Updated: 06-Mar-2003 NATO Articles

Article first
published in
, a
published by the Russian Ministry
of Defence, on
27 Feb. 2003


Ballistic Missile Threats:
A NATO-Russia Strategic Challenge

by Mr Robert Bell, Assistant Secretary General,
Chairman, NATO Russia Council (NRC) Ad Hoc Working Group
on Theatre Missile Defence

Past & Present Missile Threats

With the first successful operational test flight of a German V2 missile in October 1942, a new and decisive chapter in the history of armaments was opened. This revolutionary weapon eclipsed traditional artillery in its range (320 kilometres for the first V2) as well as in its destructive capability. Throughout the Cold War, the technological sophistication and capacity of both strategic and tactical ballistic missiles never ceased to increase.

Today, the world faces an unprecedented danger posed by the increasing availability of ever more accurate ballistic missiles, which certain states have demonstrated the willingness to use. The once-elite community of high technology missile-capable powers was limited to the United States and certain allies, as well as the Soviet Union. It has now expanded to include China, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, India, Pakistan and others. Left unchecked, such proliferation poses a serious danger to all peace-seeking nations. And unlike the V-2 arsenal, today’s ballistic missiles, whatever their range, can carry a wide array of nuclear, biological or chemical payloads, which are also, sadly, spreading to an increasingly broad and unpredictable community of nations – and terrorist organisations – around the globe.

The potential dangers posed by this trend recall the mass casualty and doomsday scenarios, which dominated the Cold War era. The difference is that today’s threats cannot necessarily be deterred by the promise of retaliation. Some of the leaders who control such arsenals might well be indifferent to mass casualties among their own people, as long as they can blackmail or inflict damage on their neighbours and the broader international community. And for the terrorists, suicide has become just another part of their plan. For these reasons, several nations, including Russia, have developed defensive missile defence systems designed to protect armed forces and population centres against missile threats. And this is one reason the 19 NATO Allies recently agreed at their Summit in Prague, to launch a new feasibility study exploring the possibility of defending their territories and population against the full spectrum of missile threats.

Iraqi short and theatre-range ballistic missile attacks on coalition forces, as well as on Saudi and Israeli civilians, during the 1991 Persian Gulf War were a dramatic and tangible illustration, both of the threat posed by ballistic missiles and of the technical challenge involved in defending against them. While the Scuds used at that time, with their conventional payloads, were not state-of-the art missiles, they nevertheless proved very difficult to intercept, particularly in their terminal phase. Intercepting and completely destroying a relatively small object flying at more than three kilometres per second with another missile is anything but an easy task and is often characterised as hitting a bullet with a bullet. Few nations possess the necessary technological capabilities to successfully defeat such an attack – a fact that makes their practical co-operation even more crucial.

Disconcertingly, since the end of the Cold War, the sources of threats to our security have become both more diverse and less predictable. Expanding arms proliferation fuels those threats while deterrence no longer holds the promise of the past, especially when some of the newest members of the theatre ballistic missiles’ club are taken into account. Moreover, the terrorist strikes in New York and Washington on September 11th 2001 have shown that devastating attacks can come from anywhere and that traditional notions of geographic security are illusory. Other recent events have demonstrated that Russia also faces similar threats – a reality that makes NATO-Russian co-operation in confronting terrorism even more urgent.

Role of the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) in TMD

An historic step toward combating this perilous new international threat was taken on 28th May 2002 at the NATO Summit in Rome. A new era in NATO-Russia relations began, opening the door to co-operation on a broad range of shared strategic challenges, including Theatre Missile Defence (TMD). The underpinning principle of the new partnership – the equality of the twenty members of the NATO-Russia Council in areas of common interest – presaged a new and particularly effective way of approaching complex tasks. In the specific area of TMD co-operation, the first joint meeting “at 20,” on July 31, 2002 in The Hague, was especially memorable. The sight of 20 flags, including Russia’s, flying side-by-side for the first time in front of NATO’s Consultation, Command and Control Agency was appropriately symbolic of the new quality and substance of our relationship.

The creation of the NATO-Russia Council gave a significant impetus to NATO-Russia cooperation on TMD. In fact, however, our dialogue in this area had begun much earlier. In May 2000, Russian Federation President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin put forward an initiative for the creation of a pan-European non-strategic missile defence system. The Russian proposal called for an economically feasible missile defence system whose scale, structure and capabilities would be commensurate with the risks faced by Europe, with the overall goal of strengthening strategic stability and developing mutual understanding and co-operation. In November 2000, in pursuit of that initiative, the Russian Federation Defence Minister Sergey Ivanov gave NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson a paper outlining Russian proposals on the purpose and structure of the proposed system’s creation, as well as the main activities Russia and NATO could carry out together. This paper described a concept within which NATO and Russia would develop an ability to deploy joint, mobile, non-strategic missile defence formations as part of a rapid reaction deployment force. The missile defences would have to be capable of defending military, civilian and economic targets against ballistic missile threats with ranges up to 3500 km. This Russian initiative was the starting point for intensive consultations in 2001 and 2002, which led to the programme of work agreed by Foreign Ministers of NATO Member States and Russia in mid-2002 in Reykjavik and during the first discussions of the NATO-Russia Council (NRC).

Rome Summit – Pursuing NATO-Russia Interoperability

The main goal of TMD co-operation in the NRC framework is to analyse and evaluate possible levels of interoperability among respective NATO and Russian TMD systems, and to explore opportunities for intensified practical co-operation, including joint training and exercises. The idea is to be able to cooperate on battlefields where we are coalition partners, including against offensive theatre missiles. Given the plethora of missile threats confronting us, it is certain that the time has come for genuine co-operative NATO-Russian efforts to safeguard our security.

To achieve that objective, we first have to resolve key technological and operational questions and challenges. Russia and some NATO nations have developed and continue to develop dedicated defence systems, based on very capable and agile missiles, incorporating advanced radar technologies and robust command and control architectures. In the case of both Russia and NATO member states, those systems have been developed on the basis of different technical standards, as well as different operational doctrines of engagement. Overcoming these disparities to achieve battlefield interoperability is a technical and doctrinal challenge worthy of a NATO-Russian commitment to co-operate.

Creation of the NATO-Russia TMD Ad-Hoc Working Group

As the means to that end, on 11th June 2002, the NATO-Russia Council at Ambassadorial level established the TMD Ad-Hoc Working Group (AHWG) as a dedicated body to carry forward the technical work of the TMD co-operation initiative. This group is charged with assessing TMD concepts and terminology and exploring opportunities for intensified practical co-operation, including joint TMD exercises and training and to conduct consultations on respective TMD systems and systems’ capabilities.

The TMD AHWG meets on a regular basis, with representatives from the respective capitals or from the national missions in Brussels, and includes experts in the TMD field. It has already developed an interim programme of work, with a timetable and clear objectives. To better address the many challenges involved in TMD co-operation, the work is divided into five areas of activity: terminology, TMD experimental concepts, TMD joint Concept of Operations (CONOPS), Training and Exercises, and TMD Systems and Systems’ Capabilities. Each of these elements is addressed by a dedicated Support Working Team composed of experts from nations, military authorities, NATO Agencies and the International Staff in NATO Headquarters.

For example, on terminology, the aim is to establish a NATO-Russia Compendium of agreed common terms used in the Extended Air Defence and Theatre Missile Defence (EAD/TMD) context, in English, French and Russian. It will initially be composed of approximately 250 terms and expressions. Such a glossary will be indispensable for our follow-on work.

In parallel, another important aspect of this co-operation will be the development, by NRC military representatives, of a joint, initial experimental TMD concept. That experimental concept would be the basis for the development of the architecture for a NATO - Russia joint deployment, as well as for an experimental Concept of Operations (CONOPS). The modelling and simulation of increasingly more complex scenarios to support the CONOPS could lead to modifications and further developments of the experimental concept in an incremental approach to solving the interoperability problems confronting us.

The systems and systems’ capabilities aspect of the work is dedicated to the analysis and evaluation of possible levels of interoperability and the means to attain such interoperability among respective NATO-Russian TMD systems in a methodical step-by-step approach. The key technical domains include the command and control and the early warning dimensions of defence against missile attack.

To put those joint concepts to the test in a practical way, the training and exercise team must ultimately develop an operationally realistic TMD joint exercise. This part of the work would also benefit from the shared experience of Russian – United States’ TMD practical co-operation, in particular Command Post Exercises which, in recent years, have been organised biennially.

Co-operative Way Forward

Defence against theatre missile attacks is just one area in which NATO-Russia co-operation in the field of armaments magnifies our individual technical capacities to combat a common and dangerous threat. I believe that all 20 Nations in the NATO-Russia Council understand that we can ill afford to fail in that task. We live in an historic and exciting time of challenge and promise. After decades of confrontation and mistrust, today’s new security realities present us with a unique opportunity to construct a NATO-Russia relationship based on mutual trust, transparency and shared responsibilities. Those new qualities in our relationship will inevitably be strengthened, as we increasingly rely on one another in overcoming common threats. I have every confidence that our new and important co-operation in Theatre Missile Defence will add momentum to our efforts to build a durable security framework for the Euro-Atlantic region, on the essential foundation of true NATO -Russia partnership.