Russia Makes New Proposal on Missile Defense

By Collina, Tom Z. | Arms Control Today, April 2011 | Go to article overview

Russia Makes New Proposal on Missile Defense


Collina, Tom Z., Arms Control Today


Seeking to build a cooperative relationship with the United States on missile defense, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov told reporters March 15 that Moscow would like a formal, legally binding agreement with NATO that neither side would target the other's offensive missiles with missile defense interceptors. According to a senior Obama administration official, a version of this proposal, along with an agreement on sharing missile early-warning information, could form the basis of a deal by this summer.

Since last November, when NATO agreed for the first time to deploy territorial missile defenses against emerging missile threats from Iran, the United States and Russia have been trading proposals on how to cooperate on missile defense. (See ACT, March 2011.) NATO and Russia agreed to develop proposals for cooperation and produce a progress report for a NATO-Russia Council meeting of defense ministers in June.

Although the United States has stated repeatedly that its missile defenses pose no threat to Russia, Moscow apparently remains unconvinced. Russian leaders are concerned that U. S. -NATO missile defense interceptors could target their strategic nuclear force, "which is the basis and guarantee of our sovereignty and independence," Russia's envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, said in February.

"This is not the first time we are being told, 'This is not directed against you,' and then end up with problems on our hands," Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said March 2, apparently referring to NATO expansion. Moscow would like to have a legal commitment from NATO before going ahead with missile defense cooperation, Lavrov said. "Needless to say, for our part, we are ready to provide such guarantees," he said.

The United States insists there should be two independent missile interceptor systems, while Russia had been advocating for a joint system. Moscow's position, however, seems to be softening. In his March 2 remarks, Lavrov said Moscow's stance is that NATO should defend the territory of NATO member states while Russia defends its own territory, with no shared authority to launch. "NATO's [control] button will always be the U.S. button. The same goes for our button. We will have sole control of our button," Lavrov said.

U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen O. Tauscher said March 21 at a missile defense conference in Washington that the United States is "eager to begin a joint analysis, joint exercises, and sharing of early-warning data that could form the basis for a cooperative missile defense system." However, she said, "in the end, NATO will defend NATO, and Russia will defend Russia."

"We've disagreed before, and Russia still has uncertainties," U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said March 21 in a speech to Russian naval officers in St. Petersburg. "However, we've mutually committed to resolving these difficulties in order to develop a road map toward truly effective anti-ballistic missile collaboration."

Political Agreement Has Precedent

Russia's proposal for a legally binding agreement not to target each other with missile interceptors is a nonstarter on Capitol Hill, according to administration officials and Senate staff, as Senate Republicans have been clear in their opposition to any legally binding limitation on U.S. missile defenses. However, according to Senate staff, politically binding commitments would not require Senate approval and have a precedent: In 1994 the United States and Russia made a political commitment not to target each other with nuclear weapons. Even so, say Senate staffers, a U.S. political commitment not to target Russia's missiles with U. S. -NATO missile interceptors would not go unnoticed by missile defense supporters. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S. C), for example, has been critical of the Obama administration for not seeking a missile defense capability that could counter Russia's force of more than 1,000 nuclear warheads on ballistic missiles.

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