NATO Undeterred by Russian Concerns on European Missile Shield

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Saturday meet for bilateral talks at an international security conference in Munich, Germany. Lavrov said U.S. missile defense plans for Europe could endanger a “reset” in relations between Washington and Moscow (AP Photo/Frank Augstein).
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Saturday meet for bilateral talks at an international security conference in Munich, Germany. Lavrov said U.S. missile defense plans for Europe could endanger a “reset” in relations between Washington and Moscow (AP Photo/Frank Augstein).

NATO officials at a weekend international security conference sought to minimize Russian worries over a planned European missile shield while emphasizing they would not be deterred in implementing their vision for a continent safe from ballistic missile attacks, the Associated Press reported (see GSN, Jan. 31).

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the Western military bloc anticipates it will have a preliminary operational antiballistic missile capability established in time for a high-profile May summit in Chicago (see GSN, Feb. 3).

The alliance chief said Brussels would maintain its efforts to win Russian support for the effort to augment and coordinate individual member nations' missile defense capacities.plan, The core of the project is the U.S. plan to in coming years field a succession of more sophisticated Standard Missile 3 interceptors deployed at sea and on land around Europe.

"We have not made as much progress [with Russia] as I would like to see, but there is still some time to go before Chicago and I still hope we could reach an agreement," Rasmussen said on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference in Germany. "But irrespective of that, we will continue to develop a NATO missile defense system because we feel a strong responsibility to protect our populations effectively against a missile threat."

The former Cold War foes have engaged in talks on areas for potential antimissile cooperation for more than a year. It was earlier hoped that a deal would be reached in time for announcement at the Chicago summit ,but that appears increasingly improbable.

Moscow says it fears the NATO missile shield would secretly be aimed against Russia's long-range nuclear weapons even though the United States and the alliance have repeatedly said the interceptors are intended to thwart a possible missile strike from the Middle East. The Kremlin has threatened to deploy short-range Iskander missiles this year in its Kaliningrad territory, which abuts NATO member states, if a compromise is not reached (see GSN, Jan. 26). It has also warned of its readiness to withdraw from the New START nuclear arms control deal with the United States.

"It should be crystal clear that Russia will not support any scheme that would trigger a new cycle of confrontation. Building opposing alliances is a formula from the past, which will result today in sliding toward global catastrophe," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said to attendees of the Munich forum.

He warned the United States' missile defense program for Europe "rings alarm bells" and puts in jeopardy the high-profile U.S.-Russia "reset" in strategic relations.

Lavrov also reaffirmed the Kremlin's warnings of a military response: "We are not over dramatizing the situation, but if everything goes ahead with missile defense as is planned in Washington and Brussels, then we would have to take measures."

"Those measures would only be engaged if the actual practical developments ... in the missile defense in Europe would develop the proportions that would be a threat to our containment potential," the Russian foreign minister said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta defended President Obama's "phased adaptive approach" at the conference. "President Obama has made clear that the United States is firmly committed to building a missile defense system in Europe. The new defense strategy and our budget priorities reflect that commitment."

He reaffirmed the U.S. and NATO contention the planned shield is not "in any way a threat to Russia." "We made that clear time and time again ... and we hope that ultimately we can resolve those issues."

Washington has reached deals for Poland and Romania to host SM-3 interceptors, and for docking missile defense ships in Spain. An early warning radar station that would provide missile threat data to the interceptors has already been established in Turkey.

Rasmussen lashed out at Russia for misrepresenting NATO's missile defense plans. "You can't in any way think that NATO constitutes any threat against Russia, it's crazy. And it's a complete waste of money to deploy offensive weapons and capabilities directed against any NATO territory" (David Rising, Associated Press/Miami Herald, Feb. 4).

The NATO head met with Lavrov against the backdrop of the Munich conference. The two men "touched upon issues of practical interaction within the Russia-NATO Council" and "exchanged views on international and regional security, including on the situation surrounding missile defense and conventional arms control in Europe," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by ITAR-Tass (ITAR-Tass, Feb. 4).

Moscow's senior official for discussions with the alliance on its missile shield said the talks have come to a "dead end," Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported (see related GSN story, today).

Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov told the Kommersant newspaper that plan for a missile shield were "vague" and that Russian collaboration in the antimissile effort "is not even up for discussion" (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Feb. 6).

An in-depth report by an international body of experts says missile defense has the potential to be a "game changer" for relations between Moscow and Washington, Reuters reported.

The Euro-Atlantic Security Commission report, released at the Munich conference, was two years in the making and included involvement by former Russian, European and U.S. officials and military officers. It advises that Brussels, Washington and Moscow exchange technical information gathered from orbiters and radar stations on missile threats. Such data sharing would supply both sides with a more comprehensive understanding of missile strikes than they would have without the collaboration, the report says.

NATO and Russia would each maintain authority for targeting missiles endangering their territories and would independently make decisions for launching their own interceptors. 

The security commission plan notably follows NATO's vision for collaborative missile defense. Moscow has called for a single system to be established that would give it an equal voice in decisions to fire missile interceptors.

"While the Russians are somewhat skeptical about whether Iran is a threat ... the Russians are very strident about their worries about Pakistan, which has ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons," former Bush administration national security adviser Stephen Hadley said.

Hadley, who co-chaired the working group that produced the missile defense recommendations, said the panel of issue specialists agreed there was a great enough likelihood of the spread of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles with 3,000-mile strike ranges to warrant a missile defense architecture.

"Constructing defenses takes a long time and the last thing you want to be -- if you are doing defenses -- is late to the party,' Hadley said.

Former Russian strategic missile forces chief of staff Viktor Esin and ex-U.S. Missile Defense Agency head Henry Obering devised the idea for the report's proposed NATO-Russia missile defense system.

"Successful cooperation on ballistic missile defense would be a game changer," the report says. "It would go a long way toward overcoming the legacy of historical suspicion and achieving the strategic transformation that is needed."

Until the Kremlin's worries about anticipated deployment in coming years of U.S. missile interceptors that could eliminate intermediate-range missiles and even ICBMs are dealt with, Russia "is unlikely to begin the trust-building process that [the Euro-Atlantic Security Commission] suggests," Arms Control Association research head Tom Collina said.

Ex-U.S. Senator, and commission co-chairman Sam Nunn admitted the report did not resolve all differences but said those lingering concerns could be addressed "as you go down the line."

"If people work together on the first stages of this, the light bulbs will go off, (and) people will say: 'Hey, we need to work together on the other stages too," the former Georgia lawmaker said (Susan Cornwell, Reuters, Feb. 5).

Separately, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin announced that two missile factories for space protection would be constructed in central Russia, United Press International reported (see GSN, Jan. 30).

The initial plant would be erected in Nizhny Novgorod and would have a work force of 5,000 people producing $200 million worth of weaponry. The other factory is to be built in Kirov and would have a work force of 4,000 people, RIA Novosti reported.

"I hope we will develop models that are superior to those of our potential opponents," Rogozin said to President Dmitry Medvedev (United Press International, Feb. 3).

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Sam Nunn is co-chairman and chief executive officer of the Nuclear Threat Initiative. NTI is the sole sponsor of Global Security Newswire, which is published independently by the National Journal Group.]

February 6, 2012
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NATO officials at a weekend international security conference sought to minimize Russian worries over a planned European missile shield while emphasizing they would not be deterred in implementing their vision for a continent safe from ballistic missile attacks, the Associated Press reported.

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