31 March 2010
The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery is a threat to both the Nato allies and Russia. A look at current trends shows that more than 30 countries have or are developing missile capabilities. In many cases, these missiles could eventually threaten Europe's populations and territories.
Iran is a case in point. It has signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and is developing a nuclear programme that it claims is for civilian purposes only. But Iran has gone far beyond what is necessary for a purely civilian programme. It has concealed several nuclear facilities from the International Atomic Energy Agency, played hide-and-seek with the international community, and rejected all offers of co-operation from the US, the EU, and others. Most recently, Iran's government has announced plans to enrich its uranium to levels that appear incompatible with civilian use and that defy several UN security council resolutions.
Iran also has an extensive missile development programme. Iranian officials declare that the range of their modified Shahab-3 missiles is 2,000km, putting allied countries such as Turkey, Greece, Romania, and Bulgaria within reach.
In February 2009, Iran introduced the SAFIR 2 space launch vehicle. This is a key stage in the development of intermediate- and intercontinental-range missiles. If Iran completes this development, the whole of Europe, as well as all of Russia, would be within its range.
Proliferators must know that the Nato allies are unwavering in their commitment to collective defence, including nuclear deterrence. Confronted with the spread of missile technology and unpredictable regimes and leaders, we owe it to our populations to complement our deterrence capabilities with an effective missile-defence capability.
We are not starting from scratch. Nato allies have been looking at various missile-defence options for some time. Nato itself is developing protections for our deployed troops. But with the new US approach to missile defence, there are now much better opportunities for an effective Nato-wide system that would enhance the territorial defence of our populations and nations.
A true joint Euro-Atlantic missile defence would demonstrate Nato's collective will, not only to defend against the new threats of today and tomorrow, but also to send a clear message that there is nothing to be gained from missile proliferation. It can also provide an opportunity for Europeans to demonstrate again to the US their willingness to invest in self-defence capabilities, and to play an active role in a process that, until now, has been conducted largely over their heads, by the US and Russia.
But there is another reason for developing missile defence: to create a new dynamic in European and Euro-Atlantic security. There is much talk these days about the Euro-Atlantic security architecture. Russia, in particular, has focused on treaties, conferences, and political arrangements.
Clearly, these things can be useful and important. We should talk. We should look for common political approaches, many of which on we have already agreed, and could easily endorse again. But, to my mind, a joint security architecture must move beyond blueprints. It needs to be built. And missile defence is a concrete way to do that.
In this respect, the news that the US and Russia have agreed on a follow-up treaty to Start that will substantially cut both countries' nuclear arsenals provides a good backdrop. This new agreement makes the world safer, and it will give impetus to co-operation with Russia in other fields, particularly Nato-Russia relations.
Since taking office last summer, I have invested considerable time and effort in revitalising the Nato-Russia relationship, with progress made in several areas, including a joint review of common threats and challenges. But it is time to look at missile defence as another opportunity to bring us together.
We need a missile-defence system that includes not just all Nato countries, but Russia, too. The more that missile defence is seen as a shared security roof – built, supported, and operated together – that protects us all, the more people from Vancouver to Vladivostok will know that they are part of one community. Such a security roof would be a strong political symbol that Russia is fully part of the Euro-Atlantic family, sharing the costs and benefits.
Of course, there are practical challenges. We would have to make our systems interoperable, share intelligence assessments, and link sensitive technologies. But such co-operation is a concrete way to build mutual trust and confidence.
We need a decision, by Natos next summit in November, that missile defence is an alliance mission, and that we will explore every opportunity to co-operate with Russia.
But Russia also must decide to view missile defence as an opportunity, rather than a threat. If that happens, we can move forward to create a missile-defence system that not only defends the Euro-Atlantic community, but that also brings it together.
The end of the cold war has given us an enormous opportunity to achieve our goal of a Europe whole, free, and at peace. We are not quite there, but we are getting there. Missile defence can be part of that positive trend.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen is Secretary General of NATO.