U.S.-Russia Missile Defense Talks Deadlock

Article excerpt

A year-long U.S.-Russian effort to find ways to cooperate on European missile defense ground to a halt in November and December, just months before the NATO summit in Chicago this May and in the midst of presidential election seasons in both countries.

Moscow is now threatening to boycott the summit and take other retaliatory measures, such as deploying short-range missiles in Kaliningrad to destroy NATO interceptors and withdrawing from the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).

In reply, U.S. and NATO officials said that their plans to deploy a missile interceptor system in Europe under the Phased Adaptive Approach will proceed regardless of Moscow's concerns, raising the prospect of rough sailing for U.S.-Russian relations in the months ahead.

At NATO's 2010 summit in Lisbon, Russia and NATO agreed in principle to cooperate on a European missile interceptor system. At that time, there were expectations that the two sides would agree on the details of the joint efforts by the Chicago summit.

Russia's hardened position became clear when President Dmitry Medvedev gave a Nov. 23 national address in which he said that the United States and NATO "have not showed enough willingness" to address Moscow's concerns. Russia has repeatedly asked for legally binding assurances that NATO missile interceptors would not be used against Moscow's strategic missiles. "We will not agree to take part in a program that, in a short while, in some six to eight years' time, could weaken our nuclear deterrent capability," he said.

The European missile interceptor program is being deployed in phases. The first phase, with Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) interceptors on Aegis ships and a tracking radar in Turkey, is expected to be declared operational at the Chicago summit. Subsequent phases include the stationing of land-based SM-3s of increasing capability and number in Romania (2015) and Poland (2018) and the 2020 deployment of the SM-3 IIB, which is advertised to have some capability against long-range ballistic missiles. (See ACT, July/August 2011.)

"We find ourselves facing a fait accompli," Medvedev said in the speech.

Medvedev said he was still open to discussions but, given the circumstances, had been "forced" to take proactive steps, such as putting an early-warning radar in Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave just north of Poland, on "combat alert" and equipping new strategic missiles with "advanced missile defense penetration systems and new highly effective warheads."

In addition, Medvedev said that if these measures "prove insufficient," Russia would deploy "modern offensive weapon systems in the west and south of the country, ensuring our ability to take out any part of the U.S. missile defense system in Europe." He said one step in this process would be to deploy Iskander missiles, which are nuclear capable, in Kaliningrad. In 2007, Russia warned that if the Bush administration carried out its plans to deploy long-range missile interceptors in Poland, then Iskanders might be deployed in Kaliningrad. These plans were suspended after the Obama administration announced in late 2009 its policy to deploy the shorter-range SM-3 instead.

Medvedev said Russians "reserve the right" to "discontinue further disarmament and arms control measures" and that "conditions for our withdrawal from the New START treaty could also arise."

To make his point, Medvedev traveled to Kaliningrad on Nov. 29 and activated the new radar, known as the Voronezh-DM station, according to press reports. "If this signal is not heard, we will deploy other methods of protection, including the taking of tough countermeasures and the deployment of strike forces," he said.

Sergey Karakaev, the commander of Russia's Strategic Missile Forces, announced Dec. 19 that Moscow had decided to build a new heavy intercontinental ballistic missile with "increased possibilities in overcoming the prospective missile defense system of the United States," according to Pravda, and the Russian Defense Ministry announced Dec. …