New US-Russia arms race? Battle lines grow over missile defense.
Defense Secretary Gates and his Russian counterpart will sit down for high-level talks Thursday. US plans for antimissile deployments are spurring threats that Russia might withdraw from the New START nuclear treaty.
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One sign of improving Russia-NATO ties – and also an example of how the two former cold war antagonists could work together for common ends – was on display this week. The occasion was the first airborne antiterrorist exercise,Vigilant Skies 2011, in which NATO and Russian armed forces integrated activities to prevent a September 11-type attack by tracking a "hijacked" aircraft across much of eastern Europe.Skip to next paragraph
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In the exercise, praised by officials on both sides, Russian fighters and ground controllers squired the "target" to the Polish border, where they seamlessly handed it off to the Polish Air Force, along with full information about its route.
But the looming row over missile defense threatens to overwhelm any goodwill generated by practical examples like that.
What Moscow wants
What Moscow wants is either a single antimissile system that's jointly operated – in other words, with a Russian finger on the trigger -- or two separate systems, one for Russia and one for Europe, that do not overlap. Since any missile launched against the West from Iran or North Korea would almost certainly traverse Russian airspace, the US and NATO appear unwilling to agree to limit their own system to radar and interceptor coverage that would end at the Russian border.
The 28 Defense ministers of NATO countries, meeting in Brussels, have yet to agree on the shape of a NATO-operated antimissile umbrella to defend Europe, but the organization's secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, has already dashed Moscow's hopes for command-level participation in a single system.
"The reason is simple — NATO cannot outsource to nonmembers collective defense obligations which bind its members," he said Tuesday. "I can also assure you – and I have said it publicly on many occasions – that NATO will never attack Russia and we are convinced that Russia sees the alliance in the same light," Mr. Rasmussen added.
The Russians say rhetorical pledges aren't good enough.
"Russia wants commitments and legal guarantees which the Obama administration is not able to provide," says Vladimir Dvorkin, an expert with the Security Center at the official Institute of World Economy and International Relations in Moscow. "Political stubborness on both sides makes it difficult to have a constructive dialogue on this topic."