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Vice Chairman, Nuclear Threat Initiative
October 20, 2014
Russia Makes New Proposal on Missile Defense

Tom Z. Collina

Seeking to build a cooperative relationship with the United States on missile defense, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov told reporters March 15 that Moscow would like a formal, legally binding agreement with NATO that neither side would target the other’s offensive missiles with missile defense interceptors. According to a senior Obama administration official, a version of this proposal, along with an agreement on sharing missile early-warning information, could form the basis of a deal by this summer.

Since last November, when NATO agreed for the first time to deploy territorial missile defenses against emerging missile threats from Iran, the United States and Russia have been trading proposals on how to cooperate on missile defense. (See ACT, March 2011.) NATO and Russia agreed to develop proposals for cooperation and produce a progress report for a NATO-Russia Council meeting of defense ministers in June.

Although the United States has stated repeatedly that its missile defenses pose no threat to Russia, Moscow apparently remains unconvinced. Russian leaders are concerned that U.S.-NATO missile defense interceptors could target their strategic nuclear force, “which is the basis and guarantee of our sovereignty and independence,” Russia’s envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, said in February.

“This is not the first time we are being told, ‘This is not directed against you,’ and then end up with problems on our hands,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said March 2, apparently referring to NATO expansion. Moscow would like to have a legal commitment from NATO before going ahead with missile defense cooperation, Lavrov said. “Needless to say, for our part, we are ready to provide such guarantees,” he said.

The United States insists there should be two independent missile interceptor systems, while Russia had been advocating for a joint system. Moscow’s position, however, seems to be softening. In his March 2 remarks, Lavrov said Moscow’s stance is that NATO should defend the territory of NATO member states while Russia defends its own territory, with no shared authority to launch. “NATO’s [control] button will always be the U.S. button. The same goes for our button. We will have sole control of our button,” Lavrov said.

U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen O. Tauscher said March 21 at a missile defense conference in Washington that the United States is “eager to begin a joint analysis, joint exercises, and sharing of early-warning data that could form the basis for a cooperative missile defense system.” However, she said, “in the end, NATO will defend NATO, and Russia will defend Russia.”

“We’ve disagreed before, and Russia still has uncertainties,” U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said March 21 in a speech to Russian naval officers in St. Petersburg. “However, we’ve mutually committed to resolving these difficulties in order to develop a road map toward truly effective anti-ballistic missile collaboration.”

Political Agreement Has Precedent

Russia’s proposal for a legally binding agreement not to target each other with missile interceptors is a nonstarter on Capitol Hill, according to administration officials and Senate staff, as Senate Republicans have been clear in their opposition to any legally binding limitation on U.S. missile defenses. However, according to Senate staff, politically binding commitments would not require Senate approval and have a precedent: In 1994 the United States and Russia made a political commitment not to target each other with nuclear weapons. Even so, say Senate staffers, a U.S. political commitment not to target Russia’s missiles with U.S.-NATO missile interceptors would not go unnoticed by missile defense supporters. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), for example, has been critical of the Obama administration for not seeking a missile defense capability that could counter Russia’s force of more than 1,000 nuclear warheads on ballistic missiles. The United States currently fields 30 interceptors in Alaska and California to counter a limited attack from Iran or North Korea. Those interceptors would not be able to stop a full attack from Russia. Moreover, the U.S. system has failed numerous intercept tests, including the last two attempts, and none of the tests has attempted to simulate realistic threats such as simple countermeasures.

It is not clear if a commitment that is not legally binding would be enough to convince Russia to cooperate with NATO’s missile defense plans. On the other hand, as U.S.-NATO missile defense deployment moves ahead, Moscow appears to have little leverage to prevent it, Senate staffers said.

Joint Data “Fusion” Center

In addition to a possible political commitment not to target each other with interceptors, a NATO-Russia agreement on missile defense cooperation could include the sharing of early-warning information and other intelligence data. Gates said in St. Petersburg, “This collaboration may include exchanging launch information, setting up a joint data fusion center, allowing greater transparency with respect to our missile defense plans and exercises, and conducting a joint analysis to determine areas of future cooperation.”

The Pentagon has been interested in gaining access to data from Russian radars located northwest of Iran, such as the Gabala radar in Azerbaijan, that could provide useful tracking information to NATO on an Iranian missile launch toward Europe.

Under the U.S. proposal, the joint data fusion center would allow Russian and NATO officers to have simultaneous access to missile launch data from sensors in NATO countries and Russia, giving both sides a full, real-time picture of potential threats, U.S. officials said. These centers would combine data from fixed and mobile radar sites, as well as from satellites, according to media reports.

Meanwhile, on March 7 the United States began deploying its Phased Adaptive Approach to missile defense in Europe by sending the USS Monterey to the Mediterranean Sea. The guided-missile cruiser is armed with SM-3 BlockIA missile interceptors and the Aegis radar system, which is capable of tracking short- and medium-range missiles. Other Aegis-capable ships have been deployed by the United States to the Mediterranean since 2009, but the Monterey is “the first sustained deployment of a ballistic missile defense-capable ship” to support the phased approach, Tauscher said March 21.

As another part of the first phase of the U.S. approach, the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA) plans to deploy a ground-based AN/TPY-2 radar in southeastern Europe. U.S. plans originally had the radar going to Turkey, but the host country has not been announced. Turkey reportedly has not granted its consent out of concern that information from the radar might be shared with Israel.

Under the current schedule, the MDA will have 23 Aegis-capable ships by the end of this fiscal year, mostly in the Pacific, and 107 SM-3 Block I/IA missile interceptors, according to budget documents. The fiscal year ends Sept. 30. According to the documents, the MDA also will have 26 Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor missiles for two THAAD batteries that could be deployed in Europe.

In the second phase, land-based interceptors would be deployed in Romania in 2015, followed by interceptors in Poland in the third phase, planned for 2018. Each phase calls for increasingly sophisticated and capable SM-3 interceptors. The fourth phase, planned for 2020, calls for fielding the SM-3 IIB interceptor, which is supposed to be capable of knocking down long-range ballistic missiles. That system, which has drawn the strongest objections from Russia, is still in the early stages of design and development.