Ballistic missiles pose an increasing threat to Allied populations, territory and deployed forces. Over 30 countries have, or are acquiring, ballistic missiles that could be used to carry not just conventional warheads, but also weapons of mass destruction. The proliferation of these capabilities does not necessarily mean there is an immediate intent to attack NATO. However, it does mean that the Alliance has a responsibility to take missile defence into account as part of its mission to protect its populations.
In early 2010, NATO acquired the first phase of initial NATO missile defense capability to protect Alliance forces against ballistic missile threats. At the November 2010 NATO Summit in Lisbon, NATO’s leaders decided to develop a ballistic missile defence (BMD) capability to pursue its core task of collective defence. They decided that the scope of the current Active Layered Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence (ALTBMD) programme’s command, control and communication capabilities should be expanded beyond the capability to protect forces to also include NATO European populations and territory. The US European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) and other possible national contributions were welcomed as a valuable national contribution to the missile defence NATO architecture.
The Alliance is conducting three BMD related activities:
1. Active Layered Theatre BMD System capability
The aim of this capability is to protect NATO-deployed forces against short and medium-range ballistic missile threats up to a 3,000-kilometre range. In order to manage the risk associated with the development of such a complex capability, ALTBMD will be fielded in several phases.
2. BMD for the protection of NATO European territory, populations and forces
In June 2011, NATO defence ministers approved the NATO ballistic missile defense action plan, which provides a comprehensive overview of the key actions and NAC decisions required to implement missile defence NATO capability over the next decade.
In the autumn of 2011, Turkey announced its decision to host a BMD radar at Kürecik as an integral part of missile defence NATO capability. Romania and the United States agreed to base SM-3 interceptors at Deveselu airbase in Romania and a similar basing agreement between the United States and Poland entered into force. In November 2011, the Netherlands announced plans to upgrade four air-defence frigates with extended long-range BMD early-warning radars as its national contribution to NATO's BMD capability.
Finally, Spain and the United States announced an agreement to base four Aegis BMD ships in Rota, Spain, as part of the US contribution to NATO’s BMD capability.
3. NATO missile defense cooperation with Russia
NATO and Russia are also examining possible areas for cooperation on territorial BMD. At the Lisbon Summit, the NRC agreed to discuss pursuing BMD cooperation. They agreed on a joint ballistic missile threat assessment, and to continue dialogue in this area. The NRC would also resume theatre BMD cooperation. The NRC was tasked to develop a comprehensive joint analysis of the future framework for BMD cooperation.
The Strategic Concept recognizes, inter alia, that “the proliferation of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery, threatens incalculable consequences for global stability and prosperity. During the next decade, proliferation will be most acute in some of the world’s most volatile regions.” Therefore, NATO will “develop the capability to defend our populations and territories against ballistic missile attack as a core element of our collective defence, which contributes to the indivisible security of our Alliance. We will actively seek cooperation on NATO missile defense with Russia and other Euro-Atlantic partners.” As a defensive capability, BMD will be one element of a broader response to the threat posed by the proliferation of ballistic missiles.