Russia, U.S. Trade Missile Defense Offers

Article excerpt

The United States and Russia are exchanging proposals on missile defense cooperation, possibly leading to another round of reductions in nuclear stockpiles, senior officials from both countries said, following a Russian official's May 15 statement that Moscow would respond "in a constructive spirit" to a U.S. proposal made in April.

The U.S. proposal, which has not been made public, was contained in a letter from President Barack Obama that national security adviser Tom Donilon delivered to Russian President Vladimir Putin on April 15. The Russian official, Putin's foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov, said in April that the letter "covers military-political problems, among them missile defense and nuclear arsenals."

Nikolai Patrushev, chief of Russia's Security Council, delivered Putin's reply during a meeting with Obama and Donilon on May 22, according to a statement by the Russian embassy in Washington. Patrushev also met separately with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel May 21 to discuss missile defense and other issues, according to the Pentagon. Hagel traveled to Moscow for a May 23 conference sponsored by the Russia Ministry of Defense, where missile defense was a prominent issue of discussion.

This latest round of missile defense diplomacy follows Hagel's March announcement that the United States would cancel the planned Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) IIB missile interceptor program in Europe, which Russia claimed could undermine its strategic nuclear deterrent. (See ACT, April 2013.) Russia has said that it will not consider Obama's proposals for additional nuclear arms reductions unless its concerns about U.S. missile interceptor plans are addressed.

The Moscow Times and other Russian media reported May 16 that Obama's letter proposes "to develop a legally binding agreement on transparency, which would include the exchange of information and confirmation that our programs do not present a threat to each other's defense forces." This would presumably include a U.S. commitment to Moscow that its intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) based in western Russia would not be threatened by U.S. interceptors to be based in Poland and Romania and on nearby ships. Russia's main objection to U.S. missile defense plans for Europe has been that they would threaten Moscow's ICBMs.

In a May 15 e-mail, a Pentagon spokesman declined to comment on the Russian media reports.

U.S. officials have made statements that are broadly similar but provide less detail. Madelyn Creedon, assistant secretary of defense for global affairs, testified May 9 before the Senate Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee that the administration was seeking to revive earlier proposals "that could ultimately lead to discussions with respect to both transparency and cooperation with the Russians on missile defense. …