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19 Sep, 2009 08:24

NATO, US & Russia could join forces on missile defense

US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates says the Pentagon is interested in using Russian radar for its missile defense program. The news comes after the US dropped plans to build missile defense bases in Eastern Europe.

“For more than two years I have encouraged the Russians that we are partners in this missile defense,” he noted.

“The Russians have radar in southern Russia, the Armavir radar, that actually would fill a gap in coverage, and we would welcome the Russians networking with us in this. We think that we can make that happen.”

The radar station close to the southern Russian town of Armavir can track missile launches across an area spanning from North Africa to China up to four thousand kilometers away. It began operating this year, but Moscow two years ago said Washington could use it to help track missile launches from Iran.

A Soviet-era radar facility which Russia is renting in Azerbaijan was also offered. Moscow said this meant the missile defense shield for Europe, which it saw as a threat, was not needed.

Earlier on Friday, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen called for a new partnership with Russia which might even include a joint missile shield. He said NATO, the US and Russia could combine efforts to work towards a joint missile defense project.

“Disagreements won’t disappear overnight”

Rasmussen also said that NATO is ready to discuss Russia’s proposals on a new European security framework.

The head of the alliance’s speech was published on NATO’s website:

“Let me make it clear right from the outset: I am not a dreamer. There are some fundamental issues on which NATO and Russia disagree, and they will not disappear overnight. However, I do believe that it is possible for NATO and Russia to make a new beginning – and to enjoy a far more productive relationship in the future,” he said.

“This decision opens the way for creating a renewed ‘EuroAMD’ which became known as ‘EuroNATO’ after Russia exited the program and, on the insistence of the US, the element of deployment of the strategic AMD in Poland and the Czech Republic was included in it.”

Colonel General Viktor Yesin, former head of the General Headquarters of the Strategic Missile Forces.

In order to move in that direction, Rasmussen said he would “like to see NATO and Russia agree to carry out a joint review of the new 21st century security challenges, to serve as a firm basis for our future cooperation.”

One of the areas Moscow and NATO could cooperate in is coping with the threat of the proliferation of ballistic missile technology, the alliance’s Secretary General said.

“Studying ways to counter this threat is in NATO’s and Russia’s fundamental strategic interest. We should explore the potential for linking the US, NATO and Russian missile defense systems at an appropriate time,” he said.

Quite notably, it was Rasmussen’s first major public speech as the new Secretary General of NATO and it was focused on the alliance’s relations with Russia.

Moscow’s envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, suggested discussing Rasmussen’s initiatives during the Russia-NATO Council on September 30.

"This was an unexpected and positive statement. Not only did it express willingness for strategic cooperation with Russia, but it was based upon specific suggestions and initiatives. I believe no one will be able to just dismiss this statement from the new Secretary General," he said. 

He said the two sides should outline a roadmap on overcoming the disagreements over anti-missile defense.

First of all, he said, an assessment of common threats and challenges should be made. Secondly, possible ways of dealing with those threats should be worked out: political, diplomatic and economic measures to be imposed on countries violating the missile and nuclear weapon non-proliferation regime.

“Only on the third stage should military methods of parrying missile threats – for instance the creation of anti-missile defense systems – be considered,” Rogozin said.

“Terrorism from Afghanistan could spread to Russia”

Speaking exclusively to RT, Rasmussen said: “We are confronted with the same threats from terrorism, from proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, from piracy.” He said he believes that “there is a scope for practical cooperation between NATO and Russia” in all these areas.

“The idea initially belongs to Russia. We put this matter forward. We tried to deal with the jitters of this delicate situation with the European AMD. Work needs to be started. I still have not noticed any weighty or significant results, except for a huge quantity of roundtable conferences and other things which also occurred in the nineties and the 20th century”

Sergey Oznobishchev, director of the Institute of Strategic Assessment (RIA-Novosti)

The NATO chief also said he believes that Afghanistan “constitutes a common threat.”

“If we allow Afghanistan once again to become a safe haven for terrorists, then terrorism could easily spread from Afghanistan though Central Asia to Russia. So, it’s also in Russia’s interest that we succeed in Afghanistan,” Rasmussen said.

Russia’s envoy to the alliance, Dmitry Rogozin, said that Moscow will cooperate with NATO over Afghanistan, but won’t send a single soldier to the Islamic Republic.

“We’ve already been to Afghanistan and we didn’t like it there,” he said.

Rogozin, however, underlined that it is in Russia’s interests that the alliance fulfills the UN Security Council’s mandate over stabilization of the situation in Afghanistan.

The Russian diplomat said that if NATO fails its mission in Afghanistan and leaves the country, neighboring countries including Russia will face a catastrophic situation with “Taliban militants and other religious extremists” spreading there.

Dmitry Babich, political analyst, noted that the timing of today’s announcement wasn’t much of a surprise, since about two days before the statement by Obama, Rasmussen had hinted at some possibility of cooperation between NATO and Russia.

But, he said, we still have to see how it’s going to work.

“We’ve been officially cooperating with NATO since, I guess, 1996. Usually the system was the following: when maneuvers started, Russian officers were invited; when serious stuff started – Russian officers were always kindly asked to step aside. And then new NATO members and old alliance’s members made their exercises without Russians,” he said.

How will Iran react?

On its side, NATO hopes Russia will persuade Iran to scrap its nuclear program. Rasmussen said he would expect Russia to join these efforts and to put heavy diplomatic and political pressure on Iran in order to make this country abandon its nuclear ambitions.

RT political commentator Peter Lavelle said he is “suspicious” of the new proposal “for a lot of different reasons.”

“The next logical step of countermeasures to general challenges and threats could be the ratification of the adoption of the DFE treaty by the allies of the US and NATO. This would greatly influence in a serious way the strengthening of international security and further disarmament.”

Leonid Clutsky, first deputy representative of the Duma committee of International Affairs (Interfax)

“But the fact that they are talking about it is a really good idea. But who is it going to be directed against? I think we all know the answer,” he added.

Lavelle said it’d also be interesting how Iranians would react to the news.

“They’ve always been very happy that the Americans and Russians were apart. They really liked the anti-missile defense. They didn’t take it very seriously,” he said.