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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 87, Spring 2008

Bucharest Summit: US Missile Defence Bases Continue to Divide NATO

Nicola Butler and Martin Butcher

Missile defence and deteriorating relations with Russia were amongst the toughest issues for the 26 governments in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) when they met April 2-4, 2008 in Bucharest. The Alliance, which is currently struggling to fulfil its mission in Afghanistan, faces divisions at home over President George W. Bush's plans to extend the US Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) system into Europe.

The Bush administration wants to site at least 10 ballistic missile interceptor silos and missiles in Poland, and a missile defence radar in a military training area at Brdy, south-west of Prague in the Czech Republic to provide missile tracking and targeting information. This will supplement data from the upgraded X-band radar facility at Fylingdales and the US National Security Agency (NSA) Menwith Hill listening base, both in Yorkshire, England.

The Pentagon had hoped that work on the two Eastern European facilities could begin during 2008, becoming operational in 2013. However, opposition in the US Congress to extending existing strategic missile defences before they are proven to work, sharpened by an awareness of European concerns, has prevented an immediate go-ahead.

The Bush administration's plans are highly controversial within NATO, and are a major exacerbating factor in deteriorating relations with Russia. Though the US adamantly claims that the bases in Eastern Europe are to provide missile defences in the event of an attack from countries in the Middle East, such as Iran, Russia has objected to having US bases so close to its borders. As the US makes Poland an offer that, to coin a phrase, the new Polish government can't refuse, there are concerns that well before any system is capable of being deployed, US missile defence plans are damaging European cohesion and security, bringing NATO-Russia relations to their lowest point since the end of the cold war.

Even in the UK, where Prime Minister Gordon Brown appears to be emulating his predecessor, Tony Blair, who enthusiastically supported the US BMD project, opposition continues to grow, amid accusations that the government had been less than transparent in its handling of the decision over Menwith Hill.

In an unusually frank revelation of the deep divisions besetting NATO's relations with Russia, the Chair's Statement on the NATO-Russia Council meeting held in Brussels in December 2007 acknowledged "serious disagreements on the CFE Treaty, Kosovo's final status, as well as missile defence related matters".[1]

Selling BMD in Europe

Faced with growing opposition within NATO, the Bush administration has spent the last few months talking up the missile defence programme to its allies. Speaking in Brussels in October, US Permanent Representative to NATO, Victoria Nuland, highlighted missile defence as key to strengthening "NATO in our homelands" - one of four US objectives for the forthcoming Bucharest Summit.[2] In a keynote speech in Riga, her Deputy, Richard Olson, said that the next step was to "develop a plan for complementarity" to "bolt together" NATO's theatre missile defence programmes with the US system.[3]

In November, 45 NATO delegates and selected media representatives were taken to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California for a briefing and tour of the Missile Defense Agency's (MDA) Ground-based Missile Defense facilities. A NATO representative was quoted as saying, "There is some concern as to the necessity of these missiles in Europe... This is a great opportunity for the US to show the European delegates and the citizens of their countries how the programme is run here and give them a better idea of what to expect in the Czech Republic and Poland."[4]

Poland's new government is in no hurry

In Poland the previous government, led by the conservative Law and Justice Party, had been enthusiastically pursuing talks with the US, and was close to agreement in the autumn when it lost a snap election to the opposition Civic Platform. The new Prime Minister Donald Tusk is considerably more sensitive to NATO and Russian concerns than his predecessor. Poland wants to build better relations with Russia and has opened discussions with Moscow on missile defence. Poland and Russia held talks in Warsaw in January and in Moscow in February. The key bone of contention is a US proposal to station Russian personnel at the Polish base as a confidence-building measure to reassure the Kremlin. A former Warsaw Pact nation, Poland objects to the permanent stationing of Russian personnel on its soil. A possible compromise hangs on a proposal for regular, but not permanent military exchanges between US and Russian missile defence facilities, a deal that would include Poland.

Concerned that hosting a US missile base will put them on the frontline of a new confrontation with Russia, the majority of Poles now oppose siting the interceptors in their country. Many also resent the US government using Poland whilst refusing to allow Poles visa-free travel to the United States. Local residents argue that it would be better to develop the site as a regional airport and business park, bringing more jobs to the area.[5]

Tusk has made clear that whilst his government will continue negotiations with the United States, he is in no hurry to conclude a deal. In a series of public statements and interviews during January, Tusk told reporters that Poland "definitely shouldn't hurry on the missile defence issue", adding "[O]ur agreement to a missile defence installation in Poland is going to be directly tied to ... increasing Poland's security."[6] This drew an angry reaction from the Pentagon, which described the Polish Prime Minister's remarks as "not helpful".[7] However, the tone of Tusk's stance has not changed. Polish sources have indicated they see no agreement with the United States before this summer.

Tusk has argued that any US missile defence site built in his country should eventually become part of a NATO and European system, noting: "As Prime Minister of the Polish government, I feel responsible for the security of Poles, and not, with all due respect to our greatest ally, for the security of the United States."[8] Visiting nearby Slovakia, which has become an increasingly vocal opponent of the basing plans, Tusk said, "I want to stress that it matters to us very much that the issue of defence systems - including the missile defence installations - in the long run be an element of a NATO, European and Euro-Atlantic security system."[9]

Tusk's position should not be construed as one of outright opposition to missile defence, however; he appears rather to be set on driving a harder bargain with the United States. The new Polish government wants greater security guarantees from the US - guarantees that it believes are not sufficiently provided through current NATO arrangements - and an "injection of American funds" into the modernization of its armed forces.[10] It wants the US to provide Poland with Patriot PAC-3 and Terminal High-Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) missile defence systems and is also demanding that Washington pay the costs of creating, maintaining and protecting the missile defence system.[11] Poland is also trying to coordinate with the Czech Republic to secure a better deal for both countries.

During talks in Washington in January, Defence Minister Bogdan Klich welcomed that the US administration was willing to discuss Poland's demands but stated that, "We still in Poland do not see the right balance between the costs and the benefits of this installation."[12] The Pentagon, meanwhile, alluded to chequebook diplomacy, implying that Poland's dependence on US military aid could be used to its advantage to secure a deal. "They are the biggest beneficiary within Europe of defence aid... because of that special relationship, we believe that we can overcome whatever differences may exist on this issue very quickly," Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told the media.[13] Nonetheless Washington also needs Poland's continued support and commitment to increase its troop levels in Afghanistan, where the US is struggling to persuade NATO allies to provide more soldiers.

By the beginning of February, it appeared that the Bush administration was willing to pay almost any price to buy agreement with Poland. Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski told reporters that they had achieved agreement "in principle", although he added that Prime Minister Donald Tusk still has "marathon" negotiations ahead of him to finalize plans.[14] Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced that Poland's requests for aid to upgrade its air forces and air defences (on top of military support of some $750 million in recent years) would be met since "the United States is very committed to the modernization of Polish forces".

A US team was in Warsaw in early April to examine Poland's conditions, and both sides agree that more detailed talks are necessary. Diplomatic sources predict that the United States will meet Poland halfway on its demands for military equipment (though there are apparent doubts that Poland can even use some of the items it has asked for). This could leave Tusk with the dilemma of whether to accept a less attractive deal, or walk away with nothing.[15]

Pressure to broaden Czech talks

Bilateral talks between the governments of the United States and Czech Republic have also been underway since April 2007, and look set to conclude in the signing of an agreement in early May, despite growing Czech opposition, particularly in the region closest to the proposed base. "We have clarified the content of the treaty," Czech Foreign Minister Schwarzenberg told the media after a final negotiating session with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on the sidelines of the Bucharest summit.[16] However, this refers only to the installation and operation of the Brdy site, where the Czech government faces growing domestic opposition. The sensitive question of a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) remains to be negotiated. The Czechs, with a painful history of occupation by the Nazis and the Soviet Union, are extremely reluctant to agree the normal SOFA which would exempt US personnel from the jurisdiction of Czech courts.

The Czech government is working actively for the Brdy base, but it could lack the parliamentary majority needed to approve the US deal. The coalition government's junior member, the Green Party, supports deployment only with a binding commitment from the United States that the system will be under formal NATO command. Even with this condition, the Green Party leadership is deeply divided on the deal, while the grassroots overwhelmingly oppose it.[17] According to recent reports, moreover, 70 percent of Czechs are opposed to the Brdy radar. Some of this opposition is because people fear antagonizing Russia, while others think that having got rid of the Soviet occupation, there should be no further foreign bases on Czech soil. In the nearby village of Stitov, concerns have been raised about the effects of the proposed radar on local health and security, with questions about whether the US would allow such a powerful radar to be built so close to human habitation in its own country.[18]

A fixed, ground-based system would leave key detection and tracking components, such as the X-band radars, vulnerable to pre-emptive or asymmetric attack. As former Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy noted in his presentation to Canada's Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs in 2003, "At a conference in early 2001, an American discussant quipped that the US's real early warning system would be when its stations at Thule and Fylingdales were attacked and destroyed."[19] Likewise, a UNIDIR conference report recorded, "anecdotally, America's early warning for an impending missile attack would be when a rain of missiles fell on Thule and Fylingdales."[20] It is therefore not surprising that there is growing concern that, far from conferring security, the base will make the local towns and villages more vulnerable and insecure.

The US and Czech governments hope to sell missile defence to reluctant parliamentarians on the grounds that Czech firms will gain financially and technologically from participation in development of BMD. Seeing generous missile defence budgets in the United States, the Czech government hopes for greater access for its firms to US markets. The US already has similar agreements with other countries that host significant numbers of its bases, including Australia, Britain, Denmark, Italy and Japan. According to Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, "One of our requirements is to be able to take part in research and development. We want to be among those countries that will be able to benefit from the results of the US military industry and some of its technologies."[21]

In January 2008, the US Missile Defense Agency and the Czech Foreign Ministry hosted a meeting of defence contractors, bringing together about 40 Czech companies with the big four US defence companies - Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Boeing. Czech Deputy Foreign Minister Tomas Pojar told the press, "This is not only a strategic alliance, it is not only a military alliance, but it is also a business alliance that we want to promote."[22] However, this meeting was controversial, and many Czech MPs refused to attend a special dinner.[23] Lobbying is not as cash focussed in Prague as it is in Washington DC, and according to parliamentary sources many MPs felt that this meeting came uncomfortably close to bribery.

The US administration has considerable leverage over the government in other respects as well. The Czech Republic is currently negotiating for the right of Czech citizens to enter the United States without obtaining a visa in advance. Whilst there is no formal linkage with missile defence, reports suggest that the Czech government expects this right to be granted as a quid pro quo for accepting the radar. Czechs bitterly resent that they do not already have this right, along with the EU's richer countries.

Congressional opposition thwarts the MDA

One major reason why the Bush Administration has tried to push for agreement so quickly during 2007 is that it hoped to present the next President with a fait accompli, amid fears that a Democrat controlled administration and Congress might cut the programme if work was not significantly underway. The administration sought some $310 million in funding for the European BMD sites, intending to begin construction of the Czech and Polish facilities in the US Fiscal Year (FY) 2008, which began on October 1, 2007.[24] Congress cut that figure to $225 and imposed significant conditions on use of the funds. Despite this, the administration has requested $720m funding for the European sites in FY09.

Signs of Congressional opposition surfaced during the budget process in early 2007. Chair of the Strategic Forces Sub-Committee of the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, Ellen Tauscher (Democrat-California), said "I strongly support the need to work with our European allies on missile defense, but I'm concerned that the Bush Administration's current proposal... has not been sufficiently coordinated with NATO."[25] She emphasized these concerns at a conference in Bucharest this year, saying that: "what I have proposed - and I've worked with Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and Secretary Gates and Secretary Rice - is to have a NATO-ized system, to have a comprehensive, layered system with command and control in SHAPE under the SACEUR that would be a comprehensive system, one that would have a short- and medium-range component developed by NATO that the United States would include our long-range system, and so you would have a completely tiered, layered defense against all emerging and current threats, indivisibly for all of NATO countries."

In July 2007, John Murtha (Democrat-Pennsylvania), a generally pro-military legislator, wrote in his Appropriations Committee report to the House of Representatives that the request for construction funds for European sites was premature.[26] In the December 2007 Omnibus Appropriations Act, Congress voted to trim $85 million from the budget, and more importantly set stringent conditions on future work. The administration is barred from "procurement, site activation, construction, preparation of equipment for, or deployment of a long-range missile defence system in Europe" until Poland and the Czech Republic have signed and ratified agreements, and until the Pentagon's director of Operational Test and Evaluation reports to Congress that the system has been demonstrated to work through operationally realistic testing.

Pentagon watchdog, the Center for Defense Information (CDI) reports that "...testing has been so limited that it is 'not sufficient to provide a high level of statistical confidence in its limited capabilities'. The small amount of operational realism that has been added to the GMD system's testing 'has uncovered unanticipated deficiencies that will require additional development and testing'."[27] In early 2008, Murtha said that he doubted Congress would pass a military appropriations budget in 2009, preferring to wait for a new President to take office in January 2009. In that event, a 'continuing resolution' would be passed to allow the DoD to continue to operate, but this would not permit money to be spent on taking the European sites forward.[28]

Under these conditions it appears impossible for work to commence in Poland and the Czech Republic until after President Bush leaves office, though the MDA appears to cling to the hope that it can begin work in January 2009 - in the very last days of the Bush Presidency. An X-Band radar that the Bush administration was hoping to station in the Caucasus (most likely in Georgia or Azerbaijan) will also be significantly delayed.

Congress has allocated $1 million for an independent study on missile threats to Europe and alternative solutions to the Bush deployment plan. This report is an item in the Defense Authorization Act, which has yet to be finalized after President Bush vetoed the first version, but if approved it could delay the programme further still.[29]

Government handling prompts criticism in Britain

The UK government - which has strong military links with the United States and is depending on US help to procure a successor to its Trident nuclear weapon system - appears to be the most enthusiastic supporter of the US missile defence programme in Europe. Britain has already enabled the United States to upgrade its early warning radar at RAF Fylingdales in Yorkshire. In addition, Secretary of State for Defence Des Browne in July 2007 confirmed the warnings of local opponents to the US National Security Agency (NSA) listening facility at Menwith Hill, when he informed Parliament that this second base in Yorkshire would participate in missile defence as a relay base for information from US satellites:

"[A]t RAF Menwith Hill, equipment will be installed and operated by the US Government to allow receipt of satellite warnings of potentially hostile missile launches, and will pass this warning data to both UK and US authorities. The data will also be fed into the US ballistic missile defence system for use in their response to any missile attack on the US."[30]

Browne also kept open the possibility of the UK hosting missile defence interceptors in future, despite numerous US denials that it sought a base for such interceptors in Britain: "We have no plans to site missile interceptors in the UK but will keep this under review as the threat evolves."[31]

Aware of significant opposition to BMD, the government has sought to avoid or minimize parliamentary scrutiny of its missile defence participation - at least until it is too late for opponents to block agreement. In 2003 the Ministry of Defence (MoD) attracted parliamentary and public criticism for its handling of the decision on upgrading Fylingdales, when it attempted to circumvent scrutiny and debate by releasing key statements over the Christmas period. Despite new leadership under Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the MoD deployed the same tactic for Menwith Hill, slipping out news of its decision in a written statement on the eve of the long parliamentary summer recess. This was despite a promise from then Prime Minister Tony Blair only months earlier, that there would be "discussion in the House and, indeed, outside the House".[32]

Parliament reacted frostily, as noted in a Foreign Affairs Select Committee report published in November 2007: "We regret the manner and timing of the Government's announcement that RAF Menwith Hill is to participate in the US ballistic missile defence (BMD) system, and the resulting lack of Parliamentary debate on the issue. In its response to this Report, we recommend that the Government inform us of the date on which it received the formal proposal from the US to include Menwith Hill in the BMD system. We recommend that there should be a full Parliamentary debate on these proposals."[33]

In January 2008, Lord Wallace of Saltaire (Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs spokesperson) obtained a debate in the House of Lords on missile defence. Introducing the motion he said he hoped that the Government would "be sufficiently embarrassed to provide a fuller and more detailed justification of their decision, and to grant time for an appropriate debate also in the Other Place [parliamentary euphemism for the House of Commons]."[34] Baroness Williams of Crosby (a Liberal Democrat peer who has been appointed by Gordon Brown as an adviser on arms control and non-proliferation) was also highly critical of the government's "contemptuous treatment of Parliament".[35]

The Liberal Democrat Party spring conference this year has formally agreed a policy that opposes ballistic missile defences, unless they can be made compatible with wider arms control and non-proliferation objectives.[36]

Worsening relations with Russia

US plans for European participation in BMD have played a major role in deteriorating relations between NATO and Russia. The Bush administration insists that European facilities would be aimed at detecting and destroying missile launches from Iran or elsewhere in the Middle East and would not be a challenge to Russia's strategic nuclear forces, which are still being reduced. Russia, however, sees a threat. In early January 2008, the Russian Ambassador to Belgium, Vadim Lukov, told a seminar that: "The trajectory of any American missile from Poland would be south-south-east and the speed would be very high. In this situation any notion of an early warning evaporates. Poland is just six and a half minutes from Moscow and in this situation the Russians would rely on an automated response. I am sure you may all well imagine the unfortunate consequences."[37]

Russia has also responded with repeated statements reasserting its nuclear doctrine, threatening to deploy new warheads with the aim of being able to penetrate US defences, and giving notice that it is considering withdrawal from important arms control treaties such as the 1992 Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty. On July 14, President Vladimir Putin announced a moratorium on Russia's compliance with the CFE Treaty. While officially separate from the missile defence issue, the two items have clearly been linked in Russian minds. Also in July Russian Army Chief of Staff Baluyevsky said that Russia's future participation in the bilateral 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty would rest on US actions on missile defences.[38] Then in October, President Putin proposed globalizing the obligations contained in the INF Treaty, an initiative that some European countries have welcomed, and which could have implications for the deployment of US interceptors.[39]

At a press roundtable for G8 countries in June 2007, journalists asked President Putin: "[I]f the United States continues building a strategic shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, will we not return to the situation and times in which the former Soviet Union's nuclear forces were focussed on European cities, on European targets?" Putin replied: "Certainly. Of course we will return to those times... Of course we must have new targets in Europe..."[40]

Two months later, Putin announced that Russia would resume strategic flights by its long-range aircraft carrying missiles. There have already been a couple of incidents during which British RAF fighter jets have been scrambled to "escort" Russian bombers seen approaching British airspace. In early 2008, Baluyevsky was reported to have said: "We do not intend to attack anyone, but we consider it necessary for all our partners in the world community to clearly understand... that to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Russia and its allies, military forces will be used, including preventively, including with the use of nuclear weapons."[41]

Despite US denials, concerns that a European-based missile defence system is ultimately meant for Russia are exacerbated by US plans to extend its weapons into space. Although the first phase of BMD involves only land-based missile interceptors, the Bush administration's planned missile defence architecture envisages interceptors based also at sea, in the air and on satellites in space. As Paul Wolfowitz, then US Deputy Secretary of Defense, noted in 2002: "while we have demonstrated that hit-to-kill works, as we look ahead we need to think about areas that would provide higher leverage. Nowhere is that more true than in space. Space offers attractive options not only for missile defence but for a broad range of interrelated civil and military missions. It truly is the ultimate high ground. We are exploring concepts and technologies for space-based intercepts."[42] This follows from an earlier US Space Command document that bluntly identified space as the fourth medium of warfare.[43]

While current negotiations have somewhat lessened immediate Russian concerns, its continued opposition is reflected in the Sochi Summit Strategic Framework which states that "The Russian side has made clear that it does not agree with the decision to establish sites in Poland and the Czech Republic and reiterated its proposed alternative."[44]

Russia proposes missile defence cooperation

In June 2007, Putin appeared to wrong foot President Bush with a surprise proposal that the US use the Gabala radar station in Azerbaijan and deploy interceptors in Turkey or Iraq, rather than the current plans for the Czech Republic and Poland.[45] Bilateral talks between the US and Russia took place through the autumn, with Russia insisting that the offer of Gabala and a second site at Armavir was an either/or deal, replacing the Czech and Polish bases. In offering these radar sites, Russia's intention appeared to be to call the US bluff by directly addressing US arguments that the Eastern European bases were necessary for monitoring and defending against potential Middle East threats like Iran. Russia wanted the bases to remain under its control rather than becoming an integral part of any American defence system. The United States, for its part, was only prepared to consider the proposal as complementary, suggesting that these sites could be part of a wider system of missile monitoring.

During the summer and autumn, Russia appeared to be fluctuating between proposing cooperation with the US system, and threatening gestures if it goes ahead. In early July, for example, in conjunction with warnings about possible withdrawal from the INF Treaty, Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Ivanov threatened to deploy intermediate-range missiles to Kaliningrad ready for use against the Polish and Czech BMD sites: "If our proposal is accepted, then the need will disappear for us to place... new weapons, including missiles, in the European part of the country, including Kaliningrad, to counter those threats that... will appear if the decision is taken to place the missile defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic."[46]

In December, differences over missile defence and the CFE Treaty erupted into the open during NATO's Foreign Ministers' meetings. At his press conference, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov commented, "We also talked about the US plans for the missile shield in Europe, and obviously we are forced willy-nilly to bear witness to conversations and talks about this dislocation and the linkup with the NATO MD system."[47]

Current negotiations appear to revolve around confidence-building measures including an exchange of personnel with Russians and Americans monitoring each other's BMD facilities. However, both Poland and the Czech Republic have expressed concerns about this idea. There are also ongoing talks on linking the nations' systems under one command and control structure. The US has said, in the wake of Bucharest and Sochi, that it is prepared to work with Russia on the use of the Gabala radar - something that political appointees in the administration had previously resisted.[48] In short, Bucharest and Sochi did not bring agreement, but discussions will go on.

The Impact on NATO and Europe

The 2006 NATO Summit in Riga approved a concept study on NATO-wide theatre missile defences - a system designed to defend against shorter-range missile threats. However, some European nations have significant concerns that NATO is being bypassed by the Bush administration, which appears bent on ignoring the effect that its strategic missile defence plans would have on European security.

Most European NATO members are not opposed to participation in US-led missile defence efforts in principle. But in practice the Bush administration has proved somewhat tone-deaf to European concerns, once again sending signals that it has little time for collective agreements and formal alliances, except as a rubber stamp. Emphasizing the administration's desire to keep the European missile defense infrastructure outside of NATO command and control structures, US Assistant Secretary of Defense Brian Green told a Senate Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee hearing, "If by approval, you mean turning this into a NATO-funded effort, a NATO effort to develop and deploy long-range missile defences, that is not our intent." [49]

Administration supporters went further, with the president of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, Riki Ellison, proclaiming that the United States does not need permission to protect itself: "When has the US Congress or any US president asked NATO or any country in the world permission to protect our population, homeland and armed forces?[50]

Germany's Defence Minister Franz-Jozef Jung had earlier declared that "it would be smart to integrate this whole system into NATO."[51] In January 2008, the President of the Western European Union Assembly, Jean-Pierre Masseret, called for the "missile defence problem" to be resolved by the whole of Europe, not just the two countries involved.[52] Similarly, Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico told the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, "I refuse the premise that these bilateral talks are of no concern to third countries, especially the ones that border... We don't see any reason for the defence shield to move to Europe." He argued that far-reaching defence decisions should be negotiated by the appropriate organisations, such as NATO or the European Union, rather than bilaterally between the United States and allied countries.[53]

One concern is that the new US system will not defend all NATO allies, breaching the principle of the indivisibility of Alliance security. Maps circulated at the NATO meetings in 2007 showed that much of South-Eastern Europe could not be defended, even if the missile defence system worked perfectly. Philip Coyle, a former chief weapons tester for the Pentagon has produced analysis that suggests that using the Russian radar sites might provide better defensive coverage for south-eastern Europe - if the missile defence system can be made to work at all.[54]

Belgium and Bulgaria previously raised concerns that if an incoming nuclear missile, aimed at northern Europe or the United States, were shot down by the system, then radioactive debris would fall in Europe.[55] This problem applies to Canada. If US-based interceptors shot down an incoming missile from East Asia, there could be risk of fall-out over Canada.[56] Such scenarios suggest that Canada and Europe are being asked to accept a new and serious risk in order to provide a defence for the United States. Coyle also noted that in the hypothetical event of an Iranian missile being intercepted by missiles fired from Poland, debris could also fall on Russia. Russian radars might reduce but would not eliminate this problem.[57]

Romania's Prime Minister, C?lin Popescu Tariceanu, asserted that Romania could not support the missile defence system - and nor should NATO - unless his country were protected as well. Tariceanu argued that "Russia should be a partner in this sphere both for the EU and NATO".[58]

Back in March 2007, EU High Representative for security and defence policy Javier Solana called for the EU to be consulted on US defence plans in Europe, since they affect EU security. Solana told the European Parliament that placing components of the US ballistic missile defence system on EU soil could "affect our relations with third countries, namely Russia... On security matters, the treaties in force allocate sovereignty to EU member states, but that sovereignty must be compatible with the union's general interest in security."[59] This is similar to doubts expressed by a significant swathe of EU countries, including Germany, France, Austria and Ireland. By contrast, Britain, Poland and the Czech Republic reject an EU role in this debate, though the UK government acknowledged last year that, "Europe as a whole does have concerns and will not be shy in expressing those concerns."[60]

At the June 2007 NATO meetings, Defence Ministers agreed to assess the political and military implications of the US strategic missile defence system for the Alliance. In December, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer stressed that missile defence talks would be based on the principle of the "indivisibility of security".[61]

Prior to the Bucharest Summit, the US and Czech delegations trumpeted NATO's support for strategic BMD deployments in Europe, putting their message into the press even before the Summit communiqué was published and obscuring that document's actual message. Later, Condoleezza Rice told a press briefing in Bucharest that "[W]e have a breakthrough document on missile defense for the Alliance. Again, I remember going to that first summit, when I think the President talked about missile defense, and perhaps only two allies gave even lukewarm support for the notion of missile defense. But now it is clearly understood in the Alliance that... we will take that work ahead."[62]

This contrasts with a more nuanced message from Assistant of State Daniel Fried back in Washington DC, when he told reporters that "Allies recognized the threat that ballistic missiles can pose, endorsed the concept of missile defence, agreed to work not simply with the United States but look forward to the possibility of a more general architecture involving NATO, American assets and working, hopefully, with Russia."[63] This accords with the text of the Summit communiqué, which makes it clear that any decision has been pushed into 2009 or beyond, while NATO leaders reconfirmed the June 2007 decision to study strategic missile defences.

In a report on NATO's website, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said in a press conference that the "allied leaders decided for NATO to develop 'options for a defence architecture' that should cover the states which are not in the protection range of the USA project. These options are to be discussed in 2009."[64]

Clearly, this decision falls short of actual endorsement by the Alliance of the system. In other words, NATO opponents of BMD, such as Norway and Slovakia, have succeeded in delaying a decision until after President Bush leaves office. While John McCain is likely to press ahead, if elected, Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama have both expressed deep doubts of moving ahead with a system that antagonises Russia, but is not proven to defend America. Ministers may not need to revisit this decision for some years.


Even following the April 2008 Bucharest Summit, it is clear that these issues remain highly charged and politically sensitive. The Bush administration believed it could get away with making a deal with Poland and the Czech Republic behind the scenes, as it had with Britain, but did not take sufficiently into account the concerns of other NATO and EU members and the importance of public opinion in the proposed host countries.[65] In 2007, Brooks Tigner of Defense News had summed up NATO's dilemma: "The risk is that Europeans could be associated with - and dependent on - a US system that falls entirely outside the framework of NATO. And yet missile defence touches the core of NATO's purpose of collective defence.. this could bring NATO's whole raison d'être into question."[66] Bucharest failed to deal with these challenges.

While funding cuts and policy limitations for BMD programmes in the US Congress give cautious hope that neither the European bases nor the weaponisation of space will be fully realised, the US plans are already having a serious and negative effect on European security and interests, not least in provoking (or providing an excuse for) a hardening of Russian positions, and threats by Russia to withdraw from two of the most important treaties achieved at the end of the Cold War.

Congresswoman Tauscher may be seeking to address the problem by making funding for the programmes contingent on "NATOization" of BMD. As for Europe, opposition is growing in Poland and the Czech Republic, but much more will be required to prevent US ambitions on missile defence and space dominance from giving rise to the very threats that they purport to protect against. Europe needs to formulate a policy and strategy to prevent destabilising missile defence deployments and the weaponisation of space. Much more needs to be done to manage the relationship between the European Union and NATO, with inauguration of a more in-depth, transparent, and rational analysis of the actual threats, prospects of and alternatives to missile defences, and implications of certain policy routes for European, international and space security.

As part of NATO's continuing post-cold-war transformation, there needs to be a reinvigoration of arms control policies and commitments to build security based on cooperation with countries outside NATO, especially Russia. It is likely to take a new administration in the US to allow such policies to be effectively pursued. In particular, it will be important for any new administration to take more account of Allied opinion, giving Europeans a way to avoid a potential new confrontation with Russia and reason not to rush agreement on deploying an unproven system. Canada, for example, has negotiated a way through its similar dilemma by allowing the US to use NORAD facilities for BMD purposes, while refusing to participate themselves - both on cost grounds but also because Ottawa fears an arms race in space.[67] The UK and Czech Republic may come to regret having dashed to support Bush administration policies, while Polish leaders may well look the shrewder for having waited.

See also:


[1] Chairman's Summary of NATO-Russia Council Meeting, NATO HQ, December 7, 2007.

[2] Ambassador Victoria Nuland, United States Permanent Representative to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) , Institute of European Studies, Brussels, Belgium, October 16, 2007.

[3] Deputy Permanent Representative Richard Olson, Speech at the Conference on "Europe at the Crossroads: Agenda from Riga to Bucharest" Riga, Latvia, October 15, 2007.

[4] 'European delegates visit Vandenberg, view missile facilities', by Staff Sgt. Raymond Hoy, 30th Space Wing Public Affairs, Vandenberg Air Force Base, November 26, 2007.

[5] Ryan Lucas, Polish Town Leery of US Missile Defense, Associated Press, January 19, 2008.

[6] 'Polish leader takes harder line on U.S. missile defense', AP, Warsaw, January 9, 2008.

[7] Desmond Butler, 'Polish Defense Minister in US for Talks', AP, January 15, 2008.

[8] Xu Liyu, 'Poland in harder bargain with US on missile defense plan', Xinhua, January 21, 2008.

[9] 'Polish PM: US missile defense should be part of a NATO, EU security system', Associated Press, Bratislava, January 18, 2008.

[10] Xu Liyu, op cit.

[11] Judy Demsey, ' Poland and Czech Republic Team Up in Missile Defense Talks With U.S.', New York Times, January 11, 2008.

[12] Desmond Butler, op cit.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Transcript, Polish Foreign Minister Sikorski, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Remarks at a Press Conference, Washington D.C., February 1, 2008.

[15] 'Poland Faces Pressure Over Missile Defense', Reuters, April 7, 2008.

[16] 'FM: Czech, U.S. deal on missile system to be signed in May', Xinhua News Agency, April 4, 2008.

[17] Rob Cameron, 'Greens ultimately to decide whether radar base gets green light or not', April 4, 2008.

[18] Karel Janicek, 'Czechs Torn Over Missile Defense', Washington Post, June 4, 2007.

[19] Lloyd Axworthy, 'Issues on Missile Defence and Alternatives', Submission to Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs, Ottowa, May 29, 2003, p 13.

[20] See Missile Defence, Deterrence and Arms Control: Contradictory Aims or Compatible Goals, Wilton Park/UNIDIR, 2002, p 2

[21] Czech PM Seeks Military Know-How in Exchange for Radar Base Deployment, Associated Press, January 17, 2008.

[22] Xu Liyu, op cit.

[23] Zoltan Dujisin, US Base Nears Moment of truth, Inter Press Service, January 21, 2008.

[24] For more detail, see the US Missile Defense Agency's briefing, 'Proposed US Missile Defense Assets in Europe', at http://www.mda.mil/mdalink/pdf/euroassets.pdf.

[25] Rep. Ellen Tauscher, Chair's Opening Statement, Hearing of the House Armed Services Committee Sub-Committee on Strategic Forces on Ballistic Missile Defense, March 27, 2007.

[26] Megan Scully, 'Defense Spending Clears House Committee', Congress Daily, July 25, 2007.

[27] Victoria Samson, 'DOT&E's 2007 Assessment of Missile Defence: Wobbling Along', Center for Defense Information, January 18, 2008, www.cdi.org.

[28] Benet Wilson, 'Panel: Only Defense Funding Will Pass', Aviation Daily, March 17, 2008.

[29] Wade Boese, 'Europe Anti-Missile Plan Faces Hard Sell', Arms Control Today, January/February 2008.

[30] Secretary of Defence Des Browne, Statement to the House of Commons on Ballistic Missile Defence, July 25, 2007.

[31] Ibid.

[32] House of Commons, Official Report, February 28, 2007, columns 919-920.

[33] House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, 'Global Security: Russia', Second Report, HC 51 of 2007- 2008, November 25, 2007.

[34] House of Lords, Official Report, January 10, 2008, column 950.

[35] House of Lords, Official Report, January 10, 2008, column 976.

[36] Resolution agreed by Liberal Democrat Party Spring Conference, March 8, 2008. Available at http://www.libdems.org.uk/news/missile-defence-decision-condemned-by-liberal-democrats.13997.html.

[37] Angus McDowall, Poland 'agrees' to US missile defence deal, Daily Telegraph, February 4, 2008.

[38] Jacob Quamme, Russia Eyes Intermediate-Range nuclear Forces Treaty As Next Pullout, UPI, July 30, 2007.

[39] See also Sergey Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister, statement to the Conference on Disarmament, Geneva, February 12, 2008.

[40] President Putin, 'Interview with Newspaper Journalists from G8 Member Countries', June 4, 2007, www.kremlin.ru.

[41] 'Russia Issues Nuclear Attack Threat', Sky News online, January 19, 2008, http://news.sky.com. See also Nabi Abdullaev, Russian Forces Chief: Pre-emptive Nuclear Attack Is a Defensive Option, Defense News, February 4, 2008.

[42] Paul Wolfowitz, US Deputy Secretary of Defense, to the Frontiers of Freedom organisation, 'Transcript - Wolfowitz Outlines Missile Defense Successes, Way Ahead, US State Department (Washington File)', October 25, 2002. Some of the Bush administration's more ambitious plans and timetables have been derailed, mainly due to the budgetary and military overstretch in Iraq.

[43] United States Space Command, Vision for 2020, February 1997: "the medium of space is the fourth medium of warfare - along with land, sea and air."

[44] U.S.-Russia Strategic Framework Declaration, April 6, 2008.

[45] U.S.-Russia Strategic Framework Declaration, April 6, 2008. Press Conference following the end of the G8 Summit, Heiligendamm, June 8, 2007, www.kremlin.ru.

[46] Neil Buckley and Demetri Sevastopulo, Russians threaten to counter US shield, Financial Times, July 4, 2007.

[47] Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Press Conference at NATO HQ, December 7, 2007.

[48] Daniel Fried, Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, Press Briefing, April 7, 2008, Washington DC.

[49] Deputy Asssiatnt Secretary of Defense Brian Green, Testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Subs-Committee for Strategic Forces, April 11, 2007.

[50] Jen DiMascio, Green: U.S. Does Not Need Formal NATO Approval To Build Interceptor Sites In Europe, Defense Daily, April 17, 2007

[51] Germany suggests NATO use U.S. missile shield, International Herald Tribune, March 2, 2007.

[52] 'Europeans want greater say in U.S defence system', Malaysia Sun, January 18, 2008.

[53] 'Slovak PM says there is no reason for US anti-missile shield in neighboring countries', AP, January 21, 2008.

[54] Philip Coyle, The Obstacles to the proposed US Missile Defense Systems in Europe, Britske Listy, January 14, 2008, ISSN 1213-1792.

[55] Europe cool on US missile bases plan, Daniel Dombey and Neil Buckley, Financial Times, April 19, 2007.

[56] These arguments, widely circulated among NATO members, are detailed in Geoffrey Forden, 'Laser Defenses: What if they work?', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (September/October 2002) pp 49-53.

[57] Coyle, op cit.

[58] 'Romania should benefit from US anti-missile shield', Agence France Presse, 22 January 2008. Available at www.spacewar.com.

[59] EU High Representative Javier Solana, 'Speech to the European Parliament on Foreign and Defence Policy Priorities for 2007', March 29, 2007.

[60] Phillippe Naughton, Britain Calls for Constructive Dialogue After Putin Outburst, The Times, June 4, 2007.

[61] NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, Press Conference at NATO HQ, December 7, 2007.

[62] Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Press Briefing, April 3, 2008, Bucharest Summit.

[63] Daniel Fried, op cit. (Emphasis added).

[64] Martin Butcher, 'Missile Defence Decision in 2009 (or later), NATO Bucharest Blog, April 3, 2008.

[65] Bryn Bailer, 'U.S. defense contractors 'testing the waters' for Czech cooperation', Czech Business Weekly, January 14, 2008.

[66] Brooks Tigner, Rethinking NATO's role in missile defense, ISN Security Watch, March 20, 2007.

[67] Coyle, op cit.

Nicola Butler is Deputy Director of the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy. She writes regularly on a range of subjects including UK and NATO policy, and the North Korea nuclear crisis. Martin Butcher is part-time analyst for the Acronym Institute on NATO and European Security, and a freelance consultant on a wide range of nuclear and international security issues. This article also benefited from research and publications on NATO, the EU and space security by Rebecca Johnson.

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