The recent U.S. update to its ballistic missile defense strategy could pave the way for collaboration with Russia, NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow told Reuters on Sunday.
NATO, Moscow and Washington agreed in 2010 to seek opportunities for cooperation on missile defense. The Kremlin, though, has vehemently opposed the Obama administration's "phased adaptive approach" for fielding antimissile systems in Europe as a threat to the Russian nuclear deterrent.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced in March that the United State would scrap the final phase of the European system, which involved deployment of interceptors with limited capacities to eliminate ICBMs, in favor of placing more long-range interceptors in Alaska.
"The change in the U.S. plans ... just simply makes the situation much less ambiguous," according to Vershbow. "There is now no reason for concern that the system going into Europe will have any effect whatever on Russia's strategic deterrent.
"We think there is a real window of opportunity and we hope that the Russians seize it," he added.
"On both the NATO-Russia and U.S.-Russia tracks, we hope the dialogue will pick up speed so that we can get at least closer to some kind of a deal on missile defense cooperation," Vershbow said. "To the extent we are able to make some progress on missile defense, it might also facilitate renewed dialogue on nuclear arms reductions both at the strategic level and the nonstrategic level."
The United States and Russia are required under the bilateral New START treaty to by 2018 each cap their arsenals of deployed strategic nuclear weapons at 1,550 warheads and 700 delivery systems. Washington also keeps about 200 short-range nuclear weapons in Europe, while Russia is believed to have roughly 2,000 nonstrategic warheads assigned to deliver vehicles.
"The allies made it very clear that they are strongly interested in engaging with Russia, first of all to increase the transparency of the current nuclear weapons systems that exist on the NATO side and on the Russian side, and then looking to the future to discuss the possibility of reductions of nonstrategic nuclear weapons, recognizing that this has to be done on the reciprocal basis," Vershbow told Interfax.