Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Monday spelled out what the Obama administration is prepared to offer Russia to relieve continued tensions over U.S. and NATO missile defense activities, the Wall Street Journal reported (see GSN, March 21).
To help alleviate Moscow’s concerns that a planned European missile shield would undermine the Kremlin’s nuclear deterrent, the United States is proposing to share missile launch data and establish a joint “fusion” facility in which NATO and Russian forces would have access at the same time to missile firing alerts transmitted from both sides’ radar systems.
“We’ve disagreed before, and Russia still has uncertainties,” about the Obama administration’s “phased adaptive approach” for European missile defense, Gates said early in his two-day trip to Russia.
Under the Obama plan, land- and sea-based Standard Missile 3 interceptors with increasingly advanced capabilities would be gradually deployed around Europe to defend against Iranian missile strikes. That effort would be folded into a broader NATO initiative to link and enhance member states’ existing antimissile capabilities.
The initial phase of the U.S. plan began with the recent deployment to the Mediterranean of a guided missile carrier outfitted with an advanced missile tracking radar. Later in the year, land-base radar sites are to be established in Southern Europe.
Gates reaffirmed Washington’s insistence that its missile defense plans represent “no challenge to the large Russian nuclear arsenal.”
The United States has turned down Russia’s proposal for a unified missile defense system in which each side would assume responsibility for eliminating missiles traveling over a specific geographical area. Washington says it will not place any NATO member’s missile security in the hands of Moscow.
The Pentagon wants information collected from radar bases in Russia, which could enhance NATO’s ability to detect and eliminate enemy missiles (Adam Entous, Wall Street Journal, March 22).
Gates and Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said on Tuesday that there were still differences of opinion on missile defense, the Associated Press reported.
“We continue to have an intensive discussion on missile defense cooperation and although we still have differences that need to be resolved, we continue to make progress,” Gates said after the two defense chiefs met in Moscow.
The issue is complicated, but Moscow and Washington continue to exchange their assessments of the situation in hopes of finding a resolution, Serdyukov said (Lolita Baldor, Associated Press I/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, March 22).
Gates’ trip this week to Russia was aimed at furthering the two nations’ “reset” in relations. However, the goodwill visit was complicated by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s characterization on Monday of international coalition airstrikes on Libya as “a medieval call for a crusade,” AP reported.
U.S. military forces are playing a leading role in the imposition of a no-fly-zone over the North African state. Putin seemed to make a connection between the missile defense dispute and the U.S. actions in Libya, according to AP.
Russia last Thursday did not use its veto authority to block a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing measures to protect Libyan civilians from attacks by dictator Muammar Qadhafi’s forces. Instead, Moscow abstained from the vote (Lolita Baldor, Associated Press II/St. Albert Gazette, March 22).
Distrust from both sides over antimissile efforts came close last year to spoiling ratification of the U.S.-Russian New START nuclear arms control pact, which obligates Russia and the United States to each limit their arsenals of deployed strategic weapons to 1,550 warheads, the Washington Post reported (see related GSN story, today) It was not long ago that U.S. officials believed there was no room for collaboration with Moscow on antimissile activities, according to the newspaper.
In November, however, Moscow agreed to explore areas of potential antimissile cooperation with NATO and the United States. Russian and U.S. officials have since met on multiple occasions to discuss the matter, though the two former Cold War antagonists emphasize that no agreement is pending and that the two sides still have significant differences to overcome. Still, U.S. officials have gradually become more positive about the possibility of collaboration since the talks began.
“We’ve mutually committed to resolving these difficulties in order to develop a road map toward truly effective antiballistic missile collaboration,” Gates told an audience of Russian naval officers on Monday.
“There is a potential for cooperation, and real cooperation,” Pentagon Nuclear and Missile Defense Policy Principal Director John Plumb said. “Of course, it’s difficult. This is not going to be easy. There’s a lot of history.”
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has emphasized the importance of coming to a missile defense agreement, warning that the only other option is “a new arms race.”
“This is a political project, first of all,” Moscow-based security expert Tatyana Parkhalina said. “In practice, it would mean the integration of the Russian military into Euro-Atlantic security. Russia has articulated several times that it is not currently integrated into the process of decision-making in Europe. This is a big headache for the Kremlin” (Craig Whitlock, Washington Post, March 21).