A NATO official told AFP that US President Barack Obama and his allies “just decided” at a Chicago summit to put a US warship armed with interceptors in the Mediterranean and a Turkey-based radar system under NATO command in a German base.
The alliance insists the shield is not aimed at Russia and aims to knock out missiles that could be launched by enemies such as Iran, but Moscow fears that the system will also serve to neutralize its nuclear deterrent.
“Missile defense is indispensable. We are faced with real missile threats,” NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on the eve of the summit, adding that 30 states either have or seek ballistic missile technology.
The standoff has tested Russian-US relations for much of the past decade and been one of the primary issues addressed by Obama when he launched a diplomatic “reset” with Moscow in 2009. NATO had hoped that Russian President Vladimir Putin would come to Chicago, but instead he sent a lower level delegation to represent Moscow during the summit’s discussion on Afghanistan.
“Russia is sensitive about its nuclear capability because that’s what makes it a superpower,” said Nick Witney, a London-based defense expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
In a bid to appease its former Cold War foe, the Western military alliance invited Russia to cooperate in the system at the last summit in November 2010 in Lisbon, but the two sides have struggled to find common ground.
Earlier in the month we saw headlines of Russia’s pre-emptive strike threat.
MOSCOW — Russia’s top military officer has threatened to carry out a pre-emptive strike on U.S.-led NATO missile defense facilities in Eastern Europe if Washington goes ahead with its controversial plan to build a missile shield.
President Dmitry Medvedev said last year that Russia will retaliate militarily if it does not reach an agreement with the United States and NATO on the missile defense system.
Chief of General Staff Nikolai Makarov went even further Thursday. “A decision to use destructive force pre-emptively will be taken if the situation worsens,” he said at an international conference attended by senior U.S. and NATO officials. Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov also warned on Thursday that talks between Moscow and Washington on the topic are “close to a dead end.”
U.S. missile defense plans in Europe have been one of the touchiest subjects in U.S.-Russian relations for years.
Moscow rejects Washington’s claim that the missile defense plan is solely to deal with any Iranian missile threat and has voiced fears it will eventually become powerful enough to undermine Russia’s nuclear deterrent. Moscow has proposed running the missile shield jointly with NATO, but the alliance has rejected that proposal.
“We can’t just reject the distrust that has been around for decades and become totally different people,” Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said in addressing U.S. and NATO officials. “Why are they calling on me, on my Russian colleagues, to reject distrust? Better look at yourselves in the mirror.”
Moscow has called for joint control over the system and for NATO to sign a legally-binding guarantee that it is not aimed at Russia.
The US election also appears to have affected the pace of negotiations.