Missile defense, an issue that has poisoned US-Russia relations, could be a “game-changer” that transforms ties if the two sides cooperate on a shared system, says a report by former top officials from both sides of the Atlantic.
Recent headlines in both countries have been reminiscent of the Cold War, with the Russians threatening to deploy missiles aimed at countering a proposed US missile shield, and the US responding that it will build the system, come what may.
The planned US shield, endorsed by NATO, would deploy US interceptor missiles in and around Europe in what Washington says is a layered protection against missiles that could be fired by countries like Iran.
Moscow says this could undermine its security if it becomes capable of neutralizing Russia’s nuclear deterrent.
Now an international commission that has been working on the matter for two years has designed a basic concept for cooperation with the help of military professionals from both sides.
The new proposal by the Euro-Atlantic Security Commission says the US, NATO and Russia could share data from radars and satellites about missile attacks and so provide one another with a more complete picture of any attack than countries would have on their own.
However, the parties would remain responsible for shooting down any missiles that threaten them. They would keep sovereign command-and-control over their own missile interceptors.
“While the Russians are somewhat skeptical about whether Iran is a threat ... the Russians are very strident about their worries about Pakistan, which has ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons,” said Stephen Hadley, a co-chairman of the working group that produced the proposal. He served as national security adviser to former US president George W. Bush.
Hadley said a working group of experts from the US, Europe and Russia concluded that there was enough of a threat from the proliferation of nuclear weapons capabilities and ballistic missiles with a range of up to 4,500km to conclude that defenses were needed.
“Constructing defenses takes a long time and the last thing you want to be — if you are doing defenses — is late to the party,” he said in an interview.
Hadley co-chaired the missile defense group together with Volker Ruehe, a former defense minister of Germany, and Vyacheslav Trubnikov, a former Russian deputy foreign minister and retired general.
The design of the shared system was created by Henry “Trey” Obering, a former chief of the US Missile Defense Agency, and Viktor Esin, a former chief of staff of the Russian Strategic Rocket Forces.
The missile defense proposal was part of a larger report by the Euro-Atlantic Security Commission that said the US, NATO countries and Russia should cooperate on the Arctic, energy issues and regional conflicts as well as missile defense. It is being unveiled this weekend at an annual international security conference in Germany.
“Successful cooperation on ballistic missile defense would be a game changer,” the proposal said. “It would go a long way toward overcoming the legacy of historical suspicion and achieving the strategic transformation that is needed.”
“Cooperation on missile defense would establish a pattern for working together, build trust and encourage further cooperation in other areas,” it added.
Hadley said the commission’s proposal would protect sensitive technologies by letting each side set up screens to filter radar and satellite data before it is shared.