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European Perspectives
on Missile Defense

David Gates

Policy Paper No. 39, From the books:

Ballistic Missiles –
The Threat and
the Response

Arieh Stav (ed.),
ACPR Publishers and
Yediot Aharonot (Hebrew), 1998
ACPR Publishers and
Brassey's (UK) Ltd. (English),

The Threat of Ballistic Missiles in the
Middle East:
Active Defense and

Arieh Stav (ed.),
Sussex Academic Press and
ACPR Publishers, 2004


The differing geostrategic positions of the USA, Western Europe and Israel have given rise to the subject of missile defense. Even between Western European states there are diverse views on the subject, reflecting the variations in military capabilities, foreign policies, financial and technical resources, threat perceptions, and in the proximity and precise nature of any such threats. Whereas the USA, and, to a lesser extent, Israel, might pursue purely national policies and solutions with regard to missile defense issues, the Western European states are more constrained because of their geostrategic positions and because of the degree to which their foreign and military policies have become interwoven through international organizations, notably the European Union and NATO. If European air-space is indivisible, then so are the technical, military, economic, moral and legal problems which missile defense involves.

NATO’s policy on Extended Integrated Air-Defense (EIAD) weaves together four distinct strands: deterrence, counterforce, passive defense (including arms control) and active defense. At the moment, deterrence is accorded the most importance. NATO’s counterforce capabilities are strong, but there is considerable debate in Europe as to precisely how and when these might be employed. Furthermore, the elements of EIAD are not only mutually reinforcing but also competitive to a degree. Arms-control or effective counterforce capabilities could reduce the passive defense burden. Alas, furnishing an appropriate level of passive and active defense for anything but deployed forces would be prohibitively costly. Nor could pure defense offer total protection; providing passive defenses for entire populations is largely impracticable and would offer only scant protection against WMD. Active defenses, by contrast, could be circumvented by unconventional delivery means, including acts of terrorism involving WMD, and, in any case, could not be made wholly impermeable to orthodox threats. A major difficulty is discerning and achieving the appropriate blend of EIAD ingredients in a mercurial, scenario-dependent environment, for this is the key to force design and strategic planning.

Although the USA is investing considerable resources in BMD especially, the difficulties involved in intercepting missiles once they are in flight are awesome. At the moment, European NATO envisages that the whole of its territory will be in range of ballistic missiles, some armed with WMD, by 2010. The expansion of NATO eastwards is compounding this problem. An active defense is unlikely to materialize in the foreseeable future, except perhaps for the protection of deployed forces. This means that the reliance on deterrence and counterforce is likely to persist, prompting questions about the precise circumstances in which military force will actually be used: will it be as an act of prevention, or pre-emption or of retaliation?

The article covers the following themes:

  • The different strands of EIAD and contrasting Western attitudes to them;
  • Historical experience of missile defense, notably Britain’s in World War !! and the problems highlighted by the Gulf War;
  • The mechanics of missile interception and the operational and technical difficulties involved;
  • The legal, political, moral, economic and procurement difficulties inherent in missile defense, particularly those relating to the active force in preventive or pre-emptive attacks.

For the complete text of this article in Hebrew, click here.