NATO continues to take a cautious approach to missile defence issues. The imprint of the Bush administration is clear in this area, and it will be interesting to see how the Alliance position on the European deployment of the US strategic missile defence system alters once President-Elect Obama takes power. As noted in a previous post (here) it is likely that Bush administration efforts to deploy a radar and interceptors in the Czech Republic and Poland will slow or stop next year.
For the meantime, the Allies punted the question of actual NATO support for integrating theatre and strategic defences into 2009, while allowing strong enough language in the communiqué for the Americans, Poles and the Czechs to say that the Alliance supports their actions – although Ministers only ‘noted’ the bilateral agreements now signed.
In reality, many in NATO are extremely concerned about the adverse effect that these unilateral American actions have had on relations with Russia, and are deeply skeptical about the benefits of missile defences.
The truth is that there are no new missile threats to most of the Alliance, and that if NATO were to systematically and seriously engage in security talks with countries like Iran that have indigenous missile programmes, it is likely that emerging threats could be neutered by they become concrete. In any case, deploying an untested version of a missile defence interceptor to Poland, as part of a system that has failed a majority of the tests that have been carried out, would do nothing to enhance European security. Congress has recognized this and has already prohibited deployment of interceptors and radar to Europe until the system has passed ‘operationally realistic tests’. This runs counter to the Bush administration’s approach of ‘spiral development’, where missile interceptors that were known not to work were deployed in Alaska a few years ago in the hope that eventually, with enough tests and changes to the system it could be made to work eventually.
For the record, this is what Ministers said on BMD:
Ballistic missile proliferation poses an increasing threat to Allies’ forces, territory, and populations. Missile defence forms part of a broader response to counter this threat. We therefore recognise the substantial contribution to the protection of Allies from long-range ballistic missiles to be provided by the planned deployment of European-based United States missile defence assets. As tasked at the Bucharest Summit, we are exploring ways to link this capability with current NATO missile defence efforts as a way to ensure that it would be an integral part of any future NATO-wide missile defence architecture. Bearing in mind the principle of indivisibility of Allied security as well as NATO solidarity, Allies took note of progress on the development of options for a comprehensive missile defence architecture to extend coverage to all European Allied territory and populations not otherwise covered by the United States system for review at our 2009 Summit to inform any future political decision. As all options include the planned deployment of European-based United States missile defence assets, we note as a relevant development the signature of agreements by the Czech Republic and the Republic of Poland with the United States regarding those assets. As Defence Ministers did at their Budapest Ministerial in October 2008, we also noted today the plan to complete the analysis of options for a comprehensive missile defence architecture by the Defence Ministerial in Krakow in February 2009. A report on these options will be presented to Heads of State and Government for review at their next Summit. We continue to support the work underway to strengthen missile defence cooperation between Russia and NATO, and remain committed to maximum transparency and reciprocal confidence building measures to allay any concerns, as stated at the Bucharest Summit. We also encourage Russia to take advantage of United States missile defence cooperation proposals and we remain ready to explore the potential for linking United States, NATO and Russian missile defence systems at an appropriate time.