NATO-Russia relations and missile defence - A need for cooperation, not confrontation

Op-Ed by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on missile defence cooperation with Russia

  • 06 Dec. 2011 -
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  • Last updated: 19 Dec. 2011 10:57

From my first day in office as NATO secretary general, I have made clear that NATO-Russia cooperation remains of strategic importance. We share common security interests and face common challenges. And since our NATO-Russia summit meeting in Lisbon a year ago, we have come a long way in tackling new threats with new thinking.

We are bringing stability to Afghanistan, and stemming the flood of narcotics out of the country — together. We are fighting terrorism in our cities and our airspaces — together. We are combating piracy off the Horn of Africa — together. This cooperation benefits all of us. At Lisbon, we also agreed to discuss pursuing missile defense cooperation.

The missile threat we face is grave and growing. Over 30 states are working on advanced missile technology. Some of them already have ballistic missiles that can be fitted with conventional warheads or with weapons of mass destruction. Some of our major cities are already in range. That is why at the Lisbon summit, NATO agreed to develop a missile defense capability to protect its population, territory and forces. That remains our position today. We owe it to our people to defend them.

Along with a prominent U.S. contribution, a number of allies have made significant announcements, including Turkey, Poland, Romania, Spain, the Netherlands and France. These national contributions will be brought together under a common NATO command and control system. Key elements of it have already been tested successfully. By the time of our summit meeting in Chicago in May, we expect initial components of the system to be in place.

NATO’s system is a strong demonstration of solidarity in action. It also shows the strength of the trans-Atlantic link between North America and Europe. Our 28 nations agree on the significance of the threat and the importance of working together to address it. And by cooperating within NATO, rather than as nations working alone, we deliver a far more effective system at a far lower price.

Our threat perceptions may currently differ, but Russia could also be threatened by ballistic missiles. So it makes sense for us to cooperate in defending against them, by building two separate systems with the same goal. It makes sense practically, militarily and politically. It would show once and for all that we can build security with each other, rather than against each other.

NATO and Russia have held many discussions on missile defense. We have made it clear that our missile defense system is not directed at Russia. It is designed to protect European nations in NATO against threats from outside Europe; it is a defensive system.

Allies and NATO as a whole have made three practical proposals to allay Russian concerns. First, we offered transparency on missile defense programs through exchanges at the NATO-Russia Council, which is our forum for political dialogue, and we issued a standing invitation to Russian experts to observe and analyze missile defense tests. Second, we proposed holding joint NATO-Russia theater missile defense exercises next year. And third, we suggested establishing two joint missile defense centers, one for sharing data and the other for supporting planning.

Russia has also said it needs legal guarantees that NATO missile defenses are not a threat. In fact, when NATO and Russia signed the NATO-Russia Founding Act in 1997, we agreed that we will refrain from the threat or use of force against each other. So the guarantee has been there for over a decade.

Some of President Dmitri Medvedev’s recent comments about NATO’s missile defense system reflect a misunderstanding of the system. As a result, Russia has suggested deploying missiles in areas neighboring the alliance. Such suggestions reflect the rhetoric of the past and are inconsistent with the strategic relationship NATO and Russia agreed to seek. I am, however, pleased that Medvedev has not closed the door on continued dialogue with NATO about missile defense.

Missile defense cooperation can radically change the way NATO and Russia look at each other. In the 21st century, confrontation is not a choice. The only real choice is cooperation.