Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ins and Outs of Missile Defense Systems

The Russian proposal for the creation of a single tactical antimissile defense system in Europe has elicited conflicting reactions in the military and political circles of various countries. While Lamberto Dini, Italy’s Foreign Minister, gave it a thumb’s up, U.S. officials have said it cannot serve as an alternative to the United States’ creation of a strategic national missile defense, or NMD.

Some U.S. allies have asserted their neutrality on this issue; others have expressed interest in the Russian plan. Lord Robertson, secretary general of NATO, was one of those who expressed interest in the proposal of President Vladimir Putin on international cooperation for developing this tactical system for Europe. But in an interview with the "Independent Military Survey," Robertson said he wanted to familiarize himself with the plan’s details; only when officials in Brussels know what is being proposed, he said, can an appropriate decision be made.

The Russian side’s suggestion on such international cooperation is based on a program of seven points: joint evaluation of the nature and scope of missile deployment and possible missile threats; development of a concept for the system, the means for its creation and use; creation of a multilateral, all-European center for warning on rocket launches; staff training; conducting research and experiments, as well as creating a system for coordinated efforts on protecting peacekeeping forces and civilian populations.

Concrete parameters for future agreements on a tactical system could be determined in special negotiations of the interested parties. Russian military and political officials are eager to forge ahead.

According to Russian experts working on issues of missile defense, the creation of a tactical system — which is not forbidden by any international treaties — would be significantly less expensive than the creation of the U.S. NMD, which would involve abrogation of the 1972 ABM Treaty. And the tactical system could be developed more quickly, approximately five to seven times faster than NMD, in as much as the key infrastructure of the tactical system — say, an antimissile system like the U.S. Patriot or Russian S-300 and S-400, as well as U.S. and Russian early-warning systems — already exists.

Finally, the Kremlin’s suggestion for an all-European tactical system could eventually entail the creation of such a system in Asia and the Far East.

Some analysts suggest an analogous cooperation between Russian and Western countries on the creation and deployment not only of a tactical, but also a strategic missile defense system. But we should not delay our cooperation on this issue. Still, real cooperation can only come about if the following conditions are observed:

  • Total and final liquidation of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction on a global scale. In moving toward this goal, and after an interim agreement between all nuclear powers has been reached, we should strive to lessen the number of strategic targets and agree not to use nuclear weapons in a first strike — or not use them at all.

  • Introduction of a universal prohibition on the creation and deployment of "weapons of the future," based on new physical principles and capable of functioning as weapons of mass destruction.

  • Prohibition on using antimissile systems for offensive purposes.

  • Prohibition on the creation and deployment in space of offensive weapons systems.

  • Agreement on the immunity of civilian and nonoffensive military satellites.

  • Movement by all leading nations toward a relationship based on cooperation, rather than hostility and suspicion.

    For all of the above reasons, cooperative work on a strategic missile defense system is unrealistic now. And Washington has yet to convince Moscow that a proposed "limited" NMD in Alaska would not be used against Russia. A European tactical system, though, is another matter. Such a system is needed both there and in Asia, where the real possibility of a threat from nuclear missile attack looms.

    Vladimir Kozin is deputy head of the Committee on International Affairs within the State Duma. He contributed this comment — in which he expresses his own views — to The Moscow Times.