Q: Heritage's Iran Working Group said in a Special Report in June that Iran could have intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) capable of reaching the U.S. by 2015. Is that still on target, or do you think with all that's going on that that may move up?

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Baker Spring: Well, certainly with international or outside cooperation it could move up. And I think that it is wrong for the Administration's explanation on why it decided to cancel the so-called Third-Site option for missile defense in the Czech Republic and Poland.
I talked about the Iranian test program as if it can be neatly categorized as supporting only short- or intermediate- or long-range missiles. The fact of the matter is that these technologies cut across all those categories, and a short-range missile can be used to learn things that will help you with regard to long-range missiles. So, yes, I think that there's a chance that the program can be accelerated, and I think that's particularly the case if we find that there's more widespread foreign support from countries like China, Russia or North Korea and cooperation with the Iranian program than we know about today.
Q: How concerned should we be here in the U.S. about Iran's ICBMs?
Baker Spring: Well, again, in that time frame, the 2015 time frame, I think that we should (be concerned). The problem that we face right now with regard to what we have fielded right now is that we have, on any day-to-day basis, somewhat fewer than 30 available, usable, long-range defensive interceptors that are located in Alaska and California. Now, against long-range missiles launched from North Korea or Iran, there is coverage of all the United States.
The problem for the system on a missile that would be launched out of Iran toward the eastern portion of the United States is that the interceptors in Alaska and California are operating at the outer edges of their performance envelope. And so the reason that the Bush Administration looked at putting these systems in Europe in the so-called Third Site was to provide a somewhat more robust capability precisely for countering that Iranian long-range missile. It's not that we have nothing. It's just that it's so limited as to not be what it should be, to put it bluntly.
Q: We've been down this road before with Iran. President George W. Bush tried diplomacy and then the U.N. imposed some, I guess, relatively weak sanctions. How much tougher do the sanctions have to be? Do we have to put a stranglehold on them economically?
Baker Spring: Maybe, maybe not. I think that actually reasonably strong sanctions might have a significant impact if the sanctions lead to a strengthened and emboldened Iranian opposition within Iran itself.
There are two ways you can read the political impact of sanctions. If they are truly tough sanctions will this have the impact of rallying the Iranian population around the regime, or would the sanctions send the signal to Iranian dissidents that the international forces and the U.S. and Europe are actually on their side in trying to isolate and reduce the options of the regime in Tehran and therefore embolden them? If it has that latter impact, in my judgment sanctions can be a telling tool.
Q: Do we know the full extent of Iran's nuclear program at this point?
Baker Spring: I don't think so. Well, obviously, I mean, the Iranians have been pursuing weapons programs for years. In this particular case, we have an Iranian enrichment facility, relatively small in scale and not operational, but fairly well advanced in construction, as I understand.

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