Sunday, 28 June 2009

NATO, Russia and Missile Defence

In the wake of the resumption of the NATO-Russia Council (NRC), and in preparation for the Obama-Medvedev meeting on July 6 on arms control, it has been announced that US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen will visit Moscow to discuss missile defence.

The plan to deploy a missile defence radar and interceptor missiles in the Czech Republic and Poland was launched under former US president George W. Bush, causing relations between the two sides to plummet to a post-Cold War low. Experts have demonstrated that the proposed system of mid-course European interceptors to destroy missiles from Iran, is fundamentally flawed for that purpose. It would however be ideally placed to intercept missiles from Russia. As Russia works with the US to reduce nuclear warheads and missiles, this will increasingly become an issue.

It is certainly a major issue in the NRC, and will now be addressed directly.

"We expect missile defense issues to come up," Captain John Kirby, a spokesman for Mullen told journalists after the NRC meeting this weekend.

In all this, one thing has not changed. The Bush administration tried to make missile defence a bilateral matter with Poland and the Czech Republic, angering Russia and dismaying many in NATO Europe.

The Obama administration, while claiming to consult more, will deal directly with Russia on missile defence as part of its bilateral strategic relations. NATO is, once again, the loser. Its much vaunted reputation as the preeminent venue for western security cooperation slips a little more.

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