Monday, 7 May 2012

Russian Proposal for "Sectoral" BMD in Europe

Pavel Podvig has an interesting post on Russian proposals for European BMD at his blog on Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces. Apparently the Russian Ministry of Defence took the opportunity of the Moscow missile defence conference last week to publish a proposal for "sectoral" missile defences in Europe.


Under this proposal NATO would use BMD assets to protect one part of the continent (let's just make the crazy assumption for the moment that BMD for an entire continent can actually work), while Russia would protect the other half, including most of Norway, the Baltic States and Poland. This would require NATO to give up the defence of a sizeable chunk of its member states' territory.

That, of course, is never going to happen, and the Russians know it. Indeed, within minutes of this blog post going online Francois Heisbourg of the Fondation pour la Recherche Strategique had tweeted his view that this is unacceptable to the West.

This proposal is no great surprise. Russia has been demanding a genuine partnership between itself and NATO on BMD for years. They see this as a way to avoid NATO BMD having the capacity to shoot down Russian ICBMs, something NATO denies wanting, but which could be achieved by relatively easy modifications and additions to the system that NATO is proposing.

At the same conference, Ellen Tauscher, the Obama administration's special envoy on strategic stability missile defence gave an impassioned plea for cooperation between Russia and the US in this area. She underlined that the US does not want to undermine Russian capabilities:
Phases 3 and 4 of the European Phased Adaptive Approach (as well as Phases 1 and 2, for that matter) will not undermine Russia’s strategic nuclear deterrent. Nothing we do with respect to our missile defense plans will undercut Russia’s national security. It would not be in our interest to do so, would be expensive and technically extremely difficult.
However, it is to be noted that she didn't say it is impossible for the NATO system to do what Russia claims it might be able to do in the future. Tauscher also offered ways for Russia and NATO to build confidence, which she claimed would enhance, not reduce strategic stability:

One of the best ways to build that confidence would be to work with us on NATO-Russia missile defense Centers where we can share sensor data and develop coordinated pre-planned responses and reach agreement on our collective approach to the projected threat. This will give us collectively a common understanding and foundation. Furthermore, we have seen the positive benefit this cooperation could have on missile defense effectiveness at the recent NATO-Russia Council Theater Missile Defense Computer Aided Exercise. 
While we undertake this missile defense cooperation, our two governments could do even more to prevent the proliferation of ballistic missile technology. We already cooperate in the Missile Technology Control Regime and in the Proliferation Security Initiative. We are working together in the UN to counter Iran and North Korea’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. Just last month, we worked together in the UN Security Council to strongly condemn the DPRK’s missile launch and placed additional sanctions on transfers of nuclear and ballistic missile technology to and from North Korea. Working together on missile defense would also send a strong message to proliferators that Russia, NATO and the United States are working to counter their efforts.
And finally, Tauscher held out the possibility that if missile threats from outside Europe are reduced in the future then the Phased Adaptive Approach allows for BMD capabilities to be reduced accordingly. The fly in the ointment with that suggestion is that the only viable missile threat to Europe at present comes from the Indian Agni V system. And India is an friend. NATO BMD is aimed fairly and squarely at Iran (politically at least) but there is no Iranian capability to strike at NATO, nor is one likely to emerge for many years, if at all. Iran doesn't have the missiles and it has no nuclear warhead.

Tauscher also made clear that the US cannot accept the sectoral approach, and would offer nothing more than a political statement that BMD is not aimed at Russia:

The United States and NATO also cannot agree to Russia’s proposal for “sectoral” missile defense. Just as Russia must ensure the defense of its own territory, NATO must ensure the defense of its own territory. We are able to agree to a political statement that our missile defenses are not directed at Russia. I have been saying this for many, many months now. Such a political statement would publicly proclaim our intent to cooperate and chart the direction for cooperation.

Of course, such words are meaningless. If NATO gains a capability to shoot down Russian ballistic missiles even in theory, then the Russians have to react. They have to add capability to missiles and/or increase missile numbers. Otherwise, the rules of deterrence mean that they are under a first strike threat they cannot match and strategic stability is undermined. So much is absolutely obvious.

It seems that BMD will remain an issue of contention between the US, NATO and Russia for some time to come. In the meantime, just the possibility of its deployment is complicating both nuclear and conventional arms control; as well as general relations between the two sides. As NATO Monitor has long advocated, it would be much better if the BMD plans were aborted, and NATO concentrated enhancing its security through confidence building and arms control measures with Russia, and in its wider neighbourhood. Such an approach is much more likely to bear long term fruit than deployment of a BMD system which every test shows is unlikely to work in any case.

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