Deadlock On NATO-Russian Cooperation On European Missile Defense and a New Nuclear Arms Race (Part One)

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 217

Russian Topol-12M nuclear missile (Source: Reuters)

With it appearing increasingly unlikely that NATO and Russia will come to an agreement on a joint European missile defense system, it seems certain that the US-Russian reset may be in serious trouble. The successful negotiations that led to START III and the reduction of US and Russian strategic offensive nuclear arsenals, which was the high point of the reset, has not led to progress in other areas of arms control and security arrangements. If the strategic nuclear arsenals have been the backbone of deterrence and strategic stability for the last half century, it appears that they are no longer sufficient to set the general line of relations in part because of the reduced threat perceptions of each side, but also because other military capabilities have taken on greater importance. These include missile defense, non-strategic nuclear weapons, conventional systems for real-time strategic offensive strikes, and the transformation of conventional military forces under the impact on developments in C4ISR (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance). Military transformation in Russia and NATO is not necessarily directed against each other, but there is no existing mechanism to deal with the diverse security challenges across Eurasia in such a fashion as to make arms control a viable option. Talk about Global Zero, which was loud a few years ago, is but a faint echo today. International instability drives the great powers to intervene as crisis managers, but without any long-term vision for an emerging system after the crises.

Moscow is once again assessing US and NATO involvement in the fall of Gaddafi and has been seeking to make common cause in the UN Security Council with China in opposing any sanctions against the Assad regime in Syria, as its repression of demonstrators has turned into a civil war with real risks of external intervention. The Arab Spring was expected to lead to tectonic shifts in the international system, but that hardly seems sufficient for Washington and Moscow to abandon what had been a mutually advantageous approach to arms control. At the same time Moscow observers, among them Yevgeniy Shestakov, have commented on the recent testimony before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations by Michael McFaul, President Obama’s nominee to be US Ambassador to Russia. They have concluded that to secure confirmation, McFaul, who was one of the proponents of the reset, has had to take another approach and refurbish his credentials as a “hawk” on Russia (Rossiyskaya Gazeta, October 14).

This became clear as a result of the discussion of European missile defense and Russia’s demands for a legally-binding document that the system is not intended to counter Russian offensive strategic nuclear forces. McFaul noted that the Russian government had refused to accept oral and written pledges that were not legally-binding and admitted that negotiations had reached a dead end even as the Obama administration’s “adaptive phased approach” was making progress. Russian national interests would bend to US desires in this area over time. On the issue of cuts in tactical nuclear weapons, McFaul would not accept any linkage between guarantees on missile defense and reductions in tactical nuclear weapons. Negotiations on both missile defense and reductions in tactical nuclear weapons would continue, but without much hope of progress and await developments after the US presidential elections. The author concluded that the reset would give way to an overload during McFaul’s tenure in Moscow (Rossiyskaya Gazeta, October 14).

Vladimir Kozin, a frequent commentator on European missile defense and a member of the Interagency Working Group of the President on Cooperation with NATO on Missile Defense, chose a video-conference sponsored by the Carnegie Center in Moscow in late September on “The Euro-Atlantic System of Missile Defense: The view from Moscow and Kiev,” as a vehicle to consider the prospects for NATO-Russia missile defense cooperation. The thirty Russian and Ukrainian specialists who took part in the conference addressed other topics relating to European security, including Global Zero, the renewal of the previously unbalanced Conventional Forces Treaty in Europe, and the prevention of the deployment of weapons in space. However, their main topic was European missile defense. Kozin identified two major themes in the discussion: the potential military-strategic consequences of the creation of a European missile defense system without Russian participation, as well as the possible general direction of such a system in case Moscow refuses to join the project. Russian participation in such a project would fundamentally alter the current official position of Kyiv not to take part in European missile defense, which Konstantin Grishenko stated on 15 September 2011. What emerged during the discussions among Russian and Ukrainian specialists was the close coordination of the policies of Moscow and Kyiv on NATO’s European missile defense initiative. If Moscow is included in such a system, Kyiv might re-think its position. If Russia did not join in the effort, then Moscow would propose to Kyiv the creation of a joint Russian-Ukrainian missile defense system (Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, October 14).

Indeed, as Kozin reported, after the video-conference, the Commander of the Russian Space Forces, Lieutenant-General Oleg Ostapenko, informed the Russian mass media that Moscow was engaged in such talks with Kyiv. Igor Dolgov, Kyiv’s permanent representative to NATO, declared in early October that Kyiv was prepared to participate in the progress of European missile defense if that system could be created with Russia and only after the final determination of its configuration. It is important to note that Kozin sees Kyiv’s disinclination to support the deployment of elements of a NATO missile defense system on its territory as a major political victory for Moscow. Kozin noted that NATO’s military-political leadership has made Ukraine’s participation in the creation of a joint European missile defense system a top priority. This emphasis became apparent after the NATO summit in Lisbon, when the Alliance leadership moved toward “a missile defense system that would embrace all.” Kozin, however, concluded that NATO’s talk about Russian participation amounted to nothing more than a smokescreen to allow the Alliance to move forward with its “phased, adaptive approach” until that system became an actual threat to Russia’s offensive strategic nuclear forces. This situation became evident after the announcement of the decision by Spain to provide basing for sea-based Aegis missile defense forces. Simple statements by Spain and the United States did nothing to allay Russian concerns, which its foreign ministry made clear. Failure to provide a legally-binding statement as to what threat the system would be directed against raised further complications for Russia. Western statements spoke only of Iran and North Korea as states with ballistic missiles against which the system might be used. But the indefinite statement about Russia or other powers, made it necessary for Moscow to consider the project as one directed against Russia and possibly its international partners, India and China. “A question arises whether the idea of creating a Russia-NATO missile defense system is not actually a propaganda ploy to mask the plans for a unilateral, fait accompli realization of a E[uropean], P[hased], A[daptive] A[pproach]?” (Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, October 14).

Steven Pifer, an old hand in US-Russian Arms Control, recently put a more positive spin on the deadlock between NATO and Russia over missile defense and declared that the tensions in relation to missile defense would not sink the reset. Responding to questions about the linkage between the Arab Spring and the agreement between the US and Spain to station four Aegis-class cruisers, Pifer reportedly said that the deployments were unconnected to the Arab Spring and were part of the “Phased, Adaptive Approach” laid out by President Obama in 2009. Regarding the NATO-Russia negotiations on missile defense, he spoke of a “disconnect between, on the one hand, meeting the timeline laid out for the deployment of missile defenses in Europe and, on the other hand, the desire for NATO and Russia to find agreement on missile defense cooperation.” Recognizing the points of conflict between NATO and Russia on missile defense, Pifer holds out the hope that an agreement can be achieved. But in its absence he stated that the reset would survive and shape future US-Russian relations: “I do not believe that disagreement on missile defense could overturn all of that” (Valdai Discussion Club, October 18).