Sunday, 25 October 2009

NATO Agreement on Obama BMD Proposals Deepens

It seems that the NATO Monitor suggestion that there was still deep divisions amongst European allies on the Obama administration BMD plans may have been overdoing it- notwithstanding the outspoken statement by Slovak prime Minister Robert Fico this week.

On Thursday, Fico met with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen this week, and came out of the meeting declaring to journalists that “As long as I'm the Slovak Prime Minister, Slovakia will never agree to any anti-missile shields being placed on our territory”. This was somewhat strange, since no-one had asked Fico to allow basing in Slovakia of any element of BMD, nor are they going to.

This statement has much more to do with Slovak internal politics than with any NATO plans. And Fico also welcomed the reorientation of NATO and US plans for missile defences in Europe. This chimed with the statement of the Secretary General to the press after the meeting:

On missile defence, Secretary Gates kicked off the discussion with a short briefing on the new US approach to European missile defence. Ministers welcomed the fact the new US approach puts European missile defence more in a NATO context. That is good for the Alliance. It is good for solidarity. And to my mind, it is important for the defence of Europe that we are talking about rolling out a system within a couple of years that can provide European and North American citizens defence against a real and growing missile threat.

A major element in European willingness to support the Obama administration’s proposals is that they do not antagonize Russia, and that there remains a possibility of NATO-Russia collaboration.

The Bush administration had intended to deploy mid-course BMD interceptors in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic. Russia claimed the system was deeply dangerous to its national security, and all independent scientific experts agreed that the system would have been very ill-suited to dealing with threats from its claimed target – Iran -, and very well suited to monitoring and countering launches from Russia.

In the context of the administration’s desire to counter potential launches from Iran, the proposed system that will see a phased deployment across south-eastern Europe as part of an integrated NATO system, is actually targeted at shorter range systems than the ICBMS the mid-course system targets (and that, incidentally, Iran does not possess). US Defense Secretary Robert Gates also told journalists that radars in southern Russia could make a useful contribution to this new proposed system.

From a NATO Europe perspective the new system has several advantages. It is far more developed than the proposed mid-course system, which simply doesn’t work. It poses no strategic threat to Russia, and thus does nothing to harm relations. Finally, in contrast to President Bush whose administration virtually ignored NATO and pursued bilateral negotiations with Poland and the Czech Republic, the Obama administration has briefed and consulted with allies at a NATO level regularly. They are rebuilding faith in the US commitment to the Alliance which was severely eroded by President Bush.

A number of NATO ministers made supportive statements after the meeting and during the course of this week, while Vice-President Biden has been visiting Europe. Notably, Bulgaria and Romania supported the new proposals, when they had been deeply skeptical of the Bush proposals which would not have covered south-eastern Europe – even supposing it worked. Ministers did insist again that the indivisibility of security of the Alliance was a vital principle and that BMD must cover all NATO nations.

This system remains at the proposal stage, and a lot of work is still to be done. NATO has been discussing whether or not to develop an Alliance wide BMD system since the 1990s. However, Secretary General Rasmussen told the press conference after the meeting that:

I think NATO Foreign Ministers will look to take this forward in December. And I hope that, by our Lisbon Summit next fall, we can agree to make European missile defence fully a NATO mission.

The intention is to have the proposed system up and running by 2015. NATO Monitor suggests that it would be sensible to put as much effort as has gone into brokering this deal into working with NATO’s neighbours to end fears of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons attack. Arms control, non-proliferation and disarmament can play a major role in enhancing Alliance security in this field, perhaps rendering unnecessary the billions in spending that will be needed to put this NATO BMD system into the field.

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