More missile shield consultations to follow

U.S. and Russian officials have wrapped up the first round of consultations on the controversial anti-ballistic missile defence program.

The talks were aimed at finding some common ground on the planned U.S. deployment of a missile shield in Eastern Europe and evaluating Russia's alternative proposal to jointly use the Gabala radar base located in Northern Azerbaijan.

There is some confusion, a lack of knowledge on the part of the United States in terms of what the actual overtures are, of what the Russians are bringing to the table, and I suspect that those details will become much more clarified.

Jeff Kueter,
President of the Marshall Institute

The U.S. plans to install a radar base in the Czech Republic and 10 interceptors in Poland to protect against rogue states, particularly Iran and North Korea. Russia views the missile shield as a threat to its national security and instead proposed sharing the Gabala early warning radar base, as well as possible co-operation with NATO on anti-missile systems. Now, with the first round of consultations of the working group over, more talks are planned in the months to come.

“Two of three more rounds are expected to take place before the results are presented at the meeting between the foreign and defence ministries from both countries in October. Special reports to the presidents of the U.S. and Russia will be prepared after the meeting, and we believe that these debates will lead to agreements which satisfy our stance on the issue,” stated Sergey Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister.

Ahead of the joint consultations, the U.S. Congress cut $US 139 MLN  from missile defence funding – the money necessary to begin construction of the European sites. Jeff Kueter, President of the Marshall Institute, says the cuts are a reflection of the many uncertainties surrounding the program:

“I think the funding cuts that have been proposed are more a reflection of the uncertain broad political environment which this proposal sets, rather than a concern about the particular technologies involved. So what you see is Congress saying we are not going to provide the Defense Department with funding to begin procuring hardware, the interceptors, the kill vehicles and radars and the like until the politics of the situation have come down some,” he suggests.

Despite hitting some stumbling blocks with U.S. lawmakers, missile defence continues to generate support amongst Americans. A recent survey sponsored by the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance says that 84% of respondents favour the deployment of a missile shield.

Meantime, U.S. Army Commander General James Cartwright said on Tuesday that NATO and the U.S. should be ready to repel an assertive Russia.

In his statement to the U.S. Senate he said managing concerns about a resurgent Russia was among the Alliance's long-term goals. He also talked about the necessity of influencing Russian public opinion concerning NATO, and pushing defence reforms in Russia.

“Long-term goal would be to help manage allies' concerns about a resurgent and assertive Russian Federation and remind them of the importance of united pushback against Russian behaviour when needed,” he said. 

Mr Cartwright delivered his speech after President Bush nominated him for Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the U.S. Armed Services.