NATO, Russia and Ballistic Missile Defense

News | June 02, 2012

On May 23, the EastWest Institute hosted a roundtable to discuss a prominent issue in the U.S.-Russia relationship: ballistic missile defense (BMD). Experts and UN diplomats gathered for an off-the-record discussion with Frank Rose, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Space and Defense Policy, Bureau of Arms Control at the U.S. State Department.

The meeting could not have been more timely, following on the heels of the recently concluded NATO summit in Chicago, which took place without a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council. At the heart of the issue is a deep divide between the United States and Russia over what a cooperative BMD program should look like. The Russian government has concerns that the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) could eventually be directed against Russian ballistic missiles and is insisting on a legal guarantee that NATO's BMD system will not be used against Russia. The United States has repeatedly stated that it understands Russian concerns but that the EPAA will not be directed against Russia .The United States is willing to offer political guarantees matched by cooperative confidence-building actions but that it is unable to provide Russia with legally binding statements. Signaling its frustration with the United States over BMD, Russia did not participate at a high level in the NATO summit. And, as expected, NATO announced at the summit that the EPAA had reached interim operational capacity.

Rose focused his comments on the details and goals of NATO's EPAA plan and the future of U.S.-Russian cooperation on BMD. After his presentation, participants inquired about the divergence between Russian and U.S. assessments of the threat emanating from Iran. Another attendee asked about the political environments in both countries and whether political factors are driving their respective positions. Others focused their questions on the future of the EPAA considering the ever-changing international security concerns.


Separately, Rose offered these on-the-record responses to questions posed by EWI’s Thomas Lynch: 

To what extent does the notion of mutually assured destruction factor into current tensions on ballistic missile defense? Additionally, how can NATO and Russia overcome their differences vis-a-vis addressing today's nuclear challenges (e.g. Iran, North Korea, Pakistan)?

Cooperation on missile defense would be a game changer and the next step in expanding U.S.-Russia cooperation.  It would give us the chance to build a true strategic partnership and help us move away from Mutually Assured Destruction toward Mutually Assured Stability.

President Obama has said on many occasions that the United States is committed to finding a mutually acceptable approach to missile defense cooperation with Russia.   Such cooperation can enhance the security of the United States, our allies in Europe, and Russia.

The best assurances for Russia that the U.S. and NATO missile defenses in Europe do not undermine its strategic deterrent would be achieved through close cooperation with the United States and NATO. 

Through this cooperation Russia would see firsthand that this system is designed and capable of defending against missiles originating from the Middle East and is not designed for or capable of undermining the Russian strategic deterrent.  Cooperation can be difficult, but it will bring benefits to both sides.  We know because cooperation in other areas is producing positive results.  We are successfully implementing the New START Treaty, moving materials to and from Afghanistan and stopping drug traffickers and terrorists.  Our track record with the Russian Government on New START and other issues demonstrates that we can come to agreement on complex issues. We look forward to continuing our dialogue with the Russian government on this issue.


What are the best means of addressing the trust deficit between Russia and NATO on BMD issues?

Let me start on the progress we have made with Russia under this Administration.  I'd point to Russian support of U.N. Security Council resolutions that included the toughest sanctions ever on North Korea and Iran, our work together on the New START Treaty, and our work to open up the Northern Distribution Network to get critical supplies to troops in Afghanistan, to name a few.

We are working together to implement a landmark agreement that calls for each side to dispose of 34 metric tons of excess weapon-grade plutonium, in total enough material for about 17,000 nuclear weapons.  The United States and Russia have also partnered successfully to remove unneeded highly enriched uranium from several central and eastern European countries, former Soviet republics, Vietnam and Libya, reducing the risk that terrorists could get their hands on dangerous nuclear materials.

There are obviously areas where we've disagreed, but Russia is a committed member of the international nonproliferation community and we will continue to work with Russia and other partners on nonproliferation challenges.