The Administration Must Not Bend to Russian Missile Defense Demands

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Recently, Russian Prime Minister Sergey Ryabkov stated that Russia might withdraw from New START—the strategic arms control agreement between the Russian Federation and the United States that entered into force on February 4—if the United States does not provide Moscow with a legally binding guarantee that the European Phased Adaptive Approach (the Obama Administration’s plan for protection of Europe) will not be targeted against Russia.

This is probably not what Lieutenant General Patrick O’Reilly, director of the Missile Defense Agency, had in mind when he testified about New START before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: “There are no limitations in the treaty that affect our plans for developing missile defense,” he said. Indeed, Heritage’s research revealed numerous practical limitations of the U.S. missile defense options, including test target missiles and the conversion of ICBM silos into missile defense launchers.

The Russian approach defies logic. The missile defense system in Europe would intercept and destroy ballistic missiles already launched toward its victims. If the Russians believe that U.S. and allied operation of a missile defense system will pose a threat to them, they likely think they need to threaten both with a missile attack. If this is the basis of Russian thinking, then this negotiation is about anything but cooperation.

Additionally, the Russian Duma’s New START ratification law contains provisions that are diametrically opposed to those adopted by the United States. The Senate’s resolution of ratification states that the treaty imposes no limits on missile defense deployments (outside a narrow provision in Article V) and that the language on missile defense in the treaty’s preamble is not legally binding. It is clear that there is no meeting of the minds on missile defense between the parties to this treaty.

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The treaty is clearly becoming another means to escalate the tension between the two countries, emphasize the differences between their strategic postures, restrict U.S. ballistic missile defense plans, and prevent further cooperation. The Russian bellicose statements do not give much hope for a “reset” in the relationship.

It is also essential not to buckle to Russian demands for operational control of the missile defense system. Any agreement to do so would only perpetuate U.S. and allied vulnerability to missile attack, because it appears that the Russians are making this demand in order to block effective operation of the system, not to enhance cooperative missile defense capabilities.

Genuine cooperation in the realm of missile defense is about the United States, its allies, and Russia standing together to oppose aggression by rogue states through the use of ballistic missiles.

Source material can be found at this site.

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