The narrative in the West so far is that the main problem Russia has with the system is the two proposed land sites in Poland and Romania -- that NATO would be stepping on Russia's toes by installing bases in what Russia considers its sphere of influence. That is surely part of Russian concerns, but it is not the whole story. Ted Postol of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and I carried out a detailed study of the planned system. Our analysis found that the system could, in fact, easily be reconfigured to have a theoretical capability against Russian ICBMs, especially post-2018, when the more potent interceptors are brought on-line. But even a theoretical capability -- which the Russians could, in practice, neutralize through use of decoys and other countermeasures on their missiles -- will give their military planners pause.
A NATO decision to proceed with fielding Block II interceptors will result in an apparent paradox: "defenses" with little or no combat effectiveness, but with technical and quantitative uncertainties that will cause cautious Russian military planners to treat them as if they could be effective in the future.
Russia -- and China -- could react by increasing their stockpiles or perhaps blocking future nuclear-arms-reductions negotiations with the United States.
What's really needed is an independent, nonpartisan evaluation of the costs -- and not just the gargantuan monetary costs, but also the security costs -- versus the benefits (if any) of the proposed system. The possible disclosure of sensitive U.S. secrets that so preoccupies Woolsey and Heinrichs is just one of the many risks of an ineffective missile-defense system, from engendering a false sense of security that could lead to serious policy miscalculations to greater worldwide stockpiles of military plutonium to a relaunching of the nuclear arms race with Russia.
Is it really worth giving up the Russian queen in trying -- and failing -- to protect from an Iranian pawn?