Russian Views on European Missile Defense


06/03/2011 By Richard Weitz

Many of our discussions in Russia last week focused on missile defense issues in preparation for the June 9 meeting of the NATO-Russian Council (NRC) at the level of defense ministers.

NATO-Russian differences over ballistic missile defense (BMD) have persisted even after both parties, at the November 2010 NATO and NRC summits in Lisbon, agreed in principle to cooperate on missile defense. At the summit, NATO governments dutifully pledged “to explore opportunities for missile defence co-operation with Russia in a spirit of reciprocity, maximum transparency and mutual confidence.”

NATO and Russia have committed to resume joint exercises of their theater BMD systems, which were suspended following the August 2008 Georgia War. And their experts are currently engaged in a joint analysis of the modalities of NATO-Russia collaboration for common territorial missile defense. Their analysis will address such questions as a common architecture could look like, how costs and technologies might be shared, how to apply the knowledge gained from the joint exercises to a more permanent joint NATO-Russia BMD system, and how to cooperate in defense of European territory rather than NATO and Russian military forces on deployment. The experts will report their initial findings to the defense ministers on June 9, 2011.

On May 26, RIA Novosti hosted an entire panel devoted to assessing proposals to build a joint NATO-Russia European ballistic missile defense (BMD) architecture. The most optimistic perspective came from Oksana Antonenko of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), who delivered a report on “NATO-Russia Missile Defense Cooperation.” Antonenko first reviewed the history of NATO-Russia BMD Cooperation. She believed some progress was achieved in the 1990s and early 2000s before the Russians became irritated at Bush administration plans to deploy BMD systems in Poland and the Czech Republic. She believed the Obama administration’s Phased Adaptive Approach toward European missile defense along with Russia’s agreement to consider deep NATO-Russia BMD collaboration have established the potential for missile defense to become the “game changer” driving NATO-Russian relations to a new level of cooperation.

Antonenko saw several benefits from NATO-Russia BMD cooperation. It could strengthen transparency into US and NATO BMD motives and plans; enhance regional stability more generally; dissuade states from proliferating, deploying, and using ballistic missiles; leverage the technological strengths of the United States, other NATO members, and Russia through integration; and build a strategic NATO-Russia partnership against the common threat from WMD and their delivery systems. Russia in particular would find it better to cooperate in order to gain some influence in the system’s development rather than face exclusion from the U.S. and NATO system. Russia could also face genuine threats from rogue states and benefit from the export and import of BMD technologies between NATO and Russia.

Despite these obvious benefits, Antonenko acknowledged that BMD cooperate faces several critical obstacles. These include a mutual lack of trust; Russian concerns that U.S. BMD will threaten Russia’s nuclear deterrent; the U.S. administration’s need to justify paying so much for a European BMD system by equipping it with the advanced capabilities needed to also defend the United States from foreign missile attack; Russian attitudes that treat Central and Eastern Europe as an area near Russia’s borders where Russians do not want U.S. or NATO military infrastructure deployed; and the reciprocal negative attitudes of some central and eastern European countries towards Russia; and the failure of various confidence-building measures proposed by the George W. Bush administration.

Yet, Antonenko still believed that it was possible to develop NATO missile defenses in cooperation with Russia. In her assessment, the parties need to focus on countering threats from short- and medium-range missiles (up to 4,500 km). Russia and the United States should open their long-delayed joint data exchange centers in Russia, Belgium, and the United States as well as resume joint BMD exercises. Conversely, they should not compromise on sovereignty issues. NATO and Russia should each defend their own territories, but countries should be allowed to enter into special agreements to receive double protection, an arrangement that might be suitable for North East Europe.

Antonenko referred to a “cooperation paradox” in this area. One element was that, “We can’t know if we are willing to cooperate until we know what cooperation looks like; we won’t know what cooperation looks like until we begin to cooperate.” Another element of the paradox was that, “Technologically and doctrinally there are no problems for establishing compatibility between US/NATO and Russian Missile Defence Systems, all obstacles are political and bureaucratic.”

Her solution was that continuous cooperation builds transparency and trust.

A much less optimistic assessment was provided by the Russian team at the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technology (CAST) in their briefing on “Missile Defense: Implications for Global and Russian Security.” They began by claiming that the United States had a missile defense philosophy that sees BMD as a means to restore the invulnerability from foreign attack that the United States enjoyed before the Soviet Union acquired nuclear missiles and established a state of mutual assured destruction.

In their assessment, U.S. missile defense systems would not have the capability to defend against Russia’s nuclear forces for the next 10-15 years. They believe that the current American missile defense system is genuinely directed against missile threats posed by “pariah” countries. The purpose of the BMD systems in Alaska and California is to protect the United States against North Korean missiles, while U.S. BMD systems in Europe aim to protect Europe against Iranian missiles. They maintain that the Standard Missile-3 in Poland and Romania are incapable of catching up with missiles launched from the Russian missile fields at Tatishchevo or Kozelsk.

Nonetheless, the CAST analysts claim that Washington’s strategic aim is to devalue Russia’s and China’s nuclear deterrence forces. The current “limited” missile defense system is thus a necessary stage before constructing a fully capable system aimed against Russia. The CAST team considers U.S. declarations that U.S. missile defense systems aim to defend only against “pariah” states as an attempt to disguise the intermediary and experimental nature of the U.S. BMD program.

When assessing the Russian response, the CAST team begins by stating that preserving the efficacy of Russian nuclear deterrence is of paramount importance for Russian security. As noted above, they assess that the U.S. BMD systems will threaten this foundation of Russia’s security in the longer term. They do not believe that the U.S. missile defense program can be stopped by political or diplomatic means. They consider proposals to establish a joint missile defense system aimed against pariah states as unrealistic and harmful to Russian interests since it indirectly legitimizes the development of the U.S. system. The CAST team believes that the only realistic and credible response to U.S. BMD plans is for Russia to improve the size and capability of its strategic nuclear forces.

Alexander Stukalin, Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the Kommersant daily newspaper a member of the Russian Defense Ministry’s Public Council, likewise highlighted Russian-U.S. differences regarding missile defense. He noted that the conditions that allowed both Moscow and Washington to abstain from developing BMD in their 1972 ABM Treaty have changed so much that by 2001 the new George W. Bush administration felt compelled to withdraw from the treaty. Not only was there new technology, but there was a new global security order following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. Both Russia and the United States now faced new threats and new security challenges. In principle, these new conditions could have led to the creation of a new joint missile defense, but in practice several recurring obstacles have prevented realization of this goal, despite years of discussions and negotiations.

According to Stukalin, the fundamental problem is that Americans and Russians have a “perpendicular” view of missile defense. Americans see a multipolar world in which dozens of states are acquiring medium-range ballistic missile capabilities, which could threaten important America’s European allies. In contrast, Russians perceive a bipolar world in which NATO remains the main security threat. In Stukalin’s view, “Unfortunately, the United States firmly believes in the existence of new types of missile threat, and is set to neutralize them…. Likewise, Russia is convinced that the [NATO] ballistic missile shield is targeted at its strategic potential and will soon become a very real threat.”

Stukalin did however highlight a new phenomenon. In the last few months, the Russian General Staff has adopted a much higher profile in the Russian government’s public discussions on the issue. Until recently, it was the Russian President, Prime Minister, and Foreign Ministry that dominated the dialogue. But now senior Russian generals are out front in stressing the dangers from the U.S. missile defense programs.

This campaign reached its climax a few days before our arrival in Russia, when the General Staff hosted an open conference on missile defense at its Military Academy. According to media reports, the leaders of the Russian General Staff at the conference claimed that U.S. missile defenses in Europe could threaten Russia’s strategic nuclear forces as early as 2015.  A briefing by General Staff deputy chief Andrei Tretyak, head of Main Operations Directorate of the General Staff, alleged that the U.S. interceptors stationed in Eastern Europe would by then be able to shoot down intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) launched from western Russia. The speakers also denied that Iran or North Korea would soon be able to launch ballistic missiles capable of hitting targets in NATO countries.

The Obama administration new Phased Adaptive Approach (PPA) toward European BMD in September 2009. The PPA would increase U.S. BMD capabilities in phases, roughly in proportion to the anticipated growth in the Iranian military threat. It would first defend against limited ballistic missile threats, but hedge against emergence of more substantial threats in future.   Phase I began in March 2011 with deployment of a U.S. cruiser armed with SM-3 Block IA missile interceptors in the Mediterranean. Under Phase II, the United States will deploy ground-based versions of SM-3 in Romania or other NATO countries near Iran in 2015. Phase III would station more advanced interceptor missiles in Central European countries such as Poland as early as 2018 should Iran’s missile capabilities continue to improve. Under Phase IV, planned for 2020, US would deploy advanced SM-3 IIB, designed to intercept ICBMs heading toward United States, in Eastern Europe.

According to U.S. experts, only these Phase IV interceptors would have the theoretical capacity to intercept some ICBMs launched from Russia, a view shared by some Russian experts, including Yuri Solomonov , Russia’s chief ballistic missile designer. And the Obama administration has stressed that it would take measures to reassure Russia that the new systems would not present a threat.

Nonetheless, Chief of General Staff Nikolai Makarov told the General Staff conference that he does not trust U.S. claims. He added that a U.S. decision to proceed with the deployments would provoke a new arms race. “If NATO’s plans to build a missile defense system …  without consulting Russia, and even more so without her participation, we can not tolerate the threat to the basic element of our national security – our strategic deterrence forces.”

Second Line of Defense will provide an update of where things stand after the NRC session.