THE US’s most senior Nato representative in Europe has warned of the threat posed to the continent of so-called Islamic State getting hold of ballistic missiles.
Robert Bell, the senior civilian representative to the US secretary of defence in Europe, gave the warning as the USS Carney steamed its way to the Mediterranean to complete the final piece of the ballistic missile defence system.
The Scotsman has been given exclusive access to the ship as it made the final part of its journey to Spain from the Azores.
The ballistic missile defence (BMD) Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile Destroyer joins three sister ships – the Ross, Donald Cook and the Porter – to form a defensive shield against nuclear and ballistic missile attacks from the Middle East.
Initially, the ships which are part of the Aegis defence system were sent to tackle a threat posed by Iran and its nuclear programme, but Mr Bell insisted that the recent deal with Iran does not make the new shield redundant.
He said: “Nato’s ballistic missile defence programme is an insurance policy.”
He added that the defence organisation needs to be prepared “if Iran thinks it can cheat” on the deal.
However, he admitted that there was a significant threat posed by Islamic State, or Isil, which is forming a caliphate across Iraq and Syria.
He said: “There has to be a concern that Isil could obtain ballistic missiles from one of our partners.”
He said that terrorist organisation “has shown itself capable” of taking weapons and “turning them on” Nato and its allies.
His comments come as the USS Carney prepares to dock at Rota in Spain where it will be based for around five years. The 19-year-old warship has been updated to take on the US’s latest military capabilities and can simultaneously conduct combat “from outer space to the deeps of the sea” and everything in between.
It is armed with Aegis kinetic missiles capable of taking down ballistic missiles in space, harpoons for ship-to-ship combat as well as a range of other equipment including torpedoes to deal with submarines, land threats and pirates.
The ship is captained by Commander Ken Pickard and is manned by a crew of just over 300 who refer to themselves as “Carney nation” and their ship as “505ft of fighting steel”.
Talking about the importance of the Aegis shield and the nuclear umbrella, Commander Pickard warned that systems need to be in place to deter attacks.
Dismissing the idea that the nuclear threat is the warfare of the past, the commander added: “Only one needs to get through and it will be completely devastating.”