Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

NATO Missile Defence: In Search of a Broader Role

Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

NATO Missile Defence: In Search of a Broader Role

Article excerpt

The Strategic Concept adopted by NATO in Lisbon in November 2010 elevated territorial missile defence to a core element of NATO's collective defence.1 It put an end to deliberations as to whether NATO members should have the capability to defend their territories against limited ballistic missile threats. In addition, it was the catalyst for concrete discussions as to the requirements for missile defence architecture and functioning of the system.

The implementation efforts of a NATO missile defence system are becoming increasingly visible. During the Chicago Summit in May 2012, NATO members will announce an interim missile defence capability. Furthermore, as a part of its projected contribution to NATO, the United States has already deployed components of its European Phased Adaptive Approach to Missile Defence.

NATO's ambitious plans have created the expectation that missile defence could play a broader role for the Alliance, one that goes beyond defence against ballistic missile threats. This raises a question about whether the implementation of a territorial missile defence could lead to European NATO members increasing their financial and operational burden-sharing with the U.S. This new NATO capability is also regarded both as a means to strengthen the transatlantic link at a time when the conventional U.S. presence in Europe is decreasing and as a factor that may lead to a reduction in the reliance on nuclear weapons in NATO's deterrence posture. Last but not least, missile defence is seen as a potential game-changer in the NATO-Russia relationship.

Progress So Far

At the 2010 Lisbon Summit, NATO members agreed that a territorial missile defence system will be based on the Active Layered Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence system (ALTBMD), in development since 2005. Originally, the ALTBMD was designed to defend NATO troops taking part in out-of-area operations and critical military and civilian infrastructure against ballistic missiles with a range of up to 3,000 km. In its expanded role, ALTBMD will "provide full coverage and protection for all NATO European populations, territory and forces" against ballistic missiles of all ranges. 2

The "upgraded" ALTBMD will consist of a command-and-control system (C2)3 owned by all NATO members, with interceptors and sensors contributed voluntarily by individual NATO members. The C2 backbone will facilitate the interoperability of lower tier weapons systems designed to provide point defence of a relatively small area (e.g. military sites) against short- and medium-range ballistic missiles (SRBM's and MRBM's) and upper-tier systems that provide defence against longer-range missiles to a wider area4. Currently, the final operational capability of both tiers is estimated to be fielded in 2016 and 2018, respectively.5

During the Chicago summit, NATO members will officially announce the achievements of the interim ballistic missile defence capability.6 Interim capability was fielded and successfully tested in live-fire exercises in 2011.7 It can link radar and interceptors in five NATO member countries (France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and the U.S.). It is capable of providing real-time, shared situational awareness and the capability to plan and, to a limited extent, direct a theatre missile defence battle.

The interim capability will be the first small step towards the development of NATO's territorial missile defence system. It will serve as the basic scaffolding on which further efforts will be built.8 Its announcement will also send the political message that NATO members are making steady progress in the construction of a missile defence system.

In June 2011, defence ministers adopted the NATO Missile Defence Action Plan, which identifies more key steps necessary to implement the Alliance's territorial missile defence capability. By the end of 2012, the architecture requirements of the missile defence system will be determined. …

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