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Russia Raising the Stakes on Missile Defense

Missile Defense LaunchLast week President Dmitry Medvedev appointed Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's ambassador to NATO, as the special presidential envoy for missile defense, elevating the issue to the Kremlin's top foreign policy priority for this year and raising the political stakes of success or failure in Russia's missile defense talks with the United States and NATO. Can Russia, the United States and NATO reach agreement on missile defense by the end of this year? If not, will Moscow risk new confrontation it cannot win? Would disagreement over missile defense undermine the new START Treaty, with Russia responding to NATO missile defense deployments with new nuclear weapons programs?

NATO approved a plan last fall for a U.S.-led antiballistic missile system (ABM) and invited Russia to join. At the Russia-NATO Summit in Lisbon last November, president Medvedev did not explicitly accept the offer, but agreed to launch missile defense talks with NATO, exploring possibilities for deploying a joint missile defense system for Russia and NATO. The talks, however, quickly got stuck on a key point ­ control over the new system, with Moscow demanding to jointly run the system and the United States refusing to cave in.

Moscow has proposed a "sectoral" missile defense plan, wherein NATO would be responsible for defending against missiles targeting Russia, while Russia would intercept missiles that travel over its territory bound for Europe. NATO is wary of even giving Russia a role in determining which countries pose a threat, much less sharing responsibility for intercepts. Russia and NATO already have different assessments, for example, of the threat posed by the Iranian nuclear program. NATO has balked at the "sectoral" proposal because it would essentially give Russia responsibility for protecting NATO from nuclear missile threats and yield to Moscow, a non-member of the alliance.

The United States and NATO have proposed sharing radar and other early warning data, although Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller, the top U.S. arms control negotiator, recently said at an industry conference in Washington that President Barack Obama has decided that "NATO will protect NATO, and that's the bottom line as far as we're concerned."

NATO's approach ­ "separate, but coordinated systems" ­ is to develop and deploy its own missile defense system, while its operations, particularly threat assessment capabilities, would be "coordinated" with Russia's missile defense and early warning assets.

This idea has been underlined in statements by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. He also invited other former post-Soviet states like Ukraine and Georgia to contribute to NATO's missile defense capability (Ukraine can offer its south-looking early-warning radars.)

Moscow has refused to budge from its demand for joint control, making it a central issue and raising the pressure on NATO. In late November, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said if the United States and NATO cannot reach agreement on missile defense, Russia may deploy new offensive weapons, triggering a new arms race.

Moscow sees missile defense as no less than a test of the "sincerity of the partnership and indivisibility of security," according to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. On February 9, Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov warned that anything less than a "joint system" could lead Russia to withdraw from the recently-ratified New START Treaty and to "take other military-technical measures." Russia's Ambassador to the United States Sergei Kislyak said last week that Moscow was not interested in "cloning decisions" on missile defense that had already been made by Washington.

The Kremlin has argued that an antimissile shield could weaken Russia's deterrence potential, and dispelling that fear requires Russia's direct say in how and when NATO's system may be used.

The appointment of Rogozin as a special envoy for missile defense signals that Medvedev views the issue as his top foreign policy priority, a big-ticket item on his presidential agenda. Medvedev's only major foreign policy achievement so far has been the "reset" with the Obama administration, with the new START Treaty and the nuclear energy cooperation agreement being its primary concrete manifestation so far.

A year before the end of his first term, Medvedev's other foreign policy initiatives are lagging behind. His proposal for a new security treaty in Europe has gone nowhere. Its awkward objectives ­ to replace existing security structures in Europe with a basic non-aggression pact ­ doomed the effort.

A similar fate might await Medvedev's proposal for joint missile defense with NATO. Russia's push for a "sectoral" architecture ­ structured to weaken the effectiveness of NATO's defenses ­ is hardly going to be accepted by the alliance.

Can Russia, the United States and NATO reach agreement on missile defense by the end of this year? Will Moscow be able to ram through its "sectoral architecture," or will it have to fall in line with the NATO approach ­ "separate, but coordinated systems?" If not, will Moscow risk new confrontation it cannot win? Would disagreement over missile defense undermine the new START Treaty, with Russia responding to NATO missile defense deployments with new nuclear weapons programs? Does Medvedev risk a high-stake fiasco with the missile defense deal right on the eve of his running for a second presidential term? Or would NATO and the Obama administration seek to bolster Medvedev domestically by reaching a deal that would meet Russia's concerns and make Medvedev look strong?

Patrick Armstrong, Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada:

Missile defense is prudent: while there may be no realized threats at present, there may well be in a decade's time, and since any system will take time to put in place, starting today makes sense. Moscow knows that it could also be on the target list.

From Moscow's perspective, involvement in a defense scheme with NATO has difficulties. The first is trust. The West likes to think that it is honorable and open, but Moscow is not so convinced. NATO expansion took place despite a promise made to Mikhail Gorbachev, and it was soon evident that it was expansion to include anyone but Russia. Distrust was hardened by the Kosovo war, which Moscow perceived as NATO arrogating to itself the right to decide where borders should be. The "color revolutions" in Ukraine and Georgia (do we still count the "Tulip Revolution"?) intensified this distrust. And the West's uncritical swallowing of Mikheil Saakashvili's account of the Ossetia war made things worse.

But events have moved on. NATO expansion appears to be over, NATO no longer boasts about success in Kosovo, the "color revolutions" have failed and Saakashvili is no longer democracy's darling (I have argued elsewhere that we are seeing a "third turn" in the West's view of Russia). But Moscow is no longer, as perhaps it was in the early 1990s, prepared to take NATO at its word.

The second problem involves the "higher nonsense" of nuclear calculations. I say "nonsense" because, even if a defense system could stop 90 percent of Russia's warheads, the ten percent that got through would constitute by far the greatest disaster that the United States had ever suffered. Even a "small" nuclear exchange would be an unimaginable catastrophe for each, no matter which "won." Nonetheless, people in the nuclear business do make calculations on first-strikes, secure second-strikes and all the rest. I suspect, however, that Moscow's nuclear arsenal has as much to do with prestige as anything else. Many in Moscow are still frightened by the possibility that Russia could become an insignificant country helplessly watching other mightier powers make decisions. Being the second nuclear power is some assurance that it will not be ignored.

Moscow is also aware that for a significant sector of Western opinion ­ shrinking I believe, but still influential ­ Russia is the eternal enemy. For these people, president Obama's decision to stop the plan for missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic was a betrayal and a sell-out to Moscow (despite the fact that previously they had argued that the deployments had nothing to do with Russia).

For these reasons Moscow is cautious and skeptical: NATO's assurances cannot be taken at face value; Russia's theoretical "nuclear deterrence" could be weakened; the significant anti-Russia group (and Moscow probably takes it more seriously than it deserves) will always work to twist any intentions against Moscow's interests.

Nonetheless, given the threat posed to NATO and Russia by what used to be called "rogue states" with small numbers of nuclear weapons and missiles, a common defense makes sense.

A compromise between the two positions is not hard to imagine: Russian and NATO sectors as separate but integrated at a central headquarters. Similar solutions have been found before ­ North American Air Defense Command (NORAD), for example ­ and with good will, something like that could square the circle. An effective defense could be built and Russians would be assured that it was not pointed at them.

When one considers how far this issue has evolved ­ all previous Russian efforts to get involved having been rejected ­ some optimism is warranted.

Edward Lozansky, President, American University in Moscow and World Russia Forum in Washington, DC:

At present missile defense is more of a political than military and security issue. In the first place, no reliable antimissile technology is available today; and second, the so-called "rogue states" that potentially pose a nuclear missile threat, most notably Iran and North Korea, do not have serious strike capability ­ yet.

Still, one should not wait until the threat becomes a reality. If a country has the desire and resources to build a system that can presumably protect its citizens from nuclear attack, there is no way of preventing it from doing just that. Actually, Russia inherited from the Soviet Union some limited version of such defense installations, although we do not know for sure how effective it is. In any case, we never hear about any misgivings about this Russian system expressed by United States or NATO officials.

Contrariwise, Moscow does worry that, should the United States and NATO build a very sophisticated missile defense shield, Russia may become vulnerable to attack from the West with no retaliation capability. The leaked news about former Vice President Dick Cheney's suggestion to bomb Russian troops during the August 2008 Georgia conflict proves that such a scenario is not a sick fantasy.

An obvious solution to this impasse is joint development and deployment of a missile defense system that would make each side feel equally protected from external threats. Of course, it is easier said than done, as Western allies and Russia are divided by deep mistrust. However, the Obama "reset" policy has already brought some tangible results for the improvement of U.S. ­ Russian and NATO ­ Russia relations. Now some new bold steps are needed to enhance the positive momentum. Joint missile defense definitely is one such huge bold step. It would be unforgivable to miss it.

On the bureaucratic front it looks like we are moving in the right direction. At the July 2009 Moscow Summit, Obama and Medvedev agreed to form the Arms Control and International Security Working Group, co-chaired by Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov. This forum has discussed proposals for bilateral missile defense cooperation in such areas as joint research and development; joint missile defense testing; joint modeling and simulations; missile defense exercises; and joint analyses of alternative U.S.-Russian missile defense architectures for defense against common, regional threats.

All this sounds pretty good. On top of this we hear that Russia is forming another separate special group for missile defense cooperation with NATO. According to Russian Ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin, who recently got another important appointment as special presidential envoy for missile defense, this group will have started operating by mid-March.

These are promising developments. However, the existence of very strong opposition to these ideas both in the United States and in some NATO countries should not be underestimated. "On the one hand," Rogozin said, "the Russian Federation has been receiving various invitations to join this project. But when we begin examining these invitations more closely, they don't mean much more than the phrase: 'If you pass by my house, just pass by'."

In turn, United States and NATO negotiators complain that Russian proposals are unrealistic or lack sufficient detail. They also keep insisting that the U.S. missile defense system poses no serious threat to Russia's deterrent capabilities. This is very nice to hear, of course, but the Russian military, just as their Western counterparts, has to prepare for all eventualities. That is what defense ministries are for.

Undoubtedly, overriding existing mutual mistrust is a difficult task, but the stakes are too high to miss this chance. We already missed the historic opportunity to make Russia a strategic ally after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Now the idea of a joint U.S.-Russian ballistic missile defense offers us yet another opportunity. No question but that we ought to make another try.

Finally, let us not forget about China. It is also pretty skeptical about U.S. missile defense plans ­ to put it very mildly. Sooner or later China will have to be brought into this equation as well. China is already one of United States', Europe's and Russia's strongest economic partners, and I see no reason why it should not become our security partner as well.

Yannick Mireur Ph.D., Nexus Forum, Senior Advisor, French-American Foundation USA, New York:

Trust has been a longstanding issue plaguing Western-Russian relations over the past 20 years, and is likely to continue to do so in the foreseeable future. NATO enlargement can be seen as the original sin and the fault of the Western alliance. It prevented the building of a common vision in dealing with the global challenges that were slowly, if incompletely, emerging then. Twenty years later, the accumulation of suspicion and the enduring culture of state security codes that pervades the Russian leadership are of no help. Russia continues to be associated with secrecy and unreliability. This partly explains why the Russian proposal on NATO may not go farther than the "new architecture" for Europe, as Frolov suggests.

Another way to build trust and put highly contentious issues aside is economic modernization, a silent but potent force in changing the mindset that is the legacy of Russia's political past, making Russia reluctant to the rule of law. The crisis hit Russia hard, and so it may be time to change the discourse to discuss common U.S., European and Russian interests in successful modernization in Russia. Russia as a market, an economic partner and a political ally is worth exploring rather than continuing a discourse that is greatly complicated by enduring misunderstanding and missed opportunities. Do young Russians not aspire toward emancipation in all senses of the word ­ including a national pride fed by economic success and innovation, rather than saber-rattling, vain rhetoric and more ski resorts in the Caucasus?

Ira Straus, U.S. Coordinator, Committee on Russia in NATO, Washington DC:

This issue is a microcosm of the problems in Russia-NATO relations at large. We cannot figure out how to have joint Russia-NATO missile defense without giving Russia veto power that we fear (and not without reason) that it would abuse. The same Rose Gottemoeller as cited by Frolov explained, I think it was at a 1998 Conference on Russia and NATO at George Washington University, that we are not including Russia in NATO because we have not figured out how to integrate Russia into NATO's consensus decision-making process.

And it never will be figured out. The very formation of the definition of the problem serves to rule out any solution. Russia is not a small country. It cannot be told to adapt its strategic perspective one way to other powers, or be given a veto on paper and then be expected to waive it in practice.

Russia is not helping to figure out a solution in either case ­ not on missile defense and not on NATO. Instead it makes the exact wrong move, presenting its proposals in a form that emphasizes a veto over Western policy as the core of the Russian objective. A self-defeating approach, hardening the stand-off. It makes it dialogue of the deaf.

The only way out of the stand-off is to change the way the problem is defined. That means putting forward a concept of a more flexible joint system, one that is free of hard vetoes.

In the case of NATO, this is in logic fairly easy. NATO is in actuality a soft-veto system, one in which the veto has no legal foundation and at times is overridden entirely; there is a lot of striving by each national party for consensus with the others, not just demands for the latter to wait for the consent of the former. Plenty of people in NATO, including all recent SACEURs (the central military command of NATO military forces) and the highest last-retired military commanders from the other leading NATO countries, favor further enhancement of alliance decision-making flexibility ­ for instance, by formalizing the option of deciding without consensus on NATO committees.

Still, few are those who dare to come out with the logical conclusion ­ that decisions can be made without consensus on the NATO Council; and fewer still are those who draw the logical connection between this and the feasibility of including Russia on the council. After half a century of repeating the mantra of hard-veto rhetoric ­ that "consensus is the basis of the alliance," that "there is no supranational element in NATO," that "no decisions are taken without consensus," that "consensus is a strength and not a weakness in NATO" ­ it remains difficult to broach the question of making decisions at the top level without consensus. The stand-off on reform and adaptation of NATO continues; the stand-off with Russia is like an external meta-level of this internal stand-off.

In the case of joint missile defense, it is harder to define a flexible joint system. The matter is put forward as essentially bilateral. When there are only two parties, the options seem starkly limited: either they reach consensus, or they stop each other from doing anything, or they let each other act separately.

A joint missile defense system would more easily emerge if the problem of including Russia in NATO had been solved. There would still be problems of sharing secrets in the most sensitive and technological areas involved in missile defense, but technical ways can usually be found around technical problems. The main thing is to develop a NATO-with-Russia decision-making system, one in which Russia, like every other NATO country, gets its realistic weight, without anyone getting a veto. A system in which Russia finds itself gaining ample influence in the formulation of decisions, winning often enough to be satisfied that it is the better for it, but also learning to live with losing sometimes and not being in a position to impose its will. Once that system is in place, it could be applied, by natural extension, to missile defense.

Starting with missile defense is like putting the cart before the horse. The "horse" is a joint NATO-with-Russia decision-making system solid enough to pull the cart of missile defense ­ a serious cargo, one that cannot be entrusted to horses that have a habit of breaking down at every turn of the road.

Still, that's where the question is now. The missile defense cart is supposed to be set in motion, without any joint horse in sight capable of moving it.

So let's try construction by mental reverse-engineering. Take a joint missile defense system as our premise; think backwards to what it requires.

It requires decision-making for missile defense ­ a serious enough matter that it cannot be decision-making by mutual veto. Neither side will accept a veto over its self-defense. But no vote is possible among two parties ­ only consultation in which each side keeps a veto over its own actions. The default answer is that this means each side retains freedom to make decisions for its own part of the joint system, while setting up a joint structure to coordinate the two as best as possible. Frolov argues, with technical correctness, that this is better categorized as a "coordinated" system rather than a "joint" system; but it is as much of a joint system as is feasible, given the assumptions. The more substantial the joint structures, the better, and they might develop further with time, but still the separate sovereignty is its bottom line.

If we wish to do better, we will have to change the assumption, from a bilateral-consultative system to a genuine multilateral decision-making system, without vetoes, for the joint missile defense. We will have to create this system de novo, for this specific function. Hard? Of course. Impossible? No. The idea is not without precedent. When Americans and others proposed a Multilateral Nuclear Force, MLF, for NATO in the 1960s (to overcome the risks of extended deterrence and to prevent intra-alliance proliferation), the question arose of decision-making for the MLF.

It was quickly realized that this was too vital a matter to be left to the tender mercies of unit-vetoes. Then-Secretary General of NATO Dirk Stikker concluded that the only solution was decision by a two-to-three weighted majority. If the MLF had been adopted, it might have come together with the first installment of reform of NATO decision-making, adopted as a sort of emergency measure, force-fed from the top down: applied at first only to the latest, highest-level innovation, later probably spilling over (or trickling down) into lesser alliance decisions. So putting the cart before the horse could actually have borne considerable fruit. It can be a spur for creativity.

The story did not have a happy ending that time; the MLF was not adopted. Half a century later, can we do it for a joint missile defense with Russia? Easy enough to predict that we won't; harder to find a good alternative to it.

Vladimir Belaeff, Global Society Institute, Inc., San Francisco, CA:

It is a generally known fact of modern military science that any ABM system ­ notionally "defensive" ­ in reality enhances its operator's first strike effectiveness by depressing the opponent's ability to retaliate. An ABM equipped nuclear power can inflict a first strike and then use its ABM system to neutralize the opponent's retaliatory strike. ABM systems do not enhance strategic force parity ­ they undermine it, and therefore they are inherently destabilizing factors in nuclear weapons management.

So an American ABM deployment in Europe is inherently destabilizing and only the most naive and unperceiving audiences (which unfortunately are the vast majority of citizens) may believe the "peaceful nature" of casting for ABM deployments.

Russians perceive a profound duplicity in U.S. and NATO presentation of the European ABM concept. It is announced as "not threatening Russia" ­ however, Russia is denied the confidence-building relationship to this proposed system, which would convince it that NATO and the United States are truly sincere in their declarations. It is, as if a cowboy would state that his six-shooter is not loaded, but would not allow an impartial inspection of the gun, to confirm that he speaks the truth.

In these circumstances, the counterparts must assume that they are being lied to ­ this is how America would act. American diplomatic correspondence revealed by Wikileaks reinforces perceptions that U.S. policymakers are not being straightforward with Russia on military treaty matters.

What is worrisome is that the United States' administration apparently is not concerned at all that this behavior is not only creating friction with Russia's present government, but in fact is causing long-term damage to American credibility and prestige in Russian public opinion at large. Preferring to live only in the present is a very American trait, but there has to be an awareness that Russians (like other nations) have longer memories and American policies today are causing very deep harm to American interests even in the near future, worldwide.

The matter is further complicated by the geography of proposed deployment. An ABM system is effective when it is able to disable enemy missiles during their launch. For that purpose, it is best located closer to the launch areas of the potential enemy. Taking at face value the notion that an American-made, NATO-operated ABM system would be targeting countries like Iran or North Korea, then the location of such a system would be best in territories near the target regions ­ in Turkey or in South Korea, for example. But the deployments are proposed for locations that are considerably further away, so the Russians have a right to question which is the true target of such positioning.

Medvedev's force credentials domestically are not really threatened by a possible undermining of the new START or lack of progress with Russia's European defense initiative. He demonstrated to his constituency plenty of military initiative and responsiveness in August 2008, when Medvedev, as Russia's commander-in-chief, had to deter Georgian aggression against Russian peacekeeper units in South Ossetia and against the sleeping citizens of Tskhinvali.

The president of Russia has a constitutional obligation to safeguard the national security interests of that country. American insistence on an ABM system in Europe, that is opaque to Russia, is perceived as a threat, and Medvedev has repeatedly declared this. Washington is effectively ignoring these concerns. This is not good policy at a time when America really needs all the goodwill it can muster, in particular from a country as important as Russia.

So, it is not Russia that is really raising the stakes ­ this is being done by a coterie of gravely mistaken Washington politicians.

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