It seems Europe will try to prevent a substantive decision at NATO’s 2008 Bucharest summit concerning the question of missile defense for Europe. Regrettably, many Europeans see missile defense primarily through an anti-George-W.-Bush lens. Washington’s resistance to the Kyoto Protocol and its foreign policy since 9/11 have caused many Europeans to be skeptical about American policy in general. Additionally, the new U.S. intelligence estimate of the Iranian nuclear program has led some to the false conclusion that Tehran poses no threat anymore.
In the European public’s emotionally-charged discussion over missile defense, however, one extremely relevant aspect has not received much attention: missile defense touches on the core of the original justification for the existence of NATO, namely the protection of the alliance’s territory and people from harm. In this context of European skepticism of both the threat and the American solution, one must be concerned that a fundamental strategic aspect of Europe’s future security might not get the focus it deserves. The possibility of a serious threat from nuclear-armed missiles launched from the Greater Middle East in the next 10 to15 years would change Europe’s strategic situation radically. As long as Europe possesses no credible countermeasures to an attack with ballistic missiles, several regimes will be interested in stockpiling such weapons.
There is no doubt that the best solution would be a diplomatic one. Nevertheless NATO must not neglect its defense capabilities. It could be very risky to rely on the theory that a deterrence that has been successful with Russia or China will also work with states like Iran, Pakistan, or other upcoming players in the region. Components for missile defense systems like satellites, radars and interceptors are not available off the shelf. They have to be developed, tested, produced and integrated to become operational. This takes time.
The U.S. is currently offering to protect 75% of Europe with the sites that they plan to establish in Poland (10 interceptors) and the Czech Republic (radar). Furthermore, Washington is willing to pay for it. Europe would only have to look after NATO’s remaining unprotected south-east-flank. Some European governments’ strategies seem to be simply to wait for the next U.S. president. Maybe their calculation is faulty: a democratic administration might ask the European partners to share the costs more widely than the current one does. Experts and politicians who believe that the next government will decide to dramatically change the American missile defense program should not be too surprised if their assessment does not come true.
And what else? Moscow misuses the debate as a means of revenge for NATO’s war in Kosovo and for the (former and future) enlargement of the alliance. This despite the fact that missile defense ought to be a ground for EU-Russian cooperation, since Russian politicians and generals are concerned about ballistic missiles in Iran, Pakistan and China.
French industry is ready for a pact with the U.S. and mutual missile defense initiatives; they wait only for President Sarkozy’s signal. Great Britain is waiting and watching. Germany is undetermined. Wake up, Europe! Strategic decisions are required.
Alexander Bitter works in the research unit on European and Atlantic Security at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs of the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP).
Mr. Bitter has written a longer analysis on this subject: NATO and Missile Defense Implications for Germany before the Bucharest summit in 2008 SWP Research Paper 2007/RP 13, December 2007, 29 pages
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