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The Prospects for Missile Defense Cooperation Between NATO and Russia

The Prospects for Missile Defense Cooperation Between NATO and Russia

by Daniel Wagner and Diana Stellman

February 10, 2011

"It could not be called cooperation. It's not even a marriage of convenience. It's like living separately in different apartments, with different entrances and addresses."[1]
The NATO-Russia Council's (NRC) initiation of a joint study on the future framework for cooperation on missile defense[2] constitutes Russia's consent for technical cooperation on a shared defense architecture. An actual agreement on missile defense cooperation is expected to be reached at the NRC Defense Ministers' meeting in June 2011. So far, the parties have failed to reach common ground on a cooperative framework. This article examines the strategic and technical differences that impede the conclusion of a joint missile defense architecture in Europe.
[Image: START-treaty-300x200.jpg]NATO envisages future missile defense cooperation with Russia in the format of "two independent but coordinated systems".[3] NATO's Active Layered Theater Ballistic Missile Defense (ALTBMD) is a tactical multi-level missile defense capability intended to counter short- and medium-range ballistic missiles threats against NATO-deployed forces.[4] The Alliance's Lisbon Summit (in November 2010) resulted in a decision to develop an indivisible territorial missile defense capability. President Obama's Phased Adaptive Approach (PAA) in Europe was adopted as a national contribution to this effort. On 27 January 2011, NATO completed the first handover of an interim theater ballistic missile defense capability. The subsequent trial of the system demonstrated NATO's initial ability (although limited) for ballistic missile defense planning and information exchange with member states.[5]
Collaboration with Russia on missile defense is expected to proceed with the exchange of information and potential synergy between NATO's capability and a missile defense system operated by Russia. Moscow's vision is for a full-fledged missile defense architecture in Europe. Russia's proposal entails cooperating in a "sectoral" format in which parties will be responsible for intercepting ballistic missiles coming from specifically assigned geographic areas. The system will incorporate a joint NATO-Russia threat assessment and decision making mechanism.[6]
Contentious Issues

Under NATO's proposal, Russia will be expected to develop its own ballistic missile defense architecture. Russia's acquisition of an effective missile defense capability may prove to be problematic, since it does not currently possess a missile defense capacity anywhere close to the complex system achieved by the United States. The development of a system incorporating early-warning, air and space defense is expected by 2020.[7] The technical specification and positioning of the future capability are not clear, although it is expected to bear similarity to President Obama's flexible and movable missile defense assets. The question is whether Moscow will be able to achieve an operable and effective missile defense capability within the desired timeframe even with an enhanced defense budget (estimated to be more than 2.9% of GDP in 2011).
Second, Russia has demanded the status of "equal" partner as a prerequisite for participating in a potential NATO-Russia missile defense architecture.[8] This request is a result of fears that an exchange of information between Russia and NATO will restrain Russia's strategic nuclear potential. However, the Alliance is faced with technical and political considerations that prevent it from agreeing on a full-fledged cooperation.
Under Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, collective defense is the sole responsibility of NATO Member states. The arrangement does not envision a legal responsibility for partner states to participate in collective defense. Hence, information exchange and possible synchronization of two independent systems is the only workable solution from NATO's perspective. Furthermore, a cooperation framework that restricts in any way NATO's ALTBMD initiative and U.S PAA as the major national contribution to it will surely fail to be ratified before the U.S. Senate. The Senate has already demonstrated its uneasiness with Russia's potential interference with U.S. ballistic missile defense under the New START.
Challenges with New START
Implementing the New START is likely to dominate the political arena throughout 2011, particularly as it precedes presidential elections in both states. The treaty was put through a lengthy and highly politicized ratification process that put U.S. ballistic missile defense in the spotlight. The U.S. Congress endorsed the agreement n its lame duck' session on 22 December 2010 with a commitment to continue its missile defense initiative unrestrictedly. On 25 January 2011, Russia's Duma ratified the New START with the reservation that Russia could withdraw from the arrangement should the advancement of U.S. missile defense pose a threat to its nuclear deterrent.
Having lodged the instruments of ratification on February 5, 2010, entry into force of the Treaty has marked a major success in President Obama's landmark policy against nuclear proliferation. However, following the mid-term elections of 2010, the President can no longer afford to face a Republican dominated legislature with any matter that threatens U.S. ballistic missile defense potential. Similarly, President Medvedev is unlikely to take any chances by diluting Russia's participation in NATO's theater missile defense; The Kremlin will only agree to cooperate with the Alliance as an equal player while preserving its strategic interests.

Missile defense is also a highly politicized issue in Russia. Moscow is concerned with the later stages of the PAA (2015 2020), which will see the installation of land-based SM-3 interceptor sites in Poland and Romania. The deployment of U.S. missile defense assets in Europe is perceived as a threat to Russia's second-strike capability. Russia has responded by claiming to have developed a new generation of warheads that could potentially overcome America's missile defense shield.[9] Despite U.S. reassurance that the interceptors in Europe are meant to preempt ballistic missile strikes from Iran, and that they are technically incapable of interfering with Russia's nuclear potential, the threat rhetoric has generally been adopted by the political realm in Russia.[10] Hence, the strategic costs associated with U.S. PAA to achieve missile defense is expected to be manipulated by Russian politicians in the months preceding presidential elections. This will make it particularly difficult for President Medvedev to bargain the terms of Russia's engagement in NATO's territorial missile defense.
The advancement of President Obama's missile defense program can put additional pressure on Medvedev's domestic agenda. Successful tests were carried out in late January, marking technological progress in Obama's PAA. The program's adherence to its tight timeline may prove alarming to Russia and encourage it to seek alternative means of pressuring the U.S. and NATO to agree on a more favorable framework for cooperative missile defense.
The Impact of Chinese/Russian Detente
Moscow and Beijing been drawn more closely to each other as both powers have risen economically and politically over the past decade. Russia has increased technical and economic cooperation with China a tactical move that can be seen as a way to indirectly impact U.S. defense capacity. The end of 2010 saw increased Sino-Russian economic cooperation and a decision to replace the U.S. dollar as the primary currency for international trade between the two states. Shortly after, China was accused by U.S. politicians of deliberately devaluing the Yuan. These two developments could be an attempt to increase pressure on the U.S. economy, with the indirect effect of decreasing defense spending.
Increase in Sino-Russian ties in the scientific and technological realm could result in the transfer of knowledge for military development. In January 2010, Russia demonstrated its Sukhoi T-50 stealth fighter jet. A year later, China carried out a test flight of its first stealth fighter jet during the visit of U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates to Beijing. The event was a manifestation of the escalating military capability of China. Furthermore, there has been speculation about China's Dong Feng 21D (land-based anti-ship ballistic missile) achieving operational status. Such capability is a countermeasure against the United States' naval capabilities. In the event that Russia and China continue to expand their joint military capacity, The U.S. will feel the need to continue to devote further investment in the development of more advanced weapons systems, which will cost trillions of dollars in additional defense spending in the long-term and will add further strain to the U.S. economy.
The threat of China's accelerating ballistic missiles capability should not be assessed from an American perspective only, for it poses a potential threat to Russia's security as well. In the course of the New START ratification process, the U.S. Senate was concerned about the tactical nuclear weapons disparity between U.S. (400 deployed and 400 in reserve) and Russia (estimated 3,800 deployed and 2,000 in reserve). Russia justifies the number of its tactical weapons as a countermeasure against NATO's conventional weapons in Europe, yet, it is surely also a countermeasure against potential attack from China.
Russia suspended its participation in the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) in 2007. Its reinstatement has been one of NATO's priorities, as it is an important instrument for sustaining the security landscape in Europe. NATO-Russia joint missile defense could offer the reassurance needed for Russia to downgrade its tactical nuclear weapons capability, since it can benefit from a missile defense shield against potential adversaries. This presents an opportunity for NATO to pressure Russia on the CFE, and more generally, on the benefits of cooperation.
Given the advancement of NATO's missile defense capability, and Russia's lack thereof, Moscow is highly likely to agree to more comprehensive cooperation with the Alliance in the long-term. Russia knows that it is not in a position to alter the progress of NATO's territorial missile defense program. Thus, a joint effort under the NRC is the lesser evil.
Failure to cooperate on missile defense will have further undesirable effects for Russia. As noted by President Medvedev, it is likely to restart the arms race, as Moscow will attempt to safeguard its nuclear deterrent by redeploying offensive weapons.[11] However, replacing the aging Russian arsenal will inevitably incur an undesirably high financial burden for Moscow at a time when it must devote substantial financial resources to economic revitalization. In the end, Russia is likely to fall into line, despite its bluster and posturing.
[1] Russian Ambassador Dmitry Rogozin , at a press conference following a recent NRC meeting (
[2] NATO-Russia Council Joint Statement, November 20, 2010. (NATO website:
[7] Also see: .
"The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it." Karl Marx

"He would, wouldn't he?" Mandy Rice-Davies. When asked in court whether she knew that Lord Astor had denied having sex with her.

“I think it would be a good idea” Ghandi, when asked about Western Civilisation.

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