NATO Chief Proposes Joint Effort With Russia on Missile Defense
Friday, September 18, 2009; 11:42 AM
The secretary general of NATO called Friday for greater cooperation between the Western alliance and Russia, including the possibility of linking their missile defense systems in an effort to stem proliferation and deter attacks by nuclear-armed nations such as North Korea and, potentially, Iran.
A day after President Obama announced that he was abandoning a Bush-era plan for a missile defense system that Russia strongly opposed, and turning instead to a partly sea-based shield, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen called for "a new beginning" for NATO-Russia relations built on practical cooperation instead of "mistrust" and "flawed expectations."
"In my view, the proliferation of ballistic missile technology is of concern not just to NATO nations, but to Russia too," Rasmussen said in his first major public speech as NATO secretary general. " . . . Both NATO and Russia have a wealth of experience in missile defense. We should now work to combine this experience to our mutual benefit."
Among other things, the NATO chief called for a joint security review with Russia and a rejuvenation of the NATO-Russia Council, which he said should be used as a "forum for open and unbiased dialogue" for issues of peace and stability in Europe.
"If North Korea stays nuclear, and if Iran becomes nuclear, some of their neighbors might feel compelled to follow suit," he said. "Such a multi-nuclear world is not in NATO's interest -- and it's definitely not in Russia's interest either."
There was no immediate reaction from either Washington or Moscow to the speech, which was delivered at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Brussels. But wire services reported that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Friday praised Obama's decision about which type of missile defense to pursue.
"I very much hope that this right and brave decision will be followed up by the full cancellation of all restrictions on cooperation with Russia and high-technology transfer to Russia as well as a boost to expand the WTO to embrace Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan," Putin said at an investment forum in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi, according to the Associated Press.
Reaction to the U.S. announcement was mixed in Poland and the Czech Republic, where some voiced relief and others anger that a contentious proposal to base the shield in their countries had been scrapped.
On Thursday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said the move created "good conditions" for working with the United States on joint defenses and praised Obama's "responsible attitude."
"Naturally, we will have to conduct substantial, expert consultations, and, of course, our country is ready for this," Medvedev said. "We will work together to develop effective measures against the risks of missile proliferation, measures that take into account the interests and concerns of all sides and ensure equal security for all countries in European territory."
But Maj. Gen. Vladimir Dvorkin, former chief of the Russian military's main research institute for nuclear strategy, cautioned that the reconfigured U.S. system could still pose a threat to Russia. "Everything depends on the scale of such a system," he told the Interfax news agency. "If it comprises a multitude of facilities, including a space echelon, it may threaten the Russian potential of nuclear deterrence."
Russian officials have said a U.S. shield based on the smaller, slower interceptors of the Navy's sea-based Aegis system would not threaten Russian forces. But the Obama plan envisions using more-advanced versions of those missiles, some based on land, and a high-resolution radar similar to the one originally proposed for the Czech Republic, perhaps in the Caucasus. Russian military officials have said they might have concerns depending on where the new missiles and radar are deployed and on their capabilities.