Cooperating with Russia on Missile Defense: A New Proposal

By Wilkening, Dean A. | Arms Control Today, March 2012 | Go to article overview

Cooperating with Russia on Missile Defense: A New Proposal


Wilkening, Dean A., Arms Control Today


Russia has opposed U.S. ballistic missile defense plans for decades, and differences over that issue currently are a major irritant in U.S.-Russian relations. There have been numerous proposals for U.S.-Russian and NATORussian missile defense cooperation, but often they lack reciprocity and fail to significantly improve the security of all countries involved. This article's proposal for a joint NATO-Russian early-warning radar located in central Russia provides genuine security benefits for all countries, improves strategic stability, and involves potential industrial partnerships, which ought to be of interest to Russian semiconductor firms.

During the Cold War, Russian concerns about U.S. missile defense led to the signing of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty between the two countries in 1972. After President Ronald Reagan announced the Strategic Defense Initiative in 1983, Russia became concerned that this research program would violate the treaty. This concern subsided within the decade as U.S. enthusiasm for the more fanciful aspects of the program waned and Russian leaders became consumed with more pressing issues raised by the collapse of the Soviet Union. The administrations of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton continued to work on missile defense systems, albeit within the constraints of the ABM Treaty as they understood them.

However, in June 2002, the administration of George W. Bush withdrew from the ABM Treaty and in 2007 entered negotiations to deploy strategic missile defense interceptors in Poland and a large missile defense radar in the Czech Republic, collectively known as the "third site"-the first two sites for defense of the U.S. homeland being at Fort Greely in Alaska and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. This plan drew bitter complaints from Russian leaders until the Obama administration abandoned it in September 2009 in favor of the European Phased Adaptive Approach-a four-phase plan to deploy interceptors in and around Europe starting with sea-based Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IA interceptors in 2011 and progressing to SM-3 Block IB interceptors at sea and on land at Deveselu, Romania, by 2015; SM-3 Block IIA interceptors on land in Poland and on ships around Europe by 2018; and finally SM-3 Block IIB interceptors at sea and on land in Europe by 2020. The latter two phases of this deployment schedule have again raised Russian concerns due to the alleged capability of these systems to intercept Russian strategic ballistic missiles, although Russia has not provided evidence that this is physically possible from the interceptor sites that would be used in those phases.1 In response, the United States and NATO have tried to reassure Russia that the deployments under their phased adaptive approach do not have this capability and are not intended to undermine Russia's deterrent.

To underscore this benign intention, the Obama administration has tried to engage Russia in various cooperative efforts on missile defense. In their June 24, 2010, joint statement on strategic stability, President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev committed themselves to the goal of "continuing the development of a new strategic relationship based on mutual trust, openness, predictability, and cooperation." Regarding missile defense, Russia has argued for legally binding assurances that the missiles deployed under the U.S.-NATO approach will not be aimed at them. The United States has rejected this idea, not least because any legally binding assurance that requires U.S. congressional consent would be extremely unlikely to receive such approval.

Instead, NATO has suggested various forms of cooperation with Russia with the goal of developing two independent missile defense systems, Russia's and NATO's, along with two joint command centers that would facilitate the exchange of information with Russia. In addition, the United States and NATO have proposed joint missile defense exercises at command posts and in the field, along with further discussions regarding joint responses to common threats.

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Cooperating with Russia on Missile Defense: A New Proposal
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