America is strengthening, not abandoning, its missile defense plans in Europe, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Sunday in an opinion piece published in the New York Times. In the piece, titled "A Better Missile Defense for a Safer Europe," Gates contended that the new US defense plan is simply a reworking of the previous proposal, and provides more protection in light of the current threat assessments, as well as doing so much sooner than the original plan would have done. "In December 2006," Gates wrote, "I recommended to [former US] president George W. Bush that the United States place 10 ground-based interceptors in Poland and an advanced radar in the Czech Republic" to counter the threat of nuclear missiles from the Middle East. "At the time, it was the best plan based on the technology and threat assessment available." "Last week, President Obama - on my recommendation and with the advice of his national-security team and the unanimous support of our senior military leadership - decided to discard that plan in favor of a vastly more suitable approach," Gates explained. Gates noted that while the previous plan would not have provided any protection before at least 2017 - and likely later - the new program will begin providing some level of protection by 2011, will receive a significant boost in capability by 2015, and will be built over time to create "an increasingly greater zone of protection." "The new approach to European missile defense actually provides us with greater flexibility to adapt as new threats develop and old ones recede," Gates wrote. Gates challenged critics of the new plan who have slammed it as a concession to Russia, which has vehemently opposed its inception. "Russia's attitude and possible reaction played no part in my recommendation to the president on this issue," Gates said. "If Russia's leaders embrace this plan, then that will be an unexpected, and welcome, change of policy on their part. But in any case the facts are clear: American missile defense on the continent will continue, and not just in Central Europe." "This proposal is, simply put, a better way forward," Gates summed up his position. "It is a very real manifestation of our continued commitment to our NATO allies in Europe."