The head of NATO has called on Russia to help create a vast "security roof" aimed at countering the growing nuclear threat posed by rogue nations such as Iran.
"We need a missile defense system that includes not just all countries of NATO but Russia, too,” Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said today at a NATO conference in Brussels. “One security roof that we build together, that we support together, and that we operate together. One security roof that protects us all."
Rasmussen said the Western security alliance needed a "radical change" in the way it conceives both missile defense and Russia if it wanted to protect its population from potential attacks.
He said nuclear proliferation, in addition to terrorist attacks, was a rapidly mounting threat. "Up to now, that threat has remained largely abstract. But a look at current trends shows that the proliferation threat is real, and it is growing,” he said.
“Over 30 countries have or are developing missile capabilities with greater and greater ranges. In many cases, these missiles could eventually threaten our populations and our territories," Rasmussen said.
Rasmussen said Iran, whose missiles can already reach Europe and parts of Russia, was "a case in point," and called for greater international cooperation on curbing Tehran's nuclear activities.
"Iran has gone far beyond what is necessary for a purely civilian program,” he said “It has concealed several nuclear facilities from the International Atomic Energy Agency. It has played hide and seek with the international community, and it has rejected all offers of cooperation that the United States, the European Union, and others have made."
European nations in particular, he said, must play a more active role in combating nuclear proliferation, a fight which he said had so far been conducted "largely over their heads" by the United States and Russia.
He called on the alliance to reach a binding decision on missile defense by its next summit in November, in Lisbon.
A New START
Fogh Rasmussen's remarks come as U.S. President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev approved an arms accord aimed at cutting the strategic nuclear arsenals of both countries.
The NATO chief welcomed the START treaty, saying it provided "a good backdrop" that will enhance global security and encourage cooperation with Russia.
Relations between the alliance and Moscow soured after the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia, but they have improved significantly since the Obama administration's efforts to reset ties.
Obama's decision to scrap Bush-era plans for a U.S. missile defense shield based in Central Europe has also helped repair relations.
In his speech today, Rasmussen nonetheless urged Russia to start regarding missile defense "as an opportunity rather than a threat."