Both General Patrick O’Reilly (left) and US diplomat John Rood (at the lecturn) argued that, despite the X-band radar’s limitations, it was still important to install a base in the Czech Republic in order to counter the Soviet-built radar located in Qabala, Azerbaijan
WikiLeaks has published a US diplomatic cable showing that General Patrick O’Reilly, the director of the US Missile Defense Agency, warned in late 2007 that a radar station the US hoped to base on Czech territory lacked the capacity to detect long-range missiles in the launch phase — a primary justification for its existence. To this day, Moscow says it views the establishment of a US missile shield in Europe as aimed against Russia; the Bush Administration had maintained it was to counter threats from “rogue states” like Iran, Iraq and North Korea.
The leaked US cable gave a broad overview of Washington’s ongoing negotiations over the controversial US missile defense project, which Moscow said represented a direct threat to the Russian Federation. In the section titled “Czech Radar Horizon Capabilities: Cannot See Russian Nukes,” the cable shows that General O’Reilly had pointed to serious technical shortcomings of the X-Band radar that the Bush Administration had wanted to install in the Czech Republic.
The X-Band radar’s range was approximately 2,000 kilometers, but it could only “see” in a straight line — and not over the horizon — the cable said, summarizing O’Reilly’s briefing and the opinions of other US defense officials and experts. Furthermore, the radar’s beam size was “point 155 degrees, and it could not search and locate by itself.”
‘The radar was incapable of seeing a missile in the boost phase. By the time the radar saw the missile, it would be too late to launch an interceptor.’
US Ambassador to Russia William J. Burns (2005 until 2008) classified and signed the cable, dated Oct. 10, 2007; John Rood, the newly named Acting Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, cleared it.
“Below two degrees, ground clutter would interfere. Thus, depending on the location of the launch, the first 245, 450 or 850 kilometers of flight could not be seen,” wrote Burns, the current US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs. “Therefore, the radar was incapable of seeing a missile in the boost phase. By the time the radar saw the missile, it would be too late to launch an interceptor.”
According to the cable, Rood, who until September 2007 had served as Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation, added that, “given the time necessary to assess a launch and fire an interceptor once the radar saw a missile, it would be too late to intercept a missile in midcourse either.”
The Azerbaijan factor
Both Rood and O’Reilly, however, still argued that it was important to situate the X-band radar in the Czech Republic in order to counter the Soviet-built radar located in Qabala, Azerbaijan, which has a range of 6,000 kilometers and is now operated by the Russian Space Forces.
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation was eager to retain operational control of the Azerbaijani site. The two countries signed an agreement in 2002 according to which Russia would lease the Qabala (or “Gabala”) radar station for $7 million per year through 2012, according to GlobalSecurity.org.
O’Reilly had visited the Qabala site on Sept. 18, 2007 and presented a report on his findings, which Burns summarized in the leaked cable. The Azerbaijan station’s range allows for the surveillance of long-range ballistic missile tests in Iran, Pakistan and Western India as well as Israel.
“Describing its significant power, large aperture, and 6,000 km range, O’Reilly agreed that Qabala would provide data on the boosting, staging, and separation phases of a missile, but underscored that the radar could not provide the resolution necessary for observation of countermeasures,” Burns wrote. “Rood underscored that the issue of countermeasures drove the need for an X-band radar in the Czech Republic.” Even with upgrades to the radar, O’Reilly said, an X-band radar in the Czech Republic would never give the US the capability to intercept Russia’s ICBMs.
Even with upgrades to the radar, O’Reilly continued, an X-band radar in the Czech Republic would never give the US the capability to intercept Russia’s ICBMs. O'Reilly said it was possible that interceptors in Great Britain would be able to catch a Russian ICBM in time, but a radar in the Czech Republic with interceptors in Poland was too close.
According to the 2007 cable, Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was the country’s prime minister at the time, “had committed to allocate the resources necessary if a ‘pattern of understanding’ emerged between Russia and the US.” Then Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Kislyak “underscored that Qabala permitted the tracking of all rocket and missile tests in its area and, as Putin suggested, could serve as a ‘focal point’ for cooperation,” Burns wrote. Kislyak is now Russia’s ambassador to Washington.
Obama traveled to Prague for the EU-US summit on April 5, 2009. President Václav Klaus (right) denied ties between Prague and Washington were damaged by the later cancellation of the US radar project.
Radar dropped ...
Despite strong objections from Moscow, on July 8, 2008, Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State under President George W. Bush, finalized the agreement to base the missile radar in the Czech Republic. The center-right government of then Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek (Civic Democrats, ODS) had agreed to the plan despite widespread public opposition; polls showed more than two-thirds of Czechs were against hosting the US radar station — as was the US Democratic Party, which captured the White House in January 2009.
On the third leg of his first European tour as US president, Barack Obama told a crowd of some 30,000 people assembled outside of Prague Castle of his grand vision to halt the spread of illicit weapons and rid the world of nuclear weapons (which was, in large part, the basis upon which he was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize). In that speech, Obama urged Iran to abandon its nuclear program, and warned that Washington would proceed with its plans to base a radar in the Czech Republic and missile interceptors in Poland if Tehran did not do so.