On June 30, I attended a debate with Dmitry Rogozin, Russian ambassador to NATO, who outlined his perspective of the U.S. and NATO’s missile defense (MD) plans in Europe. As anyone who has heard Rogozin speak before will tell you, he does not mince his words, and harshly criticized the proposals. His technical complaints and extreme suspicion of U.S. motives indicates Russian resistance to European MD is unlikely to soften any time soon.
The ambassador’s main remark was that the proposed MD architecture — a mixture of so called “theatre” and “territorial” defense missiles — will implicitly “infringe on Russia’s strategic nuclear capability.”
Indeed, the ambassador made no efforts to conceal his extreme suspicion of the U.S. for building this system. He openly accused NATO of attempting to “pose a threat to Russian strategic nuclear forces,” or in other words, trying nullify Russia’s nuclear deterrent. MD initiatives during the Cold War were “aimed at Russia” and its nuclear weapons, he said. This new effort is no different.
He even went so far as to compare the proposed MD architectures in Europe to a physical military presence on Russian soil, saying: “Just as you do with conventional forces, missile defense must not transgress beyond the borders of NATO into the national borders of other states.” In short, if NATO’s missiles have the technical range to pass over Russian territory, Moscow will view it as a transgression of territorial sovereignty.
To top off his argument, he questioned the very existence of a missile threat to Europe, which analysts (and PolicyMic writers) agree is predominantly emanating from Iran. Citing an apparent inability for Iran to test advanced inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), he asked: “Is the missile threat far-fetched? Or is it a political idea created to unify the alliance?”
So, the ambassador’s arguments have two key pillars. Firstly, he fears that NATO MD threatens Russia’s nuclear arsenal and invalidates its nuclear deterrent. Secondly, he believes the threat to Europe is imagined, and is being used to politically veil a move by the U.S. against Russia.
This stance — fueled more by U.S. suspicion than technical evidence — is unlikely to soften any time soon. Indeed, a host of counter-points were provided by participants at the same conference. Participants argued that the proposed missiles would be too few, and too short-ranged, to invalidate Russia’s extensive ICBM stockpile. Iran’s recent missile tests, including space launches, indicated a genuine escalation of threat. Moreover, while the placement of missiles in Eastern Europe seems targeted against Moscow, it is merely a geographical necessity for covering trajectories from the Middle East.
However, none of these arguments will placate Russian fears. As Karl-Heinz Kamp, Research Director at the NATO Defense College, commented on the day: Russian decision making “seems to reflect Cold War attitudes” on this issue. NATO will no doubt keep trying, but a breakthrough seems distant, judging by today’s discussion.
Photo Credit: Gleamlight