Obama decides to unilaterally announce secret U.S. missile tests, satellite launches

Andrew Malcolm
Los Angeles Times

President Obama has decided to pre-announce to the world once-secret American ballistic missile tests and satellite launches.

The Democratic administration’s goal is to show a friendlier face to other countries and to coax Russia to do the same.

It’s part of a confidence-boosting initiative launched, so to speak, last fall when Obama suddenly abandoned the U.S. missile-defense system in Eastern Europe that had exercised the Russians, though it was aimed at potential future missiles from Iran.

Obama hoped such a unilateral U.S. forfeiture would encourage Russia to put pressure on Iran to halt its nuclear weapons development. So far no good on that.

Of course, the point of secret tests by any state in an insecure, suspicious world is to deny advance notice to potential enemies, making it more difficult if not impossible for them to gain intelligence by monitoring the tests themselves.

According to George Jahn of the Associated Press, a confidential U.S. note sent to 128 other countries two weeks ago said:

The United States … will provide pre-launch notification of commercial and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) space launches as well as the majority of intercontinental ballistic and submarine-launched ballistic missile launches.

Security experts note that Obama left himself some wiggle room by using the phrase “majority of intercontinental and submarine-launched ballistic missile launches,” many of which depart from Vandenberg Air Force Base on the California coast.

Washington’s hope is that Russia will resume doing the same.

The 129 countries involved are members of the Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation. Four of the world’s major nuclear-armed powers belong to the convention — the U.S., Russia, France and Britain. Others such as China, North Korea, Pakistan and India do not belong and do not provide advance notice as the U.S. now will.

Another non-member is Iran, which continues ballistic missile testing and is believed to be developing nuclear weapons.

This Hague convention is separate from the new START nuclear arms treaty signed April 9 in Prague by Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. That agreement, now awaiting Senate ratification, would lower each side’s nuclear arsenal from 2,200 warheads to 1,550.

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