Missile defense is coming to Europe. The initial pieces of the Obama Administration’s European Phased Adaptive Architecture (EPAA) are in place. The USS Monterey (CG-61), with the Aegis ballistic missile defense 3.6.1 weapon system and the SM-3 Block IA missile, is currently in theater. This is the first of what will become a standard deployment of missile-defense-capable U.S. ships in the region.
In support of this strategy, Spain will allow the basing of four U.S. missile defense destroyers at the Rota naval base. The U.S. and Romania have signed an agreement wherein the latter agrees to host the first deployment of the Aegis defense system ashore, phase two of the EPAA, starting in 2015. Poland has signed an agreement to host a more advanced version of the Aegis system in 2018, part of the third phase of the EPAA. Furthermore, Turkey has consented to allow placement of a radar that will provide early attack warning and missile tracking. NATO is committed building an integrated missile defense command and control system that will include the U.S. EPAA. Future plans are for nations, some of whom (the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Spain) operate air defense versions of the Standard Missile, to be able to operate their systems as part of defensive network that will span the continent.
Everyone in the region agrees that missile defense makes sense. Everyone, that is, except Russia. The Kremlin’s reaction to the initial deployment of advanced missile defenses to Europe has been surprisingly bellicose. Russian President Dimitri Medvedev warned that Russia could respond to deployment of defenses in Europe under the EPAA with offensive moves or even by withdrawing from the New START treaty.
It is not as if the deployment of the first phase of the EPAA comes as any surprise to Moscow. U.S. government officials have briefed their Russian counterparts repeatedly. Russia and NATO have been in negotiations over ways of cooperating on missile defense. The U.S. and its NATO allies have proposed informational exchanges at the NATO-Russia Council, Russian observation of missile defense tests, joint NATO-Russian missile defense exercises and joint missile defense centers.
The fact is that no NATO missile defense based on the proposed technologies and architecture could pose a threat to Russia’s strategic deterrent. This is not just a matter of technology but of geography and kinematics. Defensive systems deployed on or near NATO territory could not even engage Russian ICBMs or SLBMs launched against anyplace but Europe itself and even then only in the terminal phase of their trajectories. Since Russia has a massive number of theater nuclear weapons, this problem is moot.
What Russia has been demanding and the United States and NATO have been rejecting is legally binding limitations on missile defenses. At a recent conference on missile defenses, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Space and Defense Policy Frank Rose made the U.S. position absolutely clear:
“I want to reiterate what President Obama has clearly stated — the United States cannot accept limitations or restrictions on the development or deployment of U.S. missile defenses. The United States has made it clear that no nation or group of nations will have veto power over U.S. missile defense efforts because missile defense is a critical capability needed to counter a growing 21st century threat to the United States, our allies and partners, and our deployed forces.”
In an editorial in yesterday’s New York Times, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen added NATO’s voice to that of the United States. To paraphrase his statement, Russia shall not have a veto on NATO’s missile defenses. But Rasmussen went much farther, proposing that Russia join NATO in creating a more secure future. “Missile defense cooperation can radically change the way NATO and Russia look at each other. In the 21st century, confrontation is not a choice. The only real choice is cooperation.”
The Secretary General is right. The current Russian position harkens back to the era of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty which enshrined Mutual Assured Destruction as the dominant aspect of the strategic relationship between Russia and NATO. Russia’s leaders now have a choice. They can either pursue a dead-end policy of seeking to resurrect the “good old days” of East-West confrontation or they can choose cooperation, first on missile defense and then, who knows. This may be the most important national security decision the Kremlin makes in this century.
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