Correction to This Article
Earlier versions of this column, including in the print editions of The Washington Post, incorrectly attributed a description of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's November missile-defense proposal to the NATO-Russia Council as "sincere but not serious." The speaker was Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations, not Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller. This version has been corrected.
Fine Print

Cold War issues linger overarms-control negotiations

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meets reporters in Moscow.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meets reporters in Moscow. (Alexander Nemenov)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 18, 2011

"There are some Cold War issues that continue to return to the front of the agenda, and missile defenses, and how we interact on missile defenses, is, I would say, at the top of the list."

That was Rose Gottemoeller, the assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, speaking before the Council on Foreign Relations last week on the next steps in U.S.-Russian nuclear cooperation.

As Gottemoeller pointed out, Moscow's concern with missile defense is "nothing new," having been revealed during the days of President Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars" plan almost 30 years ago.

The Russians last year insisted that the preamble to the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) contain language that recognizes "the existence of the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms."

Of course, that preamble has no legal effect on U.S. missile-defense planning, as U.S. negotiators made clear in their unilateral statement attached to the treaty. Nonetheless, Republicans insisted on saying that more directly in the Senate ratification resolution.

Last week, the Russian Duma, during its ratification process, added its own understanding to its resolution, which calls for Moscow to withdraw from the treaty if the U.S. unilaterally deploys missile-defense systems that endanger Russia's national security. It, like the preamble and Senate language, has no legal effect.

What will have an impact is if Moscow and Washington can work together on several missile-defense activities now underway.

Before the November NATO-Russia Council meetings in Lisbon, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev asserted three principles for a shared NATO missile-defense agreement: Russia would be a full partner, there would be shared early-warning data (such as shared sensors), and there would be assigned zones of responsibility for protection.

Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations described it as a "sincere but not serious" proposal that U.S. military planners said "would not fly" in part because the Russians do not have a missile-defense system to protect their own territory nor a sector of NATO countries in the 2015-2020 time frame.

Nonetheless, NATO working groups and the NATO-Russia Council are studying what the threat looks like, the prospect of shared early-warning data and potentially shared radars, including those operated by Russia, Gottemoeller said.

"There's a very, very fast pace of activity," she said, "and I do think that both Moscow and Washington are really intent, as are our NATO allies, in getting off the ground quickly and completing these joint threat assessments and then in moving on to look at joint concepts and really trying to figure out how to put all these pieces together."

At his annual news conference last week reviewing world affairs, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov agreed that his country's creation of a common missile shield with Europe was key to improving relations with the West. "I am convinced that creating a common missile shield is the real and more important test for the sincerity of statements that security is indivisible," he said.

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