Without NATO, Russia Holds Its Own Missile Defense Conference

4 MINS READMay 3, 2012 | 12:33 GMT
Russian President Dmitri Medvedev (R) and Strategic Missile Troops Commander Sergei Karakayev in Saratov, Russia on Feb. 21

Russia's Defense Ministry is holding the International Conference on Missile Defense in Moscow from May 3 to May 4. The conference is a response to the cancellation of the Russia-NATO Summit, which was to be held in Chicago in late May. The summit would have been the first of its kind since 2007, when Russian President Vladimir Putin railed against NATO in a speech. When the 2012 summit was announced, the two sides began lengthy negotiations to sort out their many disagreements.

The countries' main point of contention is the United States' plans for ballistic missile defense (BMD) installations in Central Europe and Turkey. Moscow does not believe these plans will erode Russia's nuclear deterrent, but they represent U.S. military guarantees along the former Soviet border. Russia wants to be integrated into the BMD plans and receive written legal guarantees from Washington that the future system is not meant as a move against Moscow. The United States has made it clear that it will grant neither concession. Instead, Washington is offering to share data with Russia. Washington may be willing to integrate some Russian sensors and radars so long as the United States can maintain control over its own systems and Russia has no capability to break the chain within the system.

The day before the conference in Moscow, Russia said it would respond if the United States moved forward with its BMD plans. Russia has already activated the S-400 air defense system in Kaliningrad, and there are reports Russia could deploy Iskander short-range ballistic missile systems by the end of the year. Moscow is considering other means to counter U.S. BMD plans, but further moves will carry major risks.

Moscow began planning its alternative conference in March, after NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen indicated that disagreements between Washington and Moscow would likely sink the upcoming Russia-NATO Summit. Russia designed the conference to present its position to the rest of NATO and to other global partners. Russia has used the United States' intransigence to shape the discussion inside NATO for the past few years. Moscow wants to create the impression that the United States is backing Russia into a corner and leaving Moscow no choice but to counter.

It was not initially clear who would attend the conference in Moscow, since some European states — Poland and Lithuania, according to Stratfor sources — declined the invitation. In the run-up to the conference, all 28 NATO members confirmed that they would send delegations. Another 32 countries, including China, South Korea, Japan and members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, did the same. NATO Deputy Secretary-General Alexander Vershbow, who was not always agreeable toward the Kremlin when he was U.S. ambassador to Moscow, will represent the alliance. In the early 2000s, Vershbow considered including the former Soviet state of Ukraine in the United States' missile defense plans — a move that would have given the United States a military presence on Russia's border.

According to a schedule presented the day before the conference, Russia will lay out what it considers the dangers of U.S. BMD plans in Central Europe with a computer simulation — something the Defense Ministry has not done before. Antonov said the simulation would cause leaders to re-evaluate the consequences of taking part in Washington's missile defense plans. Washington's European Phased Adaptive Approach is tailored to be flexible and agile instead of locking the system in a single country or a pair of countries, as the Bush administration's plans would have done. Russia knows the United States has no intention of changing its position, so Moscow is focusing on anyone who participates in Washington's plans.

Antonov said the United States' missile defense plans in Europe could make a Russian response necessary in the next five years. Moscow has already increased pressure on Central Europe by activating its S-400 air defense system in Kaliningrad — next door to Poland, which is set to host a U.S. BMD installation. Russia reportedly could deploy the Iskander short-range ballistic missile system in Kaliningrad by the end of the year. Whereas the S-400 is a defensive system replacing an older air defense system, the deployment of the Iskander system would pose an authentic offensive provocation to Central Europe.

Stratfor sources have said the Kremlin is considering other countermeasures, such as pulling out of U.S.- and European-focused security agreements. In 2007, Russia showed that it was willing to break such treaties when it suspended the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty, which restricts the amount of conventional defense equipment each country in NATO and the Warsaw Pact, and their successors, can deploy.

Russia is member to two other treaties from the end of the Cold War meant to ensure civil relations with the United States and NATO. The first is the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which succeeded START I in 2009. The treaty places a ceiling on the number of deployed delivery systems and strategic warheads the United States and Russia can possess. The second is the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), which eliminates from NATO and Russian arsenals ballistic missiles with ranges of 480-5,470 kilometers (300-3,400 miles) as well as all ground-launched cruise missiles.

Backing out of New START or INF would create a much larger break between Russia and the United States and NATO. No one wants a new arms race (and Russia could not afford one), particularly with so many new military players in the world, such as China. Moreover, these are treaties meant to prevent another Cold War. Breaking them could also hamper Russia's plans to keep NATO divided; currently the alliance does not agree on how to handle relations with Moscow. If Russia became a major threat, NATO members could unite against it. Russia is looking at the situation as a long-term game in which it must protect its national interests. Moscow does not want to create a major break with the United States and NATO.

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