Opponents of missile defense in Europe like to cite Putin’s recent criticism in Munich that the system would “inevitably lead to an arms race.” But Putin misses the point: the US plans a purely defensive system, with no warheads of its own, to protect primarily against a nuclear threat from Iran. This is a system which, with only ten interceptor missiles, would be far from capable of neutralizing Russia’s current arsenal of 3,300 deployable nuclear warheads, for which strategic delivery vehicles are already available. Russia was previously informed of the missile-defense plans on both a bilateral basis by the United States and through the NATO-Russia Council.
Moscow should not cling to the old zero-sum game from the Cold War era. A nuclear-armed Iran would pose a serious risk to Russia too, and this need not take the form of a direct threat. The regime of the Mullahs could acquire a new self-assurance that might lead it into critical conflicts with Russia. After all, Moscow has been very publicly duped by Tehran on several occasions in the recent past. Russia should recognize its own interest in regarding Europe as a common security area and should consequently give more serious consideration to offers of cooperation from both the United States and Europe than it has in the past. The fact of the matter is that Europe has a profound interest in Russia becoming more fully involved in the formulation and pursuit of European security policy.
Taking decisions on missile defense in the EU framework, on the other hand, would not make sense, because the United States and Norway would not be at the table. NATO is the right body to integrate the US missile-defense system into a strategy for European security. The involvement of Russia and its possible participation should be further discussed in the NATO-Russia Council. The Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council also includes those Member States of the EU that are not NATO members. It is also in the best interest of Poland that the matter be dealt with in NATO. The project is not a suitable basis for the creation of a special relationship with the United States outside the NATO framework. That would only accentuate existing differences within the EU and NATO and would serve any intentions on the part of Russia to weaken NATO and bring about alienation between the United States and Europe.
It damages the credibility of Russian foreign policy when Russia supplies Iran with surface-to-air missiles and President Putin tries to justify it by saying that Iran should not feel driven into isolation. It is particularly inconsistent of the opponents of an anti-missile shield to accuse the United States of military interventionism while they themselves seek to prevent the creation of an alternative to military action.
The credibility of the US nuclear shield, after all, serves to ensure that those allies and other nations whose security is guaranteed by the United States, including nations in the wider Middle East, feel no need to develop their own nuclear-arms programs. These security guarantees have precluded such programs in the past. The US missile-defense program will serve the same purpose. It does not foment a nuclear arms race, but rather seeks to prevent it.
Eckart von Klaeden is a Member of the German Parliament as well as the foreign-affairs spokesman of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group and a member of the CDU Presidium. Mr. von Klaeden also serves on the Atlantic Initiative Advisory Board.
This is the second of a two-part series from the Atlantic Initiative Advisory Board Member.
Read the first part: Europe Needs a Debate on Missile Defence
Related Material from the Atlantic Community
- Wess Mitchell on Missile Defense: Washington’s Deal with Prague
- Radek Sikorski on the US proposal for a missile defense system in Central Europe