''NATO: Defending against Ballistic Missile Attack''

Speech by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the Royal United Services Institute in London

  • 15 Jun. 2011 -
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  • Last updated 20-Jun-2011 10:22

Keynote address by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the twelfth RUSI Missile Defence Conference in London.

Professor Clarke,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This annual conference has become the point of reference for discussion on missile defence. It brings together experts from a wide range of countries, from governments, and from industry. And I want to thank you for inviting me to contribute to your discussion.

Missile defence is particularly important for our Alliance. And it has the potential to fundamentally change how NATO works with other nations to build lasting security and stability.

Last November, at the NATO Summit in Lisbon, we agreed to develop a missile defence capability. We also invited Russia to cooperate with us.

Those decisions were the culmination of over 8 years of discussions. And they initiated a major Alliance programme of work. This work has two parallel tracks – one that is purely internal, and one that is external with Russia. And work is progressing on both.

In my remarks today, I want to answer three questions. WHY do we need missile defence? WHY do we need transatlantic cooperation to make it work? And WHY do we want to cooperate with Russia?

Let me start with WHY we need it.

As we sit here discussing missile defence, some people elsewhere in the world are discussing missile attack.

Over 30 states either already have, or are developing, missile technology. These missiles can be fitted with conventional warheads, or with weapons of mass destruction.

Some of them can already reach parts of NATO territory. Others can threaten NATO interests. And all the time, technology is advancing. Ranges are increasing. Accuracy and payloads are increasing. And the number of countries with a proven capability is increasing.

We cannot ignore these trends. We cannot afford to have even one of our cities hit. We cannot take the risk of doing nothing. Missile threats are real. And our defence must be real.

NATO is responsible for the defence and protection of our territory and the 900 million people who live on it. This is our raison d’être. And this is why we have to take action.

We need to demonstrate our determination to defend and protect our citizens. To defend and protect our territory. And to defend and protect our forces.

At the same time, this will demonstrate that we will not be coerced or intimidated by proliferation programmes.

This is why NATO needs missile defence. It is why we agreed that missile defence is a core element of our collective defence. And it is why we have decided to develop a missile defence capability to protect NATO European populations, territory, and forces.

This leads to my second point. WHY is transatlantic cooperation necessary to protect NATO European Allies?

Building effective missile defence is challenging. But it can be done. We are already building a NATO system to protect deployed troops from missile attack. It is tried and tested technology. And we have already demonstrated that it works.

We have agreed to expand the capability of this system, so it can also protect NATO European populations and territory. We will do this in stages. This staged approach means we can include the latest technical developments. We can adapt to an evolving threat. And we can ensure we stay at least one step ahead.

A key contribution to this expanded system to protect European territory comes from the United States. And it is this transatlantic element that makes our missile defence system so significant. Both militarily, and politically.

The United States has decided to do it on a multilateral basis, in NATO. It will share its capability with Allies, to help protect them too. And it will share the decision making with Allies, so they are involved in choosing the right responses.

At a time when some are voicing concerns that the United States is disengaging from Europe, this contribution to missile defence is an extremely strong signal of America’s continuing commitment to our continent. It was warmly welcomed by all Allies. And the first elements will deploy to Europe later this year.

But the United States’ contribution on its own is not enough. To be effective in protecting all European Allied territory, the American assets need to be accompanied by other nations’ missile defence sensors and interceptors. Seven European Allies1 already contribute their national missile defence systems for the protection of Allied forces. We now need European Allies to contribute to territorial missile defence too. And all these national elements need to be integrated into a single NATO network.

This is the essence of NATO missile defence for Europe. It is all about bringing Allies’ individual contributions together into one unified system. It is a strong signal that Europe and North America are committed to transatlantic security. It will bind them closer together. And it will make our Alliance even stronger. Our goal is to have an interim capability by the time of our Summit next year.

At the same time, it achieves economies of scale. It offers far better protection than if Allies deployed their assets on a purely national basis. And it perfectly illustrates the benefits of what I call “Smart Defence”.

In times of economic difficulty, the “Smart Defence” approach means we can do together what we cannot do alone. It allows us to deliver better security for all. Not by spending more money. But by spending more time and effort on multinational cooperation and coordination. NATO provides the coherence. And it ensures that Allies can plug their own capabilities into a common system.

Missile defence for Europe also underlines why NATO’s transatlantic role will continue to be critical for our security. We will coordinate the contributions of Allies from both sides of the Atlantic. We will provide the glue to hold everything together with our command and control system. And we will provide the political consultation and decision-making framework for collective defence.

Now let me turn to my third point. WHY do we want to cooperate with Russia?

Large parts of Russia, and many Russian citizens, face a missile threat too. And NATO is convinced that cooperating with Russia on missile defence is in the interest of all of us – NATO Allies, and Russia. It makes sense politically. It makes sense practically. And it makes sense militarily.

What does NOT make sense, is for Russia to talk about spending billions of roubles on a new offensive system to target the West.

This type of rhetoric is unnecessary.

This type of thinking is out of date.

This type of investment is a waste of money.

Because, we are not a threat to Russia.

We will not attack Russia.

We will not undermine the security of Russia.

The threats to Russia come from elsewhere. And our invitation to cooperate on missile defence is proof of that.

So where are we on our cooperation? From the beginning, the Allied position has been very clear. We are not talking about a single system. We have taken a decision to build an Allied system. That is a reality. And that will not change. What we are talking about is synergy between our NATO system and a Russian system.

The reason for this is simple. NATO has collective defence obligations which bind all Allies. And our territorial missile defence system will be part of our collective defence framework. We cannot outsource our collective defence obligations to non-NATO members. And actually I am equally convinced that Russia would not want to give up any of its sovereignty either.

Last week, in Brussels, NATO and Russian Defence Ministers discussed the next steps in our missile defence cooperation. We all understand that the foundation for our cooperation must be confidence and trust.

We could build them through agreeing on political principles and objectives for future cooperation on missile defence. And this should be our next step.

Russia says it wants guarantees. We can give these by agreeing that our systems will not undermine the strategic balance. That they will strengthen each others security – and not weaken it.

But I remain convinced that the best guarantee for Russia is to be part of the process. And to be connected to the system. We should focus on actual cooperation, not abstract questions. This is the best way to enhance transparency and confidence. And it builds up the mutual trust that is necessary to take the key decisions we need to take.

We have already made good progress in a number of areas. Including on the basis of Russian ideas for joint centres.

For example, we could envisage setting up a joint centre where we could look at the ballistic missile threat together, share early warning data, exchange information and share assessments.

We could also envisage setting up a joint centre where we could coordinate our responses. And let me emphasise the word coordinate. It would allow us to ensure we select the best and most appropriate response.

This is the very reason why cooperation between NATO and Russia is important. Because it can lead to a more effective missile defence capability for both of us.

But it can lead to so much more too. Missile defence cooperation can create a virtuous cycle. It can help us to build the confidence and trust to tackle some of the more difficult issues in our relationship. It provides a unique opportunity for us to build greater security and stability across the entire Euro-Atlantic area. And it could lead to a sea-change in the way we look at our relations. That is a political goal worth working hard for. And by taking the political decision to trust each other, it’s a goal we can achieve. 

Ladies and gentlemen,

I know that many of you here today are intimately involved in delivering NATO’s missile defence capability. And I would like to thank you for your work. And please keep up your efforts. Because with your help, we can achieve our goal of an interim NATO capability at our Summit next year. And I hope we can announce closer cooperation with Russia too. That would be progress well worth celebrating.

An effective missile defence is a vital capability for the Alliance. It reinforces our transatlantic solidarity. It provides an opportunity for us to work more closely with Russia. And it could be a real game-changer in the way NATO and Russia deliver Euro-Atlantic security.

We could build security with each other, rather than against each other. Our past was divided through fear and suspicion. Our future can be shared through cooperation and confidence.

Thank you.

1. France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Poland and Spain.