The United States and NATO are considering an attempt to revitalize a pact that sets limits on conventional weaponry in Europe as part of a broader effort to improve relations with Russia, the New York Times reported yesterday (see GSN, July 16, 2007).
The alliance is focusing on three areas for advancing ties with Moscow: revival of the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe, offering to involve Russia in a European ballistic missile shield, and the possible withdrawal of tactical nuclear weapons from NATO states (see GSN, April 23).
"If we could make progress as far as conventional disarmament is concerned, it could also lead to disarmament or reduced reliance by the alliance on a nuclear deterrent and in general improve the relationship between NATO and Russia," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told the Times Wednesday.
The alliance aims to have agreement on the initiative ahead of the November summit in Lisbon.
Angered by a Bush-era plan for European missile defense and other issues, Moscow pulled out of the conventional arms treaty in December 2007. Signed during the last days of the Soviet Union, the treaty placed caps on the types of heavy conventional weaponry that the two sides could field in Europe and came with significant verification measures. Prospects for the Kremlin returning to the pact were dimmed in August 2008 by the Russia-Georgia war.
Russian deputy envoy to NATO Nikolay Korchunov said yesterday that his nation was "interested in reinvigorating" the pact but that "it should be part of a bigger package that would include missile defense as well as nuclear disarmament."
Rasmussen said the alliance would like to ask Russia to participate in its plans to build a missile shield (see GSN, April 27).
"Cooperation between the U.S., NATO and Russia would contribute to the overall security of the Euro-Atlantic area," the NATO chief said. "If we could build a missile defense system to cover from Vancouver to Vladivostok, Russia could see that the missile shield was not a threat" (Judy Dempsey, New York Times, April 29).
The Obama administration unveiled a revised plan for European missile defense last fall that envisions a more adaptable structure than that proposed by its predecessor. The plan would field sea- and land-based missile interceptors around the continent as a hedge against potential missile strikes from Iran.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov claimed this week that Moscow was open to collaborating with NATO states on missile defenses, but that Western nations were not amenable to the idea, Interfax reported.
"But we aren't losing hope and are paving a way to a joint project in our dialogue with Western partners in Europe and the United States," Lavrov told a members of the European Council.
Lavrov, though, asserted that the alliance only intends to involve Russia in missile defenses after the U.S.-developed shield is already in place.
"We want to understand: Is this going to be a joint project between Russia and NATO, or are we moving by inertia?" he said.
Planning for a Europe-based missile shield should start "from scratch," beginning with a collaborative assessment of missile threats, Lavrov said.
"Only afterwards, on the basis of a joint analysis, can one jointly develop collective measures to counter threats and risks of this kind -- starting from political-diplomatic and economic ones, and ending with devising military-technical measures in case these threats become direct and open," he said (Interfax, April 29).
Meanwhile, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said yesterday that his government does not believe it would be targeted by Iran in a potential missile strike, Foreign Policy reported.
"If the mullahs have a target list we believe we are quite low on it," Sikorski said in Washington.
Under the Bush-era missile defense plan, Poland would have hosted 10 long-range missile interceptors. Its role in the new structure remains to be seen, though the Eastern European nation is set to soon host U.S. Patriot missile batteries (see GSN, April 23).
Sikorski acknowledged that Warsaw's chief rationale for wanting to participate in European missile defense was the desire to have an important role in the continent's evolving security paradigm.
"Our part of Europe has so far very few NATO installations," Sikorski said. "This is the game that seems to be the next project, so we decided to get involved" (Josh Rogin, Foreign Policy, April 29).