"I want to tell you that your fact sheet on the [Missile Technology Control Regime] is very well done and useful for me when I have to speak on MTCR issues."

– Amb. Thomas Hajnoczi
Chair, MTCR
May 19, 2021
NMD Gaining Ground in Europe; Russia Pushes Alternative

Wade Boese

European opposition to U.S. national missile defense (NMD) plans appears to have been somewhat blunted by the Bush administration's repeated pronouncements that it will deploy an NMD system and will fully consult U.S. allies, Russia, and China along the way. Moscow and Beijing, however, remain adamantly opposed to the system.

In an interview in the February 6 International Herald Tribune, NATO Secretary-General George Robertson said that the question of "whether [a defense is] going to happen has been settled" and that it is time for intra-alliance discussions on how and when. Robertson's predecessor, Javier Solana, who is currently the secretary-general of the Council of the European Union, told reporters in Washington on February 5 it was in Europe's interest for Washington and Moscow to work out the issue together. But he also said that the United States has the right to deploy a defense and that the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which proscribes national defenses against strategic ballistic missiles, is not "the Bible."

Nevertheless, considerable wariness about U.S. NMD plans persists. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer warned February 3 that a missile defense would have "far-reaching" international consequences and that it could have a "political impact long before it is implemented." He further cautioned that an increase in proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or a new arms race in Asia, where China fears the U.S. defense is geared toward it, would "create less rather than more security worldwide." French President Jacques Chirac declared January 29 that he feared a missile defense could spark a renewed arms race. Britain maintains that it is not opposed to Washington's NMD plans, but that it is reserving comment until there is an actual proposal from the Bush administration.

The Clinton administration engendered ill will by not officially briefing NATO on U.S. missile defense plans until December 1999—two months after the system's first intercept test. Apparently determined to avoid the same mistake, the Bush administration, at almost every opportunity, has stressed it will consult early and often with U.S. allies about its evolving missile defense plans, while underscoring that the final decision is Washington's. Speaking on February 9, Secretary of State Colin Powell invited allies to share their views but said that the United States is "not going to get knocked off the track" of deploying a defense if the technology exists.

Unlike the Clinton system, designed solely to protect U.S. territory, Bush declared during the campaign and since taking office that his system will protect not only the United States and its deployed forces but also U.S. allies. Echoing his boss, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told an international conference of high-level defense officials on February 3 that the United States was "prepared to assist friends and allies threatened by missile attack to deploy [missile] defenses."

Bush, Powell, and Rumsfeld have all expressed faith that they will be able to convince the NATO allies and others to accept a U.S. defense. When asked on February 23 whether Washington would be prepared to deploy a missile defense alone, Bush responded, "I don't think I'm going to fail to persuade people."

Visiting Moscow in mid-February, press reports quoted Fischer as saying that, despite Moscow's continued tough stance against a U.S. NMD, Russia would eventually accept the system. In Washington a week later, Fisher, according to a German official, clarified that he had found an increased readiness in Russia to discuss missile defense and that he believed it possible for Washington and Moscow to work out a solution on the issue in a cooperative climate.

Russia Responds

Since Bush assumed office, Russian officials at the highest levels, including President Vladimir Putin, have repeatedly said that Russia looks forward to "dialogue" with the new administration, while maintaining that they oppose U.S. deployment of an NMD. As an alternative to NMD, Russia has resurrected its proposal for joint cooperation on theater missile defense (TMD).

On February 20, Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev presented NATO Secretary-General Robertson with a confidential proposal for a European missile defense. The newly proposed defense, according to comments by both Russian and NATO officials, would be against non-strategic ballistic missiles, keeping the system within and, therefore, preserving the ABM Treaty. The New York Times reported the proposal numbered nine pages and outlined a general, mobile land-based system.

Russia floated proposals last June that, instead of unilateral deployment of a U.S. missile defense, Russia, Europe, and the United States could work together on a TMD or boost-phase system to protect Europe if real threats existed. For the remainder of the Clinton presidency, Moscow never offered a detailed plan of what such systems would look like.

Briefing reporters February 22, a NATO official described the recent proposal as "very broad brush," and Powell, speaking on February 23, commented that "there isn't a lot there yet that we can get our teeth into." Despite the lack of details, Washington welcomed Russia's action, saying it would study the proposal. Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral Craig Quigley noted the system would do nothing to protect the United States and was therefore "lacking in that regard." But he described the United States as "heartened" by the proposal because it indicated that Moscow has recognized the existence of a threat.

But Sergeyev and Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov, who heads the Russian Defense Ministry's office on international cooperation, continue to speak of the need for evaluating the threat. Ivashov, quoted at length by the Russian news agency Interfax on February 20, said the proposal consisted of three stages: first, determining "whether there is any threat;" second, forming a plan on how best to deal with the threat; and, finally, "if the need for it arises," building the system.

While pledging consultations with Moscow and Beijing, top Bush officials—more than the Clinton administration—have pointed the finger at Russia and China, the two staunchest opponents of missile defense, as bearing some responsibility for the U.S. pursuit of a missile shield. Interviewed on CBS on February 11, Powell said that one way to eliminate the threat would be if "nations that would be friends of ours" not sell dangerous technologies to countries unfriendly to the United States. Three days later on PBS, Rumsfeld called Russia an "active proliferator" and "part of the problem." Moscow forcefully responded that it abides by all of its international commitments.