by NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow at the Security and Defence Agenda Rountable ''Next steps in Missile Defence''
I very much appreciate the opportunity to be here today. The Security and Defence Agenda was established just after my last stint in Brussels, when I was US Ambassador to NATO. Over the past decade, the SDA has developed a stellar reputation. So let me compliment Giles Merritt for his inspired leadership of the SDA, and thank him for his invitation to speak to you today.
Missile defence is a key issue for NATO. As a security and defence Alliance, we have an iron-clad duty to defend our people and our territory. We are committed to working together not only to deal with current threats, but also to plan for dealing with future threats.
Today, we face a grave and growing threat from the proliferation of ballistic missile technology. More than 30 states already have that technology, or are seeking to acquire it. Some have ballistic missiles that can be fitted with conventional warheads or weapons of mass destruction. And several of our NATO Allies in southern Europe are already within range.
As Allies, we have a range of proven tools at our disposal to address this threat – deterrence, disarmament and diplomacy. But we must also be ready to respond if a potential aggressor, armed with ballistic missiles, refuses to be deterred, or rejects disarmament, or resists diplomacy. That is why we agreed to develop a NATO missile defence system at our Summit in Lisbon almost two years ago.
We have made good progress in implementing that decision. At our most recent NATO Summit, in Chicago in May, we were able to declare an interim missile defence capability. Key assets are deployed. They are linked up with an initial NATO command-and-control system. The procedures are in place. The people are trained. And tests have demonstrated that it works.
We are working hard at the moment to expand this initial system so we can attain full operational capability. This will not happen next week, it will take years. But we are committed to this longer-term goal and are moving forward. And let me emphasise that this is true transatlantic teamwork – in the best NATO tradition. Many different assets, from many different European Allies as well as from the US, are being brought together to deliver a common, integrated and shared Alliance capability.
The Netherlands has announced plans to upgrade four air-defence frigates with missile defence radar. France plans to develop an early-warning capability and long-range radar. Germany and The Netherlands have offered Patriot missile batteries, and Germany is hosting the NATO command-and-control system at Ramstein. Turkey, Romania, Poland and Spain have all agreed to host US assets, and we expect other Allies will announce additional contributions.
Our developing missile defence capability demonstrates Allies’ commitment to adapting to new and emerging security challenges. It is also an excellent example of Smart Defence – Allies working together to deliver a capability that they would be unable to afford on their own. In this endeavour, NATO acts as a unique organising framework that ensures unity of effort, interoperability, and cost-effectiveness.
We see this too in other areas, such as in Joint Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, air policing, and cyber defence. Together with our Connected Forces Initiative, these efforts should help us achieve our goal of “NATO Forces 2020” – modern, tightly connected forces, equipped, trained, exercised and commanded so that they can operate together and with partners in any environment.
Missile defence has brought a new dynamic to our cooperation within the Alliance. But we also strongly believe that cooperation in this area can be a real game changer in our relationship with Russia. Unfortunately, we have not made as much progress on that front as we would like.
Let me just say that in our view, Russia’s continuing objections to NATO’s missile defence plans are simply not grounded on facts. For geographical, scientific and numerical reasons, NATO’s missile defence cannot and will not change the strategic balance nor pose any threat to Russia’s assured second-strike capability. The system’s infrastructure is specifically configured and optimised to protect against missile threats from outside the Euro-Atlantic area – not from Russia. That’s true today and it will remain the case when NATO deploys the later phases of the system at the end of this decade. And if the Russians were to work with us on missile defence, they wouldn’t have to take my word for it; they would see it with their own eyes.
Ballistic missile proliferation is a real threat, not only for NATO countries, but also for Russia. Cooperating to defend against this threat – through linked radars, shared early warning data, and coordinated intercepts – would benefit both NATO and Russia. It would enhance our respective capabilities, and reduce our vulnerability. If NATO and Russian officers worked together 24/7 to plan and conduct combined missile defence operations, it would also create greater confidence and trust between us and show the world that NATO’s and Russia’s interests coincide. And that would benefit security throughout the entire Euro-Atlantic area.
NATO will continue to seek closer cooperation with Russia on missile defence, as well as in other areas. But irrespective of the progress we make with Russia in this area, we will push ahead with our own NATO missile defence capability as planned. Because it is critical to the collective defence of our people and our territory in this 21st century.
So let me conclude with some questions that I feel we could usefully debate:
First, how do we strengthen the case for missile defence? At a time when defence budgets are under pressure, how can we convince those who control the defence purse strings, that investment in missile defence is necessary?
Second, how do we encourage other Allies to make national contributions to the system. And what should those contributions be?
And third, how do we overcome Russia’s continuing concerns? How critical is Russian cooperation? Can we, and should we, look elsewhere for partners?
So those are some of the questions I hope we can debate, but of course, I’m sure you’ll have many more.