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April 04, 2012

Missile Defense Cooperation with Russia Still Makes Sense
Posted by The Editors

BMDThis post written by Eric Auner, an analyst with Guardian Six Consulting, a private research and analysis firm. He tweets at @eauner.

Last month at the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit, President Obama was overheard asking outgoing Russian President Dmitri Medvedev for “space” on the missile defense issue, stating that he would have “more flexibility” after the November election.

Administration critics pounced, including Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) who spearheaded the unsuccessful effort to defeat the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) in 2010.  Writing in the Wall Street Journal earlier this week, Kyl asserted “It appears the president is willing to compromise our own missile-defense capabilities” in order to make further progress on arms reductions, he wrote, referring to Obama’s expressed interest in further nuclear reductions.

Kyl concluded by writing:

“The federal government has no higher moral obligation than to protect the American people and to help ensure the human race never again experiences the ruin and destruction of the wars that occurred before the advent of nuclear weapons. Supporting a robust nuclear deterrent and an effective missile defense is a moral obligation for all those who are entrusted with ensuring our nation's security.”

Kyl overlooks critical facts in the broadly-acknowledged history of missile defense and missile defense cooperation. During the negotiation of the New START treaty, for example, the Obama administration did not agree to Russian requests for limits on missile defense, and the final treaty did not contain limits on U.S. missile defense plans. This position is entirely consistent with the current bipartisan consensus that opposes giving a veto over U.S. missile defense plans to Russia or any other country.

Whatever one thinks about missile defense as a national strategy, it is clear that the administration has made it a priority. The administration led the effort to place territorial missile defense at the core of NATO strategy in 2010, an effort that garnered unanimous support among Alliance partners including recent NATO members on Russia’s border.

The United States has concluded a series of bilateral deals with partner nations such as Poland and Turkey to host U.S. missile defense assets, despite Russian objections to the system. The administration has also moved forward on existing missile defense cooperation efforts with some of America’s closest allies, such as Japan and Israel.

The Obama administration has also repeatedly rejected Russian requests for a jointly operated system with Russian “red button” rights. It has also rejected Russian requests for legally binding guarantees that the U.S. system will not target Russia.

In short, robust missile defense, and especially the European system in all its four phases, is now American policy. There is no indication that this will change, regardless of the upcoming election’s outcome.

Furthermore, the “hot mic” incident does not weaken the case for limited missile defense cooperation with Russia. Missile defense has long been a contentious issue between Russia and the United States. As both sides built massive nuclear arsenals during the Cold War, each side worried that the other’s missile defenses could blunt the effectiveness of their offensive forces and give the advantage to their opponent. According to a recent Euro-Atlantic Security Initiative (EASI) report, U.S.-Russia missile defense cooperation would be a “game changer” that “would go a long way toward overcoming the legacy of historical suspicion and achieving the strategic transformation that is needed.”

The United States currently possesses a significant advantage in missile defense in terms of technology, deployed assets, and diplomatic relationships that allow the United States to flexibly deploy missile defenses and take advantage of partner efforts and territory. Cooperation now, on American terms and without compromising sensitive data or technology, makes strategic sense.

Cold War thinking, including hyperbolic Russian fears about U.S. missile defense deployments, will still take time to overcome. As U.S. Special Envoy for Strategic Stability and Missile Defense Ellen Tauscher told the Missile Defense Association last month, “Missile defense is one area where we can work together with Russia to end Cold War thinking and move away from Mutually Assured Destruction toward Mutually Assured Stability.” Partisan sniping does nothing to move us towards that goal.

Photo: Missile Defense Agency


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