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Russia Thumbs Nose At NATO, But Stays Within START Rules

Posted by Colin Clark on

With its launch of a new, faster intercontinental missile, Russia appears to have sent a message to NATO and the United States that it isn’t sitting still in the face of what it says is the threat posed by the alliance’s new missile defense system.

This new, faster missile — supposedly called the Avant Garde — would supposedly have a better chance of evading our anti-missile system. It boasts a range of more than 10,000 miles and can carry a larger warhead than any existing Russian missile. It appears to be an improved version of the Topol-M.

The alliance declared at the Chicago summit that its missile defense program had met standards to declare it was an “interim capability.” While no one at the summit could clearly explain what this meant, most reporters assume it means the system have a decent chance of shooting down Iranian missiles. Full operational capability for the system is set for 2018.

At the NATO Summit, one of the few questions from a Russian journalist centered on missile defense. The NATO Secretary General offered her a moderately undiplomatic answer, basically saying: It’s our decision. The system isn’t directed at Russia and doesn’t pose a threat to Russian missiles so there’s no need for them to worry about this. But, Anders Fogh Rasmussen told the reporter, we hope for Russian cooperation.

NATO’s fairly turgid Deterrence and Defense Posture Review was released during the Chicago summit. However, it did say, pretty clearly, that Russia had nothing to worry about.

“NATO missile defense is not oriented against Russia nor does it have the capability to undermine Russia’s strategic deterrent,” it said. NATO would “actively seek cooperation on missile defense with Russia and, in accordance with NATO’s policy of engagement with third states on ballistic missile defense, engage with other relevant states, to be decided on a case-by-case basis.”

Even with such soothing words, the Russians seem to relish putting themselves in the position of the aggrieved. And they are, as often is the case, the odd man out on this issue. Turkey is hosting a former US radar system that will be turned over to them. Missile interceptors will be based in Romania and Poland. And several NATO countries have deployed Aegis missile defense ships. Even China hasn’t said anything.

The New York Times quoted a State Department spokesman in this morning’s paper, who noted that: “Russia is currently testing a new ICBM as permitted under the New Start,” he said. “Russia’s development of such systems that employ countermeasures would not trigger any arms race with the United States since the U.S. missile defense systems are not being developed or deployed to counter or undermine Russia’s strategic nuclear forces.”

When you boil it all down, the Russian position seems to be more a cry for recognition and respect than serious opposition to a system every country in Europe — but one (if you place Russia in Europe) — believes is needed.

What do you think?