U.S. Still Eyeing Russian Radars for Missile Defense

The United States has not dismissed an offer to use two Russian radars for missile defense, a senior Defense Department official said in a recent interview with Interfax (see GSN, Nov. 5, 2007).

Then-Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2007 suggested using radars in southern Russia and Azerbaijan in hopes of persuading the Bush administration to give up plans to deploy missile interceptors in Poland and a radar installation in the Czech Republic. Washington did not bite at the time, arguing that its allies' sites were needed to counter Iran's growing long-range missile capabilities.

The Obama administration, though, has eliminated its predecessor's initiative (see GSN, Oct. 2). It intends instead to deploy elements aimed primarily at defending U.S. allies and forces in Europe against short- and medium-range missile threats.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates "and other senior defense officials have already pointed to the possibility of some form of link between Russian radars ... to provide additional data and early warning information that could benefit both of us in defending against ballistic missile threats," said Assistant Defense Secretary Alexander Vershbow. "Exactly how these links would be established and how it would work technically is of course for the experts. But I think that the basic idea of sharing this kind of information against a common threat makes sense. And of course it could be just the beginning of a program of cooperation between NATO and Russia or between the United States and Russia on missile defense."

The change in the U.S. missile defense plan for Europe was not made in order to garner Moscow's support for Washington's stand in the continuing nuclear standoff with Iran, Vershbow said. Russia had vehemently opposed the shield as a threat to its strategic security, and has generally opposed ramping up penalties over Tehran's refusal to suspend uranium enrichment operations (see related GSN story, today).

The new approach which we have decided upon for missile defense was based on an analysis of the threats and of the available technologies, and was not presented as something on which we expected any quid pro quo," Vershbow said.

He added, however, that possible export of Russian S-300 air defenses to Iran "is a very critical issue in its own right, and we have said to Russia many times that we believe that that system could be very destabilizing in the region, and therefore have urged Russia to exercise restraint. So this is not something which we are negotiating on but simply something that we believe that Russia should see as in its own interest."

Some observers have said that Iran could use the S-300 to defend its nuclear facilities against airstrikes (Interfax I, Oct. 4).

U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Beyrle also expressed hope for establishing U.S.-Russian cooperation on missile defense, Interfax reported Friday.

The two nations should follow through on the pledge by U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to conduct a combined review of missile dangers, and to establish the means for sharing data on missile tests, Beyrle said in a prepared statement (Interfax II, Oct. 2).

The Russian Foreign Ministry said last week the door is open for the two former Cold War rivals to work together against missile threats, Interfax reported.

"The review by U.S. President Obama of the plan initiated by the Bush administration to deploy elements of the missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic is an internal decision by the U.S. government, which was dictated solely by the U.S. national interest," spokesman Andrei Nesterenko told reporters on Thursday. "We generally see this decision as a step in the right direction. Partly it reflects our own views on how the missile defense system should be built in Europe and worldwide."

"Good conditions are being created for further practical implementation of a joint statement on missile defense adopted by the Russian and U.S. presidents in July this year," he added.

"Thorough expert analysis and consultations are required to clarify and study in detail the new structure of a missile shield in Europe proposed by the U.S. On our part, we are ready for a detailed discussion of the U.S. proposals and Russian initiatives on missile defense cooperation with a view to reach mutually acceptable arrangements," Nesterenko said (Interfax III, Oct. 2).

October 6, 2009
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The United States has not dismissed an offer to use two Russian radars for missile defense, a senior Defense Department official said in a recent interview with Interfax (see GSN, Nov. 5, 2007).

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