• Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Subscribe
  • RSS

NATO-Russia Missile Defense Cooperation

John Hinderaker lampoons the announcement that NATO and Russia will cooperate on missile defense.

For those who remember the “Star Wars” hysteria of the 1980s, when it was an article of faith among liberals that missile defense was 1) impossible and 2) a mortal threat to world peace, it is remarkable to see President Obama, formerly the candidate of the anti-war left, announcing the first real foreign policy success of his administration–a missile defense system on which NATO and Russia will collaborate:

[…]

Maybe the Obama plan is different from President Reagan’s in that it will protect Europe but not the United States; or maybe because NATO will control the system; or maybe because Russia is now involved in the plan. But it is disorienting to those of us who remember the Cold War, and the Democrats’ frequently discreditable role in its later stages, to see a Democratic President taking credit for missile defense as a signal foreign policy achievement.

Aside from the passage of a quarter century and ensuing developments in technology — partly spawned by the massive investments started under Reagan — we’re talking about very different things.

Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative was aimed at protecting the United States and Europe from a massive flurry of ICBMs launched by the Soviets.  Skeptics feared that, not only would it be technologically impossible to stop enough of those missiles to keep us safe but that such a shield would undermine the Mutually Assured Destruction precept that we relied on for decades to deter thermonuclear war.

By contrast, the current regime is concerned with Theater Missile Defense and Ballistic Missile Defense.  In essence, they’re aimed at stopping one or two less potent missiles coming in from a rogue state, such as a nuclear Iran, or a non-state actor such as al Qaeda.  That’s simply a much easier technological problem to deal with.

As I note in this morning’s wrap-up piece for New Atlanticist, “NATO’s Lisbon Summit: All the Right Words,” this is indeed something for Obama to crow about.

The NATO-Russia issue was arguably the most stunning success of the Summit, with the sidebar meetings with President Medvedev going far better than anyone should reasonably have hoped.   Not only did Russia agree to participate fully in a European missile defense shield — something that would have seemed absurd as recently as a year ago — but Medvedev insisted on “a full-fledged strategic partnership between Russia and NATO.”  Nor did this happy progress come at the price of future NATO enlargement, with the Strategic Concept continuing to maintain that membership remained open to European countries who met the Alliance’s standards and a reaffirmation that Georgia would one day be admitted.    Balancing these issues in such a way that both Medvedev and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili walked away satisfied is a major achievement, indeed.

Finally, the declarations on nuclear policy struck all the right notes.   In addition to emphatic statements on the importance of ratifying START, the members agreed, as President Obama put it, “The alliance will work to create the conditions so that we can reduce nuclear weapons and pursue the vision of a world without them. At the same time, we’ve made it very clear that so long as these weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance, and the United States will maintain a safe, secure and effective nuclear arsenal to defer — deter adversaries and guarantee the defense of all our allies.”

To bring this back full circle, it’s also worth noting that Reagan himself talked frequently about bringing the Russians (then, the Soviets) under the SDI umbrella.  It wasn’t empty rhetoric.  Removing the fear of a nuclear attack was an essential step towards a more cooperative, and thus safer, relationship.

Related Posts:

About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. steve says:

    About time you spoke up on this general topic. We are still may years away from any kind of functional missile defense against a large scale attack. It is unclear if we will ever have the technology at any kind of reasonable price. For the kind of risks we really face, not the leftover fears of a USSR that no longer exists, we are much better off with this kind of missile agreement. We would also be much better of with NEW START approved.
     
    Steve

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  2. James Joyner says:

    steve,
    I posted about this topic several times in the days after it was announced.  Generally, though, I don’t write a lot about nuclear proliferation and missile defense, as I find them incredibly tedious and unproductive topics.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  3. James Joyner says:

    Testing out new comment geejaw.

    Does blockquoting finally work?

    How about links?
     

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  4. michael reynolds says:

    My take-away is that Hinderaker is a partisan idiot, and you James, are not.
    The key point of difference between now and then is that then a pretty compelling case could be made that a missile shield would destabilize our relationship with the USSR and actually reduce our security.  Every part of that argument is now different.
    There’s also the cost/benefit ratio.  It should be quite a bit cheaper to build a system designed to stop one or two ramshackle Iranian missiles than it would have been to attempt to stop thousands of incoming, and possibly counter-measure festooned, Soviet missiles.
    There was every likelihood that the initial counter-Soviet approach would have reignited an arms race as the Soviets figured out how to overwhelm our defense.  Not really much chance that Iran or a rogue group can do the same.
    It will be interesting to see how this plays with Iran.  If we can build an effective defensive system it may lead the mullahs to wonder why they are pouring billions into a capability that only brings sanctions down on their heads without really giving them parity with the west.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  5. anjin-san says:

    The only reason I can see for opposing START is politics over country. Or being stupid enough to buy into Fox’s little mushroom cloud clips…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  6. DavidL says:

    Two years ago, Dim Won, b/k/a Barack Obama promised to half the deployment of “unproven” missile defense.   Now he lauding it as a foreign policy achievement.  Maybe Obama reverse course on missile defense because he clueless on to stop Iran from going nuclear?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  7. sam says:

    Does blockquote work?
     

    Apparently it do.
     

    it is disorienting to those of us who remember the Cold War, and the Democrats’ frequently discreditable role in its later stages, to see a Democratic President taking credit for missile defense as a signal foreign policy achievement.
     

    Hindrocket is easily disoriented (come to think of it, that was the knock on the missiles essential to Reagan’s Star Wars).

    .
     

     
     

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  8. Brett says:

    <blockquote>There’s also the cost/benefit ratio.  It should be quite a bit cheaper to build a system designed to stop one or two ramshackle Iranian missiles than it would have been to attempt to stop thousands of incoming, and possibly counter-measure festooned, Soviet missiles.</blockquote>
    You’d be surprised. It’s not <em>that</em> much of a difference, because the interceptors themselves aren’t that expensive. You can scale the system up relatively easily (which is one of the reasons why the Russians were so upset over the plans to put ABM in Poland).
    <blockquote>There was every likelihood that the initial counter-Soviet approach would have reignited an arms race as the Soviets figured out how to overwhelm our defense.</blockquote>
    That’s not what happened, at least to the best of my knowledge. It came up in Bob Gates’ memoirs of the period, but the threat of missile defense actually made the Soviets <em>more</em> willing to come to the table on arms and missile reductions.
    <blockquote>The key point of difference between now and then is that then a pretty compelling case could be made that a missile shield would destabilize our relationship with the USSR and actually reduce our security.</blockquote>
    The situation was already unstable, considering the number of close calls that almost led to a full nuclear exchange (like the whole Able Archer incident). Having ABM would have pushed the US and USSR away from ICBMs (which tend to encourage instability and escalation, since a nation has much less time to decide whether or not an incoming strike is coming), and also helped ward off incidents like the one above.
    <blockquote>Maybe Obama reverse course on missile defense because he clueless on to stop Iran from going nuclear?</blockquote>
    He promised to keep the seaborne Aegis system, which is apparently what is going to be used in Eastern Europe. It’s much more of a pain in the ass than a land-based system in this situation, though.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  9. Brett says:

    Crap! I didn’t even look to see that the new system is back. Here we go again –

    There’s also the cost/benefit ratio.  It should be quite a bit cheaper to build a system designed to stop one or two ramshackle Iranian missiles than it would have been to attempt to stop thousands of incoming, and possibly counter-measure festooned, Soviet missiles.

    It depends on where you put it. The interceptors are actually the cheap part of the system, so you can scale them up. That’s one of the reasons why the Russians were so hostile to having an ABM next to them in Poland.

    There was every likelihood that the initial counter-Soviet approach would have reignited an arms race as the Soviets figured out how to overwhelm our defense.

    The situation was already unstable, considering the number of close calls that almost led to a full nuclear exchange (like the whole Able Archer incident). Having ABM would have pushed the US and USSR away from ICBMs (which tend to encourage instability and escalation, since a nation has much less time to decide whether or not an incoming strike is coming), and also helped ward off incidents like the one above.
    It’s not like alternative delivery mechanisms weren’t available, either. Both sides had nuclear missile subs and long-range bombers.

    Maybe Obama reverse course on missile defense because he clueless on to stop Iran from going nuclear?

    He promised to replace the eastern europe system he was canceling with a variant on the sea-borne Aegis ABM system.
    In any case, Israel is working on ABM-related stuff too.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. michael reynolds says:

    David:

    Maybe Obama reverse course on missile defense because he clueless on to stop Iran from going nuclear?

     
    But of course you’re not clueless.  You have the answer.  Please do enlighten us.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  11. michael reynolds says:

    Brett:
     

    Having ABM would have pushed the US and USSR away from ICBMs (which tend to encourage instability and escalation, since a nation has much less time to decide whether or not an incoming strike is coming), and also helped ward off incidents like the one above.It’s not like alternative delivery mechanisms weren’t available, either. Both sides had nuclear missile subs and long-range bombers.

    That’s a very large assumption.  The more likely scenario is that the USSR would have kept its triad intact by deploying countermeasures — some quite cheap — on ICBM’s.  Subs have their own issues:  communication can be a bitch from 10,000 miles away, and we were known to have an ASW edge.  Bombers are vulnerable to first strike by missiles, and to standard countermeasures:  fighters and AA missiles.
     
    The logical move by the USSR would have been to deploy countermeasures on ICBM’s and to increase the number of ICBM’s — a relatively cheap move — in an effort to overwhelm defenses.
     
    In other words, Reagan’s version was a bit stupid and self-defeating.  This is not the child of Star Wars, this is a different set of circumstances entirely.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  12. Brett says:

    That’s a very large assumption.  The more likely scenario is that the USSR would have kept its triad intact by deploying countermeasures — some quite cheap — on ICBM’s.

    Counter-measures aren’t that cheap – not those that work, anyways. And the technology for countering them is to the point where the counter-measures won’t work unless they move almost exactly like the real missile.
    It’s the reason why planes don’t use those heat flares and flak to deter SAM missiles – they don’t work anymore with the new ones.

    Subs have their own issues:  communication can be a bitch from 10,000 miles away, and we were known to have an ASW edge.

    They’re still far more difficult to find and target than ICBMs.

    Bombers are vulnerable to first strike by missiles, and to standard countermeasures:  fighters and AA missiles.

    The bombers actually aren’t that vulnerable – not for the US and USSR anyways, who have enough time to get most of them off the ground before the bombs start falling. Here’s a video of them doing a drill of that: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wJ7niLYSVFo&feature=player_embedded
    That’s 15 B-52s off the ground in 9 minutes, 56 seconds – and Minot AFB is slow in that regard.
    As for fighters and AA missiles, it’s actually much harder to shoot high-flying, fast-moving bombers than you might think – the highest ever casualty rate ever inflicted on a bomber formation by an air defense system was, if I recall correctly, about 20%. Considering that bombers can be re-targeted, have counter-measures of their own (they’ve tried putting counter-measures on ICBMs, but it runs into the same problems I mentioned above – advancing discrimination technology and the fact that weight is very critical on an ICBM), and can more or less outrun most fighters at the altitudes they fly at, they’re quite effective.
    Which is not necessarily the case for other countries. The British, for example, were screwed in the Cold War; they had about 4 minutes, possibly less, in the advent of an incoming Soviet strike. That pretty much rules out any surface-based deterrent for them, whether ICBMs or bombers.

    to increase the number of ICBM’s — a relatively cheap move — in an effort to overwhelm defenses.

    We could simply build more interceptors, for cheaper – and ICBMs weren’t that cheap.
     

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  13. michael reynolds says:

    Brett:
     
    Nothing you’ve said supports the facile notion that the Soviets would have abandoned their strategic triad and that, therefore, ABM would have led to greater stability.
    If we accept your notion of bombers as virtually impregnable one has to wonder why we bothered with ICBM’s in the first place.
    We and the Soviets both clung tenaciously to our three-pronged deterrents, and the idea that they would simply shrug and abandon ICBM’s in the face of an untestable ABM system does not hold water.  The far more likely result would have been, as you obliquely suggest, a renewed arms race in which they added launchers and we added ABM’s.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  14. steve says:

    @Brett-Records from the soviet era and from reagan also indicate that our willingness to talk also made a large difference. The Soviets also had there own equivalent of the Republican base to appease. They also could not afford to be seen as weak. Reagan’s willingness to let them also verify our nukes was a big deal. I suspect that had more to do with their willingness to do a treaty than Star Wars.
     
    Steve

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  15. tom p says:

    Hooray for Blockquotes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

     In addition to emphatic statements on the importance of ratifying START, the members agreed,

    Now if only the Rebublicans would listen…
     (did it work? did it work? did it work?)
     

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  16. tom p says:

    IT WORKED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Thank you James, now even this idiot can comment here in a comprehensible fashion. Of course, that presumes that I am comprehensible to begin with…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  17. anjin-san says:

    Can a spell check & preview be far off?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  18. DC Loser says:

    @Brett – When was the last time USAF doctrine called for high altitude, high speed penetration of enemy air defenses?  That died with the death of the B-58 and the B-1A in the 1970s.  The B-1B’s were designed for low-level subsonic penetration, and the B-52s are all subsonic, low level penetrators.  The B-2s are the same.  All bombers use terrain to mask their radar cross section in the clutter. 

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  19. DC Loser says:

    “Considering that bombers …. can more or less outrun most fighters at the altitudes they fly at, they’re quite effective.”
      There is just so much that is wrong with this assertion.  The era of supersonic bombers outrunning interceptors died when the MiG-25 FOXBAT made its debut in the 1965 Octoer Revolution parade.  There was no outrunning a Mach 3 high altitude fighter armed with even faster air to air missiles.  Soon after, the USAF canceled its supersonice bomber fleet and the still experimental XB-70 (after one crashed during testing).  The experience of flying B-52s in high altitude bombing runs against North Vietnames SAM defenses during LINEBACKER proved such a painful experience, we’ll never do that against well defended targets ever again. 

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0