Russia, NATO Discuss Missile Defense Plans

Foreign ministers from NATO states and Russia on Thursday again addressed the dispute over the alliance's plans to field a ballistic missile defense system in Europe, Agence France-Presse reported (see GSN, April 13).

The Western military bloc says it intends to link up and augment individual member countries' antimissile programs as a hedge against a feared ballistic missile attack from Iran. A U.S. effort to through 2020 field increasingly advanced missile interceptors in Poland and Romania and on missile destroyers home ported in Spain is to form the core of the NATO missile shield.

Moscow in more than a years of talks on the matter has unsuccessfully demanded a legally binding pledge that the U.S. interceptors would not be aimed at Russian ICBMs. The Kremlin has threatened to deploy short-range missiles and air- defenses in its Kaliningrad region if a compromise is not reached on the matter.

"It is well known that we do not agree on all issues but it is also clear that we are committed to continue discussing all issues at all times," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in opening the foreign minister-level Russia-NATO Council meeting in Brussels.

"This system does not threaten Russia, nor does it alter the strategic balance," Rasmussen said.

Brussels intends to declare a preliminary antimissile capability at next month's summit. NATO had wanted Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin to attend the high-profile meeting in Chicago. That does not appear likely due to Putin's hectic schedule and because no missile defense cooperation deal with Moscow is anticipated to be reached before the summit (Agence France-Presse/Sunday Times, April 19).

At the Russia-NATO Council meeting in Brussels, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said there continue to be "disagreements on fundamental security issues" between the former Cold War rivals. "Primarily these are missile defense problems," Interfax quoted him as saying.

Moscow's chief aim is to ensure the continuance of a strategic balance of power with the Western military bloc, the Russian foreign minister said. 

"For this purpose clear guarantees should be given to prevent the deployment of U.S. and NATO missile defense elements from being targeted against Russia's strategic potential," he said, continuing, "these guarantees should be based on the objective criteria, which will make it possible to assess the goal, which is being declared, i.e. to parry missile challenges beyond the scope of the Euro-Atlantic region."

Lavrov said the two sides addressed the situation "in detail" on Thursday and agreed to maintain discussions on the issue (Interfax, April 19).

Meanwhile, the head of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency said antimissile collaboration with Moscow could supply the United States with valuable data collected by Russian radars, RIA Novosti reported.

"There actually are (Russian) capabilities that we could benefit from," Lt. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly said at a Senate budget hearing. "It's primarily  ... their large sensors that they have for their homeland defense."

"The location of Russia itself ...would give us the opportunity to view threats very early in their flight, if we were able to observe. And their ability to observe flight testing done by other countries would, in fact, provide us beneficial information," according to the MDA head.

The officer  told senators he had no knowledge of any "specific proposals" on potential areas for the two nations to cooperate on missile defense.

"The nature of our work has typically been when the Russian government claims that we are building capability to upset the strategic balance.  We've been able to analyze that and provide them data to show we are not -- where the errors are in their estimates, such as missiles flying faster than anyone's ever built, and so forth," O'Reilly said.

He continued, "I have never been given any instructions to consider limiting the development of our system" in Europe" (RIA Novosti, April 19).

O'Reilly said the U.S. military was proceeding with its plans to field next-generation Standard Missile 3 interceptors in Poland and Romania, according to the Washington Times. Romania under Aegis Ashore is slated to receive SM-3 Block 1B interceptors around 2015 and Poland would house SM-3 Block 1B and 2A systems beginning in 2018. More sophisticated Aegis ballistic missile defense systems and interceptors would be fielded in 2020.

The Aegis Ashore system is an altered version of the technology currently deployed on missile destroyers. The system's SM-3 Block 2A interceptors are being jointly developed with Japan (see GSN, Aug. 1, 2011). "The Aegis Ashore system is (a) very cost-effective approach to taking the proven capability at sea and move it effectively to land," according to O'Reilly.

Aegis Ashore "has the longest range of our regional systems, so it adds a layer of missile defense to the land that otherwise we’d be relying on for [Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense]. So with Aegis Ashore and THAAD and Patriot and other regional systems, we are able to achieve that multilayered effect with a very dedicated and persistent presence of the Aegis system," O'Reilly stated.

Elsewhere, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was dismissive of Republican outrage over President Obama's comment in late March to outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he would have greater "flexibility" on missile defense negotiations after the November elections (see GSN, March 28).

"The fuss that has been raised in the United States on this score is not very intelligible," Ryabkov said in an interview with Interfax in early April.

There exist "no mysteries, no secretes, no second-, third-, or fourth-level meanings or any variants that are being developed outside the field of vision of the politicians, military, diplomats, analysts and the media," he said (Bill Gertz, Washington Times, April 18).

April 19, 2012

Foreign ministers from NATO states and Russia on Thursday again addressed the dispute over the alliance's plans to field a ballistic missile defense system in Europe, Agence France-Presse reported.