Missile shield shift opens common ground for Russia and US
Strategists say that President Barack Obama's decision to scrap a controversial missile shield for Eastern Europe has mollified Russia, and could open the door for cooperation against common nuclear threats.
After years squabbling over how the US could build an effective missile defense shield for Europe without scaring or offending Moscow, a growing number of experts suggest there may be an obvious way to square that circle: bring the Russians in and make them partners in a broad multi-national project.Skip to next paragraph
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President Barack Obama's decision in September to shelve Bush-era plans to deploy strategic anti-missile interceptors in Poland and the Czech Republic has greatly mollified Moscow and opened a window of opportunity that might be used to change the whole security paradigm in Europe, some Russian experts say. They suggest it's an idea whose time has come, and one that dovetails neatly with Mr. Obama's embrace of the "Global Zero" campaign to eliminate nuclear weapons. Even though the US intends to go ahead with a toned-down missile shield for Eastern Europe, the plan to station tactical SM-3 anti-missile systems does not pose a threat to Russia's aging nuclear missile deterrent, and thus – at least for the moment – Moscow is unperturbed.
"Real opportunities have been created by Obama's shift on missile defense," says Alexander Konovalov, president of the independent Institute for Strategic Assessments in Moscow. "But the only way to make this moment permanent, and avoid new anti-missile plans becoming fresh irritants, is to work together to build a system to protect the world," against rogue states or accidental missile launches, he says.
The Russians say they have plenty to bring to the table if the US or NATO issues an invitation to work together on a joint shield, including a growing appreciation of the menace posed by potentially nuclear-tipped medium range missiles launched from Iran or North Korea.
But they would also have demands that could prove unacceptable to Washington, such as an insistence that Russia have its finger on the trigger in any cooperative global anti-missile network.
"The devil is in the details," says Ariel Cohen, a security expert with the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington. "If there were a joint key, the US would probably not want Russia to share it. It effectively would give a veto power to a foreign government when matters of US homeland defense come up."
But Mr. Cohen says there is a surprising amount of common ground between strategic thinkers in Moscow and Washington on the possibility to realize former US President Ronald Reagan's controversial "Star Wars" dream of making nuclear missiles irrelevant by building a high-tech umbrella to stop them.
While Russia's official stance remains to ask the US to agree to a ban on all anti-missile weapons similar to the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty that the former Bush administration pulled out of in 2001, a number of Russian strategists outside the government but who help advise the Kremlin on policy say they hope the government will soon take a compromise position that would include joint missile defense against, say, a nuclear weapon launched by a rogue state, coupled with aggressive steps by Russia and the US to reduce the size of their own nuclear arsenals.