Ballistic missile defence
Proliferation of ballistic missiles poses an increasing threat to NATO populations, territory and forces. Many countries in NATO’s proximity have ballistic missiles or are trying to develop or acquire them. NATO Ballistic Missile Defence (NATO BMD) is one of the Alliance’s permanent missions, as a component of the NATO Integrated Air and Missile Defence (IAMD) framework. NATO BMD is strictly defensive and contributes to NATO’s core task of deterrence and defence . BMD capabilities are an essential part of NATO’s strategic mix, along with conventional forces and nuclear deterrence, complemented by space and cyber capabilities.
US Aegis Ashore BMD site at the Deveselu military base in Romania
- NATO has a responsibility to protect its European populations, territory and forces in light of the increasing threats stemming from proliferation of ballistic missiles, particularly to the southeast of the Alliance’s borders.
- In 2010, Allies decided to develop an expanded BMD capability to pursue NATO's core task of deterrence and defence.
- In July 2016, Allies declared Initial Operational Capability of NATO BMD, which provides an enhanced capability to defend Alliance populations, territory and forces across NATO’s south-eastern area from a potential ballistic missile attack.
- Since then, the Alliance continues to develop the NATO BMD capability. Allies remain committed to the full implementation of NATO BMD, as was recently reiterated by NATO Heads of State and Government during the 2022 Madrid Summit.
- The NATO BMD capability combines commonly funded assets – in particular, command and control – and voluntary contributions provided by several Allies, such as the US European Phased Adaptive Approach.
- A growing number of Allies have already offered their contributions or are undergoing development or acquisition of additional BMD assets, such as upgraded ships with BMD-capable radars, ground-based air and missile defence systems or advanced detection capabilities.
- The NATO BMD capability is defensive. It is a long-term investment aimed at countering ballistic missile threats emanating from outside the Euro-Atlantic area.
NATO BMD is designed to counter the increasing threat posed by the proliferation of ballistic missiles in the vicinity of the south-eastern border of the Alliance. In recent years, for example, Allies have noted concerns about Iran’s intensified missile tests and the range and precision of its ballistic missiles. The aim of NATO BMD remains to provide full coverage and protection for all NATO European populations, territory and forces against ballistic missiles from outside the Euro-Atlantic area.
This core aim is based on the principles of indivisibility of Allied security and NATO solidarity, equitable sharing of risks and burdens, as well as reasonable challenge. It also takes into account the level of threat, affordability and technical feasibility, and is in line with the latest common threat assessments agreed by the Alliance. Should international efforts reduce the threats posed by ballistic missile proliferation, NATO missile defence can, and will, adapt accordingly.
Effective ballistic missile defence capabilities serve to complicate hostile planning for potential adversaries. They could also provide valuable decision-making space in times of crisis by giving civilian and military leaders more time to determine an appropriate response to a threat. Ballistic missile defence can complement the role of nuclear weapons in deterrence; it cannot substitute for them.
NATO BMD is intended to defend against potential threats emanating from outside the Euro-Atlantic area. NATO BMD is not directed against Russia and will not undermine Russia's strategic deterrence.
NATO BMD is based on voluntary national contributions, including nationally funded interceptors and sensors and hosting arrangements. It is also based on the command and control systems backbone delivered through the NATO BMD Programme, which is commonly funded by all Allies.
Germany hosts the NATO BMD command centre at Ramstein Air Base. The United States contributes to NATO BMD through its European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA). Türkiye is hosting a US BMD radar at Kürecik. Romania is hosting a US Aegis Ashore site at Deveselu Air Base. Poland is hosting another Aegis Ashore site, whose construction is nearing completion at the Redzikowo military base. Additionally, in the context of the EPAA, Spain is hosting four multi-mission BMD-capable Aegis ships at its naval base in Rota, for use of the NATO BMD mission when required.
Several Allies also offer additional integrated air and missile defence systems (such as Patriot or SAMP/T) or ships. Other Allies are also developing or acquiring BMD-capable assets, which could eventually be made available for NATO BMD.
The Integrated Air and Missile Defence Policy Committee (IAMD PC) is the senior committee under the North Atlantic Council that oversees and coordinates all efforts at the political-military level to develop the NATO BMD capability. It also provides political-military advice on NATO BMD to the North Atlantic Council, as part of its overall mandate related to policy aspects of NATO IAMD.
The Conference of National Armaments Directors (CNAD) is the senior committee responsible for steering the BMD programme, aimed at developing the necessary command and control functionalities for NATO BMD.
NATO Military Authorities are responsible for developing a military doctrinal framework for BMD and related operational planning, training and execution.
Several other NATO senior committees address NATO BMD in the context of broader topics, such as civil preparedness and crisis management.
At the 2010 NATO Summit in Lisbon, Allied Heads of State and Government agreed to address air and missile defence in a holistic way by developing a NATO Integrated Air and Missile Defence System (NATINAMDS), including the development of territorial BMD capability. Prior to this, NATO’s BMD efforts were focused on Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence (TBMD) – that is, BMD designed to protect armed forces deployed to a theatre of operation. The shift to territorial BMD represents a broader effort to defend NATO forces, populations and territory in Europe. NATINAMDS is based on the previously existing NATO Integrated Air Defence System (NATINADS).
At the 2012 Chicago Summit, the Alliance declared the achievement of the Interim NATO BMD Capability. Allies also endorsed a Deterrence and Defence Posture Review, which stated that missile defence can complement the role of nuclear weapons in deterrence; it cannot substitute for them.
At the 2016 Warsaw Summit, Allies declared the achievement of Initial Operational Capability of NATO BMD, which provides an enhanced capability to defend Alliance populations, territory and forces across NATO’s south-eastern area from a potential ballistic missile attack.
At the 2022 Madrid Summit, Allied Heads of State and Government adopted the NATO 2022 Strategic Concept, the key policy document guiding the Alliance’s activities, including BMD. In reference to the new and changed strategic environment, the 2022 Strategic Concept notes that “authoritarian actors challenge our interests, values and democratic way of life. They are investing in sophisticated conventional, nuclear and missile capabilities, with little transparency or regard for international norms and commitments”.
The 2022 Strategic Concept, therefore, emphasises that “NATO’s deterrence and defence posture is based on an appropriate mix of nuclear, conventional and missile defence capabilities, complemented by space and cyber capabilities. It is defensive, proportionate and fully in line with our international commitments”.
NATO launches two parallel feasibility studies for a future Alliance Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence (TBMD) system.
At the Prague Summit, Allied Leaders task a missile defence feasibility study to examine options for protecting Alliance forces, territory and populations against the full range of ballistic missile threats.
The study concludes that a territorial ballistic missile defence capability is technically feasible.
At the Bucharest Summit, Allied Leaders agree that the deployment of European-based US BMD assets should be an integral part of any future NATO-wide missile defence architecture.
The United States announces a plan for its European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA).
At the Lisbon Summit, Allied Leaders decide to develop a BMD capability to pursue NATO’s core task of collective defence. To this end, they decide that the scope of the existing TBMD programme will be expanded beyond the capability to protect forces to also include NATO European populations and territory. In this context, the EPAA and other national contributions are welcomed as valuable components of the NATO BMD architecture.
Türkiye announces a decision to host a US-owned missile defence radar as part of the NATO BMD capability.
Romania and the United States sign an agreement to host a US Aegis Ashore system in Romania as part of NATO's BMD capability.
An agreement between Poland and the United States on hosting a US Aegis Ashore system in Poland enters into force.
Spain and the United States announce an agreement to host US Aegis ships in the port of Rota, Spain, as another US contribution to NATO's ballistic missile defence capability.
NATO successfully installs and tests the command and control architecture at Allied Air Command in Ramstein, Germany.
At the Chicago Summit, Allies declare the Interim NATO BMD Capability, which is an operationally significant first step.
Between 2003 and 2013, in the framework of the NATO-Russia Council (NRC), NATO and Russia engaged in discussions related to Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence (TBMD), including assessing possible levels of interoperability among TBMD systems of NATO Allies and Russia. In 2013, Russia unilaterally suspends discussions on missile defence in the NRC framework. In response to the illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014, NATO suspends all practical cooperation with Russia, including on ballistic missile defence.
First US Aegis destroyer stationed in Rota, Spain in February; second US Aegis destroyer stationed in Rota in June.
Third US Aegis destroyer stationed in Rota in April; fourth US Aegis destroyer stationed in Rota in September.
The Aegis Ashore site in Deveselu, Romania is declared operational.
At the Warsaw Summit, Allied Leaders declare Initial Operational Capability of NATO BMD, which offers a stronger capability to defend Alliance populations, territory and forces across NATO’s south-eastern area from a potential ballistic missile attack.
At the Brussels Summit, Allied Leaders confirm that the next major milestone will be the completion of the core element of NATO BMD Command and Control, to enhance further the planning and execution of BMD operations. They also acknowledge that further work will be required to reach Full Operational Capability.
At the Madrid Summit, Allied Leaders reaffirm their commitment to fully developing NATO BMD.