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Russia

European Missile Defense: What's On The Table At NATO Summit?

A missile is launched from the Aegis-combat-system-equipped destroyer "USS Decatur" during a Missile Defense Agency ballistic-missile flight test in 2007.
A missile is launched from the Aegis-combat-system-equipped destroyer "USS Decatur" during a Missile Defense Agency ballistic-missile flight test in 2007.
By Robert Coalson and RFE/RL's Russian Service
Although missile defense is not at the top of the agenda as NATO leaders gather in Chicago on May 20-21, it remains an important issue for the alliance.

Despite increasingly vociferous objections from Russia, the summit will announce the next steps in European missile defense, including an "interim capability" that is being hailed as the first step toward fully protecting NATO populations from limited missile attacks.

What parts of the plan will be announced in Chicago and what happens next?

At the Chicago NATO summit, leaders will announce the completion of the first of four phases of the U.S.-led, missile-defense system in Europe.

With the first phase in place -- which involves stationing U.S. ships equipped with the Aegis ballistic missile-defense system in the Mediterranean and working in coordination with a command center at the U.S. air base in Ramstein, Germany -- Europe will have, according to the U.S. Defense Department, "an initial capability to provide some level of defense of Europe against a threat emanating from the Middle East."

Phase 2 foresees the deployment of an Aegis system in Romania, which has already provisionally agreed to host the installation. That phase is expected to be completed by 2015.

By 2018, NATO expects to complete Phase 3, which involves a missile-interceptor base in Poland, with upgraded missiles and improved command-and-control.

The final phase is scheduled for completion in 2020 and involves the deployment of advanced interceptor missiles capable of countering not only intermediate-range missiles but also intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that could reach the United States. The plan could also include satellite-based elements.

How much does the project cost?

It is difficult to estimate the total cost of the European missile-defense program, but estimates range up to about $9 billion. Satellite-based elements could potentially triple that figure, according to the U.S. Defense Advisory Board.

In an article published in "The Wall Street Journal" on May 14, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen emphasized that "European allies are fully involved" in the program, "supporting it politically, sharing the costs, and providing substantial assets of their own."

He noted that the Netherlands, France, and Germany have recently announced missile-defense-related programs and that Turkey, Romania, Poland, and Spain have agreed to host U.S. elements of the system.

"I expect more announcements in the months and years ahead," he added.

What are the main threats the missile-defense system will guard against?

NATO notes that more than 30 countries globally have or are in the process of acquiring ballistic-missile capabilities. The alliance argues that it must take into account this proliferation as part of its mission.

More specifically, both NATO as a whole and the United States, in particular, have identified Iran as an emerging threat. Washington says Iran will be able to threaten Europe with conventionally armed missiles by 2015. In September 2011, NATO head Rasmussen, speaking about Iran's missile capabilities, said, "The potential threat is real."

Moscow, however, sees European missile defense as a threat to its own nuclear deterrent and, as a result, plays down the threat from Iran. However, Moscow-based military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer says Moscow's position is "not so much based on real data as on a desire to present something that doesn't exist as real."

Military journalist Aleksandr Golts agrees, saying: "Russia insists that there is no danger from Iran and that American missile defense is aimed against Russia. To acknowledge a danger coming from Iran would mean destroying this entire conceptual structure."

What is Russia's position?

Moscow insists the U.S.-led European missile-defense program, particularly in its later stages involving advanced interceptors and possible space-based components, is a threat to its own strategic nuclear arsenal and a potentially destabilizing development.

NATO Deputy Secretary-General Alexander Vershbow, speaking at a recent international missile-defense conference in Moscow, noting that the Kremlin was most concerned about the later phases of the missile-defense plan, expressed the hope that intensified cooperation in the intervening years might build trust and assuage those concerns.

"We should have plenty of time to find a way to bring Russia fully into the picture to have a situation in which Russia is a full partner well before the later stages of the NATO system are operational -- the stages that Russia is most worried about," Vershbow said.

Are there prospects for cooperation with Moscow on missile defense?

Moscow argues that the only way to avoid destabilizing the current strategic order is to develop a single, jointly designed and operated missile-defense system involving Russia and NATO.

Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev told the same Moscow conference that Russia was even willing to help finance a joint project.

"We were prepared to go as far in this matter as the NATO side would be prepared to go, contributing to this possible joint undertaking, in addition to everything else, a substantial financial contribution as well," Patrushev said. "But there has been no interest in our proposals."

But that kind of intense missile-defense cooperation seems hard to imagine, given that much more modest cooperative efforts at U.S.-Russian missile-defense cooperation since the 1990s have floundered. In 2004, for instance, the Pentagon killed the 1997 Russian-American Observation Satellite system (RAMOS), which had failed to produce any results.

Instead, NATO is offering, as Vershbow put it, "cooperation between our respective missile-defense systems."

Vershbow told the Moscow conference, "Our vision is of two coordinated systems with one goal -- two systems that would exchange information and coordinate planning to make the defense of NATO territory and of Russian territory more effective."

Are there any other political factors at work?

Some political forces in both Russia and the West seem aimed at undermining any missile-defense cooperation.

In the United States, which will hold a presidential election in November, conservative Republicans are urging the White House to stand up to Russian President Vladimir Putin on missile defense. In a "Wall Street Journal" article on May 15, Senator Jon Kyl (Republican-Arizona) said that such defenses "are intended to defend chiefly against Iran but -- depending on future developments -- might be effective against Russian missiles as well."

In July 2011, Dmitry Rogozin -- the blunt-speaking nationalist who was then Russia's ambassador to NATO and who has since been named presidential envoy on the missile-defense issue -- met with Kyl and Senator Mark Kirk (Republican-Illinois), in Washington. "In front of me sat two monsters of the Cold War who looked at me not through pupils, but through targeting sights," Rogozin said afterward.

And Russian military journalist Golts argues that conservative forces in Moscow also benefit more from the tensions with NATO than from their resolution.

"Creating a joint-missile defense is hardly possible from the technical point of view or from the political point of view for that matter, so the NATO countries have been offering Russia various palliatives," Golts says.

"Russia, for its part, has no interest in settling the question at all. It wants to drag out the negotiations as long as possible -- which would demonstrate, as we saw at the Moscow conference, that everyone understands that Russia is a country that is capable of destroying the United States," he adds.

"And the longer they spend discussing the possibilities of Russian missiles flying to Los Angeles or San Francisco -- this is precisely the narrative that in the view of Russia's leadership enhances Russia's international authority."

Written in Prague by RFE/RL correspondent Robert Coalson on the basis of reporting from RFE/RL Russian Service correspondents Danila Galperovich and Natalya Dzhanpladova in Moscow, Aleksandr Gostev in Prague, Yevgeny Aronov in New York; and Allan Davydov in Washington. RFE/RL correspondent Rikard Jozwiak also contributed from Brussels

Robert Coalson

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Milovan Rafailovic from: Lake Placid, Florida
May 19, 2012 14:14
One thing is sure: If there is a nuclear war, Russia will be destroyed. But so will be the United States and all of Western Europe. In spite of the claims to the opposite, my experience in the West has been that the people, especially politicians, don't value the human life, at least not enough to be working for real peace. Instead, they value money more than anything else. Russians have learned from history, and they have to be ready for anything. It would be better to work together than against each other.
In Response

by: Aleksey from: Moskva
May 19, 2012 18:46
USA is devouring itself, the moment it gains its critical mass, it will fall apart like Yugoslavia did. You have a lot of inherent hatred in between ethnicities (blacks/latinos and whites e.g.), when the economy criples the country will crack open. The country is uncapable to run idle, it needs wars to still its hunger. I give it 100 years most as a state it now is.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
May 20, 2012 05:43
100 years :-))??? Aleksey, you must be joking: in a month time there will be elections in GREECE, which are likely to lead to the default of this country on its sovereign debt, which will then lead to the implosion of the Euro-zone and the disintegration of NATO (which is already getting defeated in Afghanistan without any defaults).
As a result of the Greek default all the central economies of the global capitalist system (including the US) will suffer a very serious economic blow, in comparison to which the crisis of 2008-2009 will look like nothing. As a consequence, the US (whose sovereign debt already excedes 100 % of its GDP) is highly likely to go bankrupt itself - after which you can just forget about this nation of McCain-like old geezers whose absurd and arrogant ambition has once been to dominate the world :-).
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
May 19, 2012 21:12
You are saying: "to work together than against each other". To "work together" with whom and for what? A number of NATO member states are going bankrupt, the alliance is getting militarily defeated in Afghanistan, the US have recently been thrown out of Iraq, they have achieved nothing in Iran, in Syria, in the DPRK. The "missile defense" project is not any more functional technologically today than it was in the times of Ronald Reagan. In other words, why would Russia or anyone else "work together" with these NATO - what's in it for Russia or anyone else?

by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
May 19, 2012 15:51
Some of the protesters in Chicago make the argument that NATO has become the corporate protection service for the wealthy 1%. I know that it is more complex than that, but when I read about these gold-plated plans to create a BMD system, I think that the protesters may be on to something. This virtual ‘Maginot line’ is a goldmine for those involved in the military-industrial complex, and will likely prove to be totally ineffective. A tragic waste, since the bomb that does reach the US or Europe, will likely arrive disguised in a rusty shipping container.
In Response

by: William from: Aragon
May 20, 2012 02:40
Ray, I agree with you.

On January 9th, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta appeared on CBS Face the Nation and declared that Iran is not currently trying to build a nuclear weapon. So I assume the missile defence shield is against Russia and not Iran.

This might be good for the arms corpoations that appear to dominate US politics, but what might a prudent Russian response be? To position a massive number of tactical nuclear weapons along its western borders, which means less control and less warning time, which then means more opportunity for someone to make a mistake. This move by NATO is not well thought out, and those nations east of the Danube who thought that this shield will bring them security need to think again - you might be joining NATO but you need to understand the reality that you are also liviing in the Russian bear's front garden.
In Response

by: Tim from: Las Vegas, United States
May 22, 2012 18:42
So much anti-American talk which, unsurprisingly, always comes from Americans and people of other nations. Can anyone ever be on the US' side? Bottom line: Russia was invited several times to work with the shield system. It declined because the ONLY reason Russia feels it carries any weight in the world now is due to its nuclear bombs -the country even isn't a superpower anymore. So obviously it doesn't want a shield for Europe or the US. -Would you not go to college simply because your neighbor who lives down the street couldn't go, and you will make him feel bad if you went to college. No! You would go anyway if you wanted to. You can't be worried about what others are thinking. And here is something an 8 year old can think of so I'm surprised nobody here has said it: If Russia believes is nuclear bombs will be rendered useless by the shield (which by the way I find a good thing), than it can build its own shield!
In Response

by: William from: Aragon
May 23, 2012 00:09
Tim, this has nothing to do with being anti-American. The issue is that the current US government administration is putting in place a missile defence system focussed on undermining the Russian nuclear deterent. Inviting Russia along to tell them that it is going to happen is not negotiation. This will destabilise the world, cause fear and concern, and set the scene for the possibility of a "major incident" - and that is anti-American.
In Response

by: eli
May 23, 2012 16:36
This is a silly debate. The interceptors are far too close to Russia to be used to intercept Russian ICBMs, and not in the flight path for anything aimed at Western Europe and North America. It is meant to counteract Iran. Just because they are not working on a weapon now, their program is clearly bent on produsing uranium enriched to the level needed to produce them. They have already passed the level needed for power generation. Russia is probably just using the issue to force the West to play by its rules.
In Response

by: William from: Aragon
May 23, 2012 22:22
Dear Eli, please cite the source of your information regarding the technical inabilities of the new system and that it is too close to Russia to intercept anything from there. (This is RFE/RL - there is no such thing as a "silly debate" on this website, and some very serious people get involved here).

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
May 20, 2012 06:13
Here is actually an interesting VIDEO reconstructing how the missile defense shild would work from the technological point of view: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wJEIAR-76A0&feature=autoplay&list=UUpwvZwUam-URkxB7g4USKpg&playnext=3
Beware, Russia !!!
In Response

by: William from: Aragon
May 24, 2012 22:51
I often wonder, Eugenio, about the untested nuclear weapons "deterrent". Should that fateful day come when the button is finally pressed, I wonder what percent of them will fail to launch, detonate in space before reaching their target, not hit their intented target, or hit their intended target but not detonate.

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