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NATO Head Rebukes Russia For "Pre-Emptive" Military Strike Remark

The head of NATO rebuked Russia for a recent remark by its highest ranking military officer that it would move to "pre-emptively" destroy an alliance ballistic missile shield that is in the process of being constructed in Europe, Russia Today reported on Friday (see GSN, May 4).

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the threat by Russian General Staff chief Gen. Nikolai Makarov was "unjustified."

"Our missile defense system is not technically designed to threaten Russia in any way and we have provided that information to the Russians," Rasmussen was reported by Reuters to have said.

Russia sees the planned missile defense system as a threat to strategic stability and has called for a legally binding guarantee from the Western military bloc that future-generation U.S. missile interceptors intended for fielding in Europe will never be aimed at its ICBMs.

Washington and Brussels have stated their antimissile system is intended as a bulwark against the evolving ballistic missile threat from Iran but they have only offered verbal assurances on the usage of the interceptors (Russia Today I,  May 4).

U.S. special envoy for Strategic Stability and Missile Defense Ellen Tauscher hinted any potentially more firm guarantees on the interceptors would only come after the alliance and Russia have cemented an agreement on missile defense collaboration, Russia Today reported.

"Russia is constantly speaking about guarantees of ABM systems not targeting it, but we think we need to come to cooperation. We provide guarantees after we start cooperating," Tauscher said to journalists at a Moscow conference on missile defense (Russia Today II, May 4).

The alliance is pursuing a missile defense plan that calls for connecting and augmenting individual members' antimissile programs. A program by the United States to over the next eight years deploy increasingly advanced missile interceptors at bases in Poland and Romania and on warships home ported in Spain is to form the basis of the missile shield.

NATO's No. 2 official in an interview with Interfax said he believes it's very likely the 28-member alliance will use its Chicago summit this month to approve a statement that affirms the missile shield is not aimed at Russian nuclear weapons.

"I think it's highly likely there'll be something on missile defense both on NATO's internal capability and also on our continuing work with Russia. Probably something like the December foreign ministers' statement about this is not directed against Russia," Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow said (Interfax I/Kyiv Post, May 4).

The May 20-21 summit is expected to include an announcement by the alliance that it has established an interim capability to defeat sectoral ballistic missile threats. Participating heads of state are also anticipated to discuss next-steps in constructing the missile shield.

The Russian Foreign Ministry on Friday said attendees of the high-profile gathering should remember what they learned in Moscow at the conference, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

"All signals from Moscow, including those made by General Makarov, were sent to the Chicago summit participants, so they should understand the situation is very serious and change their mind by taking into account Russia's arguments," department spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said to reporters.

Lukashevich indicated  Makarov had correctly characterized the official Russian view. "This is an important warning signal that, in case the system is developing ... Russia will have to undertake adequate military-technical measures to protect our strategic forces" (Xinhua News Agency, May 4).

Vershbow said he sees potential for Brussels and Moscow to ink an accord on the sharing of missile threat information, Interfax reported.

"We could agree to exchange information about our future plans so that Russia could have a clear sense of just how many systems are likely to be deployed" and what their capabilities will be, he said to journalists, adding that the alliance as well "would like to know more about Russia's capabilities."

Such information sharing would bring stability to the military blocs' relations and would allow the former Cold War antagonists to "proceed with cooperation with no serious risks or disappointments," the deputy secretary general said.

Vershbow said NATO could not accept Moscow's proposal for a single combined European missile defense system as it would involve placing some alliance member states' missile security in the hands of Russia.

Still, the NATO official emphasized there were areas where the two sides could cooperate: "Russia has capabilities with its radars or interceptors to increase the protection of NATO member states" (Interfax II, May 4).

Vershbow speculated Russia could begin participating in alliance missile defense efforts prior to the point when the missile shield is fully built-out, Interfax reported (Interfax III, May 4).

Moscow might permit its enormous Sofrino-based Don-2NP radar facility to be incorporated in a Russia-NATO missile defense system, Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov was reported by RIA Novosti as saying on Friday.

"If we get an agreement with NATO and the U.S., then the Don-2 could be part of the potential system which could be used against potential medium and long-range missile threats," Antonov said during a tour of the radar base organized by the Defense ministry for attendees of last week's antimissile forum.

The deputy minister emphasized that no discussions were presently taking place with the alliance on how the high-tech radar might be collaboratively utilized (RIA Novosti, May 4).

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