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Zoning Responsibility
If Moscow Insists on Demarcating Separate Russian and American Spheres of Responsibility for Joint Missile Defense, Then the Project Stops There, Say Analysts

NATO MeetingNATO and Russia passed a historic milestone in relations at the Lisbon Summit, despite failing to forge breakthrough partnership projects such as the much-touted joint missile defense system in Europe. Important but more modest joint deals were agreed, including a new transit corridor for non-lethal cargo to Afghanistan through Russia. Encouragingly, leaders from both sides say they back joint missile defense. Nonetheless, Moscow proposes that Russia and NATO each deal with separate zones of responsibility on each other's behalf in a puzzling "zonal" joint missile defense system. Military analysts say it will not work.

An unprecedented number of pledges for concrete but limited cooperation were reached at the Lisbon Summit between Russia and NATO on Saturday, but of more significance was the change of mood in relations that they signify. "The summit has had a philosophical and theoretical impact in that it puts an end to the period that Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called the 'post-Cold War.' Now we are in a sort of 'post-post-Cold War'," said Alexander Konovalov, the president of the Institute of Strategic Analysis. "The old stereotypes survived the end of the Cold War and with them old suspicions and lack of trust. This is now over."

At the key summit in Lisbon, the two old foes agreed that they face a raft of common threats, including piracy, arms control, terrorism, and Afghanistan. "Our security is indivisible. We share important interests and face the same threats to our common security," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said. Long cliché in liberal Western foreign policy rhetoric, NATO's new strategic concept published on November 19 formally says that NATO-Russia cooperation is "of strategic importance as it contributes to creating a common space of peace, stability and security." It affirms that "NATO poses no threat to Russia."

NATO revealed Saturday that it aims to hand over full control of Afghanistan to the local army by 2015 and (prevailing conditions permitting) withdraw its troops. Later that day Russia and NATO agreed two joint projects for the NATO and ISAF mission in Afghanistan, a fortnight after the United States and Russia conducted a joint counter-narcotics mission.

A new joint NATO-Russia Council Fund to be functional next year will collect money for "Helicopter Maintenance," which will go toward buying Russian Mi-17 helicopters (ideal for Afghanistan's rugged conditions), training Afghan pilots and servicing helicopters already in the field. The joint statement also hailed "the revised arrangements aimed at further facilitating railway transit of non-lethal ISAF goods through Russian territory," due to be active by December 1, as of "particular value."

NATO and Russia are working together on technology to detect explosives, as well as diffusing terrorist threats on civil planes. Russia also gave its formal backing to NATO resuming counter-terrorist operations in the Meiterranean, known as "Active Endeavor."

Missile defense, once the thorn in the side of the alliance's Russia relations, was hugely hyped up before the summit, as suggestion circulated of a joint missile defense system. And missile defense rhetoric was duly warm at the weekend. NATO reaffirmed that it "will actively seek cooperation on missile defense with Russia and other Euro-Atlantic partners." And President Dmitry Medvedev promised "dialogue" on a future defense system in Europe, after saying: "We have large-scale plans, we will be working in all areas, including European missile defense."

But Konstantin Kosachev, the head of the State Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee, was perhaps the most accurate when he called the summit a "positive" event, while adding that it was still premature to speak of "positive" results, Voice of Russia reported.

Analysts too were less impressed by the summit in breakthrough, concrete terms. "In terms of practical achievements, I was a little less struck by the summit's lack of agreement on joint missile defense," said Konovalov. "Here, we are just at the beginning of the road." Indeed, already the two sides appear to have hit an obstacle while discussing the possible next step down that road and the technicalities behind such a joint project.

Moscow left military analysts puzzled on Saturday when Medvedev said he favors a "zonal" joint missile defense system. Quoting Russian Envoy to NATO Dmitry Rogozin, Moskovsky Komsomolets explained what Medvedev meant: "Put simply, if there is a missile flying over our territory, which is heading toward the United States then we will shoot it down. If there is a missile coming toward Russia over America's zone of responsibility, then the Americans will shoot it down."

This poses clear problems. The missiles that NATO seeks defense from originate in the Middle East (read Iran and Syria) and, as a cursory glance at a map of the region shows, that means that Russia intends to take full responsibility on itself for all the missile threats to NATO ­ a "daring decision," said Alexander Golts, an independent military analyst and the deputy editor of the Russian news weekly Yezhenedelny Zhurnal.

In a detailed article today in his news weekly, Golts explains that Russia is not currently capable of mass producing suitable ballistic missile interceptor systems. While the American systems can intercept ballistic missiles with its "Aegis" and "Standard 3M" systems, Russia only has the S-300 system, of which it has only two, just outside Moscow, writes Golts. Moreover, American and Russian missile defense systems are simply not compatible, which, again, torpedoes the notion of Russia and NATO each coordinating spheres of responsibility with separate systems.

The "reset" culture appears to have caught on with Russia's NATO vector and the Lisbon Summit marks the end of a phase in post-Cold War mistrust at least at a formal level, even if old attitudes prevail in various social segments. But if analysts and politicians hoped that a joint military project would take the sting out of future barbed political confrontation, it seems there is still a long way to go. It is early days, but Russia appears to have made its demands known on missile defense. "If this is the case, then Moscow has practically asked NATO to drop missile defense," said Golts.


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