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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Network With NATO

A few days after my article, "NATO Needs a Human face," appeared in these pages, I was very much delighted to learn that its main points had been picked up, quite independently of my column of course, by British Defense Secretary George Robertson, who urged the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to boost contacts with Russia in order to strengthen the landmark Founding Act signed in July.

"Let us establish as many contacts, meetings, seminars, exercises, committees, consultations and joint endeavors to foster as much networking as possible," he said.

Today, I would like to talk about one of the possible "joint endeavors" that, in my view, could stabilize the fundamental changes in NATO-Russian relations like no other.

Western European NATO members as well as the United States are seriously concerned with the growing potential threat of missiles falling into the hands of either rogue states or international criminals. Such a threat is perceived to be more realistic than a conflict involving nuclear weapons among the members of the nuclear club.

Plans are thus being made for deployment of various Theater Missile Defense systems. In particular, NATO is developing a Medium Extended Air Defense System, or MEADS, which is meant to defend European countries from potential threats from the South. In the United States, plans are being discussed for a national defense system against limited strikes. Such plans are cause for concern among Russian military strategists. The development of an anti-ballistic missile system in principle could put in question Russia's nuclear deterrence and undermine strategic stability between the two nuclear superpowers. This point was raised by critics in the State Duma of ratifying the START II strategic arms limitation treaty.

The agreement that was signed in Washington last week between Russia and the United States on differentiating between tactical and strategic anti-missile defense system was intended to remove some of these concerns. But there is a more radical means of avoiding once and for all the mutual suspicions in this sensitive sphere of national and global security.

It is well known that the technical characteristics of Russia's tactical anti-missile system -- the C-300 PMU2 Favorite -- are at least comparable to the fighting capabilities of the U.S. Patriot system. Why not then think about joint development of a tactical anti-missile system by Russian and NATO defense strategists, designers, engineers, and in particular about Russian participation in the MEADS project? Such an approach would fully be in line with the principles of the Founding Act and would be a concrete step toward giving substance to the structures that were provided for in the document. Rather than a potential source of friction between Russia and NATO, the question of anti-missile defense could turn into a subject of cooperation in security matters and strengthen mutual trust.

The political and psychological effect of such a project would not be limited only by its concrete application and could exert a favorable influence on the general atmosphere of Russian-NATO relations.

Russians engineers deploying ABM systems that protect civilian populations from possible terrorist acts somewhere near Marseille or Naples, for example, would create not only a shield over Europe but also a new perception of Russia by Europeans. Reciprocally, if influential Russian military and defense industry circles were engaged in a joint business project on such a large scale with their NATO counterparts, their perception of NATO would also inevitably change. Moreover it is precisely these circles to whose cooperative interests the entrenched ideological opponents in Russia of constructive relations with NATO are appealing.

In my view, no other Russian-NATO endeavor would produce such a positive effect all along the spectrum of Russia-West relations and have such deep implications for 21st-century geopolitics.

I have recently discussed this idea with my Russian and foreign colleagues. While agreeing with its political and strategic advantages, many noted that it would not be practical for purely commercial considerations. There is stiff competition on the world arms market for attack and defense weapons. A modified Patriot anti-missile system has already been promised to Japan, the Republic of Korea and the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf. U.S. arms manufacturers are unlikely to agree to allow a part of their business to go to the Russians.

It seems to me that there is no need to oppose strategic interests with commercial ones. Given an intelligent approach, commercial interests could become a source of collaboration and not confrontation. Indeed, it is not a question of changing the U.S. Patriot system for the Russian Favorite model but of the mutually profitable collaboration of two large groups of top-level professionals dealing with the same scientific and technological problem.

It also appears that both teams are experiencing similar financial problems. According to the U.S. Congress reports, financing of future work on modifying the Patriot has come to a halt.

Joint work on Theater Defense Missile Systems by American, Russian and possibly European specialists (there is a well-known example of Russian-French collaboration in this field) would allow all sides to find substantial extra-budgetary sources of financing this work. An international consortium could be created, for example, that would be given credits by potential consumers of the system as well as private financial institutions.

Andrei Piontkovsky is director of the Center for Strategic Studies. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.