ROAR: NATO finds its new “mission” in missile defense shield for Europe

The Western alliance may see Moscow as a partner in a missile defense program, but analysts warn that joining any European or transatlantic security systems may threaten Russia in the future.

The alliance’s Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, discussed NATO’s reform, missile defense and Afghanistan with the Bulgarian leadership on May 20. Another topic on the agenda was the new strategic concept of the alliance to be adopted in November in Lisbon.

Rasmussen has invited Moscow to participate in the missile defense program for Europe. However, Russia is yet to receive the details of the new initiative.

The secretary general said in Sofia that he wanted “the benefits and the responsibilities” of missile defense to be shared by all the members of the alliance. He stressed the time has come to “make missile defense a genuine alliance mission” and promised it would be his target for the summit in Lisbon.

Speaking at the Central Military Club in Sofia, Rasmussen said that NATO’s missile defense would cover the whole of Europe and the project should include Russia. There are no unsolvable differences, he said, adding that Moscow could have a new approach to modern threats.

However, the US is working on its own missile shield, which is also provoking Russia’s concerns. Washington has scrapped plans to deploy elements of this shield in the Czech Republic and Poland. But later Romania and Bulgaria said they were ready to host parts of the system on their territories.

After meeting with Rasmussen, Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov said that the exact position of the elements from the system has not been determined yet. The discussion about the entire concept of the shield has been continuing, he explained. At the same time, the president described the idea of future co-operation with Moscow in the regard to the shield as “positive,” media say.

Many analysts stress that it is unclear if the anti-missile programs of NATO and the US will be combined. Rasmussen said in Bulgaria that the integration of the US anti-missile system and that of the alliance should be discussed to establish effective shield protecting 900 million people in Europe from possible missile attacks.

Earlier, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov said that the main discussion on the issue would be held during the Lisbon summit. If the heads of states give their blessing for the shield in Europe, then the specific parameters will be developed.

In February, Mladenov said that Bulgaria was not holding talks with the US about deploying elements of missile defense shield on its territory.

The issue of missile defense for Europe is in the focus of the Russian-NATO co-operation. Speaking at a news conference in Rome on May 20, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov demanded clarification from NATO on the missile defense talks with Bulgaria.

The architecture of missile defense as a result of these discussions “should be based on agreed collective principles and such understanding has been reached between Russia and the US at the highest level,” Lavrov said.

Waiting for such explanations too, many observers try to understand the character of changes that NATO’s new strategic concept may bring with itself. In any case, the document mentions Russia many times, Kirill Petrov of the Moscow Institute of International Relations told website.

And the desire of NATO to create the missile defense together with Russia is “considerable progress” compared to the plans of the previous US administration to deploy elements of the missile defense in Eastern Europe without Russia’s participation, the analyst stressed.

The concept also sees the alliance as a more monolithic organization, Petrov said. At the same time, it remains “a regional Euro-Atlantic bloc.” The alliance is not ready to fulfill functions of “a global policeman,” although it is able to conduct operations throughout the world, he noted.

Such approach, however, is linked more to the lack of technical possibility and resources, rather than political will, the analyst said. The conditions under which NATO may be used beyond the alliance’s boundaries are also unclear, the analyst said. It is possible that the bloc’s leadership will make these conditions more defined by November, he added.

Anatoly Tsyganok, director for the Center of Military Forecasting at the Institute of Political and Military Analysis, on the contrary, believes that NATO does not “fulfill its commitments about the area of their responsibility,” he told the website. And Russia is “somewhat concerned about it,” he added.

According to the draft strategic concept of the alliance possible missile attack from rogue states remains one of the most important threats, Krasnaya Zvezda daily said. NATO’s group of wise men, headed by former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, recommended that the alliance “integrate” the US system of missile defense, it added. It is Albright who believes that the missile defense shield for Europe should become the alliance’s mission.

NATO will have to spend at least 200 million euros on the missile defense system over 10 years, media say. So far, Russia’s reaction to the Rasmussen’s invitation has been rather positive, analysts say, but many questions about the details remain.

Moscow indicated contradictions in the alliance’s position because other ways of developing the system without Russia’s participation are also being discussed, Rosbalt news agency said.

At the same time, some analysts expect the future threats for Russia if it agrees to co-operate with NATO in developing such a shield. The initiative to develop the system under the aegis of the alliance “brings nothing but a threat to Russia,” believes Igor Korotchenko, editor-in-chief of National Defense magazine.

This threat may be “materialized by 2030 when this missile system will be able to intercept and destroy Russia’s ballistic missiles at the beginning and the medium stages of trajectory,” Korotchenko told Rosbalt.

Now Iran and North Korea are in the focus of the discussion about the missile defense shield, but it does not make the problem easier for Russia, the analyst said. The main motives behind deploying the shield in Europe are the same, and they are aimed “at decreasing Russia’s potential of nuclear containment,” he added.

Russia’s “well-disposed reaction” to the NATO’s initiative may be explained by Moscow’s maneuvers when it “has no chance to pressure the US and make it change the plans regarding missile defense,” he said.

But any attempt by Moscow to integrate with European or transatlantic security systems “may mean in the practical sphere the loss of independence in taking foreign policy decisions,” the analyst stressed.

Sergey Borisov,
Russian Opinion and Analysis Review