NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Tuesday dismissed providing Russia a legal guarantee that a planned alliance missile defense system in Europe would not be aimed against its former Cold War antagonist, Agence France-Presse reported (see GSN, June 1).
Moscow has protested U.S. and NATO plans to over the next decade deploy increasingly advanced sea- and land-based missile interceptors around the European continent as a hedge against a potential missile attack from the Middle East. Russia fears the missile shield could be secretly aimed against it strategic nuclear forces. The Kremlin had suggested its concerns would be mollified were it provided a legally-binding pledge that the system would not be used against Russia.
"The most promising path towards greater trust is more discussion, more political debate and exchange, rather than complicated legal formulas which would be difficult to agree on and ratify among 29 countries (the NATO member states and Russia)," Rasmussen told the Interfax News Agency.
Rasmussen spoke with the Russian news agency prior to a Russia-NATO Council forum in Belgium on Wednesday where Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov is anticipated to try to persuade NATO representatives that they should agree to give Moscow a legal guarantee on the missile shield.
Russia wants a treaty on the matter to include information on the total number and the kinds of missile interceptors that would be deployed in the shield as well as their speed and deployment locations, Kommersant reported.
Though Russia and NATO agreed last year to jointly research areas for potential missile defense collaboration in Europe, discussions since then have not seen significant progress toward a bilateral antimissile agreement.
Moscow officials earlier admitted than another Kremlin demand -- that Russia and NATO construct a missile shield that would give each side equal power in the decision to fire an interceptor -- was not going to be met. A different Russian proposal whereby each side assumes responsibility for shooting down missiles traveling over a specific geographical area has also met with strong objections by the alliance.
"NATO cannot outsource to nonmembers collective defense obligations which bind its members," Rasmussen said.
He asserted that the alliance's growth in Eastern Europe was not a threat to Russia (Agence France-Presse I/Sunday Times, June 7).
Antonov told the Kommersant newspaper that the NATO missile shield's interceptors should have a capped speed that would not permit them to intercept intercontinental ballistic missiles, Interfax reported.
"They [NATO] tell us there is a threat of missile proliferation. What missiles? Medium and shorter range missiles. All right, such missiles set certain parameters. The speed of interceptor missiles must not be as high as it is necessary for intercepting an intercontinental ballistic missile."
The Russian deputy minister noted that medium- and short-range missiles travel at a slower speed than ICBMs. "That is why the speed of interceptor missiles should be limited, say to 3.5 kilometers [about 2.2 miles] per second."
He added that "the interceptors must be positioned in the areas, across which medium and shorter-range missiles may fly."
Antonov did not specify which European nations were suitable to Moscow for hosting NATO missile interceptors.
"The Western partners must take into account Russian concerns and scatter our worries that the system may be targeted against us," the deputy minister said. "That is the only way we are prepared to cooperate" (Interfax News Agency, June 6).
He said Moscow was willing to hear alternative proposals on the framework of a joint missile defense system as NATO had rejected its "sectoral approach," AFP reported.
"We are not using ultimatums in our dialogue on the missile defense and not imposing the 'sectoral approach' on our partners," Antonov said.
"The most important thing is to agree on the mutually acceptable terms of cooperation" (Agence France-Presse II/Spacewar.com, June 6).