Russian President Vladimir Putin's proposal to build a joint
antimissile defense system with NATO and Europe has some intriguing
aspects - but it's likely more opening move than final geopolitical
gambit, say US arms-control experts.
If nothing else, the recent summit between Russia and the US
showed that Russia's new leader is in no hurry to engage the Clinton
administration in missile defense talks. Mr. Putin may want to wait
and see what the next US president has to offer.
And while Putin agreed that nuclear-tipped missiles from North
Korea and other rogue states could be a danger to the world in the
future, there was no meeting of the minds in Moscow on when that
future might arrive.
"That is certainly part of what we've been hearing from them -
they feel that the threat is exaggerated," said a senior
administration official at a briefing for reporters after the
Putin is already taking his defense plan and promoting it on the
road. He pressed the issue during a visit to Italy earlier this
week, claiming that his alternate system would guard against a rogue
state nuclear attack while staying within the current bounds of the
1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty (ABM).
Not that he provided details of exactly what that alternate
system might be. So far, the Russian leader has only discussed a
A lid over rogue nations
The idea - first floated by Putin in a broadcast interview prior
to the summit - would be for Russia, Europe, and the US to jointly
develop interceptor rockets that would be based near potentially
dangerous countries such as North Korea or Iraq. These defenses
would then shoot down attacking nuclear missiles in the boost phase,
shortly after launch.
The system's limited ability wouldn't break the ABM pact,
according to Putin.
The US, by contrast, wants to renegotiate the ABM Treaty to allow
construction of a national missile defense on US soil. Interceptor
rockets would shoot down nuclear warheads as they coasted through
space, or descended through the atmosphere.
The Russian system would be analogous to placing a lid over rogue
nations. The US approach would be to build an umbrella over itself.
US officials were careful not to reject Russia's ideas out of
There have been military-to-military talks about the possibility
of cooperating on various kinds of missile defense, they noted. Some
of the technology involved might be relevant to future systems.
This stuff takes time
But none of it could be ready in the next five years - after
which time the US believes North Korea will be able to field a
nuclear-tipped ballistic missile. …