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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NATO Calls Defense Proposals Interesting but Vague

BRUSSELS, Belgium — NATO officials getting their first close look at Russia's missile defense proposals characterized them Thursday as broad, lacking any mention of a specific missile system, but enough to start serious discussions.

Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev handed the proposals to NATO Secretary-General George Robertson on Tuesday in Moscow, eight months after President Vladimir Putin first proposed sidetracking Washington's plans for a national missile defense program in favor of a joint system for Europe.

The United States wants to develop missile interceptors that will shoot down ballistic weapons fired by what Washington used to call rogue nations like North Korea, Iran or Iraq. The Americans say they are willing to provide the European allies and Canada with the same technology, if they want it.

For the moment, however, the technology has not been perfected and plans for deployment delayed. The Russians, Chinese and many of the allies oppose the idea.

NATO is interested in anything that will keep the Russians talking, however, even vague proposals with few specifics.

"They are certainly substantial enough to start discussions," said a NATO official, speaking on condition he not be identified. "But we still would characterize them as very broad. We would need to see a lot more."

A team of Russian experts is expected to come to NATO headquarters to brief the allies in greater detail on the Russian plan, but no date has been set.

What cheers top officials at NATO is they believe Moscow now acknowledges the threat exists and that they now can talk about how to meet that threat.

NATO officials are reluctant to reveal details of the Russian proposals. Generally, however, they say it's a phased approach.

The first phase involves Russian and allied experts discussing the issue of missile threats and coming to an agreement on exactly what it is.

If it is decided a military response is required, the two sides will study how that can be accomplished.

"They put a high degree of emphasis on joint development and deployment," said the NATO official. "There is no specific mention of any system."

It is clear from the proposal, however, that it would not be what is called a "boost phase system," that is intercepting and destroying the missile in the firing stage rather than trying to hit it while it is en route to the target. The advantage of a boost-phase system is that it is less vulnerable to decoys.

The Russian ideas apparently involve mobile anti-missile weapons deployed in the areas of greatest risk. But those ideas seemed more in line with the theater missile defense system, now also under discussion, aimed at shorter-range missiles rather than intercontinental threats.