Russia and NATO discussed interceptor missile speeds and rocketry proliferation at a high-profile conference in Moscow on Thursday, struggling to work out whether the upcoming U.S. missile shield in Europe is a threat to global strategic parity.
NATO is unlikely to give Russia any concessions on missile defense until the U.S. presidential elections in November, but a compromise can be expected in the long run, with practical military cooperation on missile threats replacing the current diplomatic standoff, analysts said.
“Russia has some legitimate concerns,” said Sergei Oznobishchev of the Institute of Strategic Studies and Analysis in Moscow. “But so does NATO, because the global regime of non-proliferation [of missile technologies] is in crisis.”
More than 50 countries and global organizations sent emissaries to a conference on missile defense organized by the Russian Defense Ministry, which reiterated its fears that U.S. plans to position elements of its missile defense shield in Eastern Europe are aimed against Russia’s strategic nuclear forces.
“There are just no targets for the missile defense shield other than Russia,” said Nikolai Patrushev, the head of Russia’s Security Council.
Virtual modeling done by Russian military and presented at the conference indicated that the U.S. missile shield deployed to defend Europe from launches from south of Russia will also be able to intercept Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
Russia needs binding legal guarantees that the missile shield will not harm the strategic nuclear parity it has with the United States, and reserves the right to retaliate if its concerns are not addressed, said Nikolai Makarov, Chief of the General Staff of the Russian military.
Russia does not even rule out delivering preemptive strikes against missile defense objects in Poland and Romania and shooting down U.S. satellites utilized as part of the shield, Makarov said.
NATO representatives dismissed the allegations and proposed that Russia cooperate on the issue, mainly through pooling data on missile technologies and global risks in jointly run military research and analysis centers.
“The NATO missile defense will be capable of intercepting only a small number of relatively unsophisticated ballistic missiles,” said Alexander Vershbow, Deputy Secretary General of the alliance.
Russian virtual modeling is flawed because it posited that the U.S. interceptor missiles are capable of launching immediately after a Russian ICBM is fired, said Madelyn Creedon, Assistant Secretary for Global Strategic Affairs at the U.S. Department of Defense.
In reality, there is a delay before the missile defense shield is activated, Creedon said.
The time lag is enough for a Russian missile to hit Seattle or Washington, though more primitive missiles can still be intercepted, she said.
Meanwhile, the global threat is growing because more than 30 countries worldwide, including Iran and North Korea, are working on their own ballistic missile programs, Vershbow said.
The work is plodding, but development of missile defense is slower than for offensive technologies, which means that potential threats need to be anticipated, said Rudiger Wolf, State Secretary in Germany’s Federal Ministry of Defense.
Message for Chicago
Most proposals voiced in Moscow on Tuesday were a reiteration of positions that Russia and NATO have been discussing for years.
The missile defense shield in Europe has been in the works since 2001, and, in its current form, envisages four-stage implementation that started in 2011 with deployment of Aegis cruisers in the Mediterranean and interceptors for short-range missiles in Europe and is to reach beyond 2020.
The conference in Moscow was a message for the NATO summit in Chicago on May 20, when the alliance is planning to announce that it achieved interim capability to intercept missiles in Europe, analysts said.
NATO will not budge in the coming months, said Oznobishchev of the Institute of Strategic Studies.
“The West’s capability for compromise is limited by the election campaign of [U.S. President Barack] Obama,” he said. “Any limitations on missile defense will be a big issue in the Congress.”
Join the Forces
However, if Obama wins reelection in November, the countries are likely to begin cooperating on missile defense in earnest, especially by developing joint centers on missile threats, said Pavel Zolotaryov, who is deputy head of the Moscow-based Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies.
The standoff over nuclear deterrence is really a non-issue, because a full-scale nuclear war between Russia and the United States is unimaginable, Zolotaryov said.
Moreover, in the unlikely case of such conflict, the U.S. missile shield in Europe would remain incapable of staving off a mass missile attack even after receiving final upgrades in 2020, he said.
“Meanwhile, missile technologies are proliferating across the globe,” Zolotaryov said. “Something needs to be done about the risks of single launches.”