Action and Counteraction
No. 1 2009 January/March

Washington’s plan to deploy a European segment of its missile
defense system is a most sensitive issue and a major pet peeve of
Russia-U.S. relations. Many observers agree that the ability of the
sides to find a compromise solution to this problem would be
indicative of the prospects for bilateral ties in the years to


The planned third position area of a U.S. global missile defense
system would include silos with interceptor missiles in Poland (the
Ustka military range near the town of Slupsk in Pomeranian
Voivodeship) and a missile defense radar in the Czech Republic (the
Brdy military area near Jince, 60 km south-west of Prague). The
first and second position areas of the ground-based echelon of the
U.S. strategic missile defense system are deployed on the territory
of the United States – in Fort Greely, Alaska and at Vandenberg Air
Force Base, California, respectively.

The decision made by Washington in late 2005 to deploy a third
position area near Russia’s western border was taken by Moscow as a
threat to its national security. (For more on this subject, see
“Missile Defense Challenges” by Pavel Zolotarev in Russia in Global
Affairs, No. 3, July-September 2008.) To allay Moscow’s fears, the
George W. Bush administration made several attempts between 2006
and 2008 to convince the Russian leadership that the third position
area was not directed against Russia.

However, Russian and even some U.S. experts found Washington’s
arguments untenable. The U.S. experts included Theodore Postol of
the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; George Lewis of Cornell
University; Richard Garwin, holder of the U.S. National Science
Foundation’s award; Philip Coyle, former deputy director of the
National Nuclear Security Administration’s Lawrence Livermore
National Laboratory; David Wright of the Union Concerned Scientists
NGO; and others.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, in his annual address to the
Federal Assembly on November 5, 2008, said that Russia would take
measures to “effectively counter” the U.S. plans to deploy elements
of its missile defense system in Eastern Europe. The Russian leader
proposed refraining from plans to decommission a missile division
deployed in Kozelsk, near Kaluga, and deploying Iskander missiles
in the Kaliningrad Region, “if necessary.” Also, the president said
measures would be taken for electronic jamming of the new
installations of the U.S. missile defense system.

Medvedev’s statement enhanced the concerns of Old Europe about
the deployment of the third position area. French President Nicolas
Sarkozy, who held the rotating EU presidency then, warned against
pushing for the implementation of the missile plans and proposed
discussing the problem at a summit of the Organization for Security
and Cooperation in Europe. The Italian Prime Minister Silvio
Berlusconi supported the French president.

Addressing the Council on Foreign Relations, an influential
non-governmental organization, on November 15, 2008 in Washington,
Medvedev emphasized that Moscow would “take no action unless
America takes the first step.” In his view, the missile defense
problem could be solved either by establishing cooperation between
Moscow and Washington in building a truly global missile defense
system, or if the U.S. took into consideration Russia’s present

This statement was followed shortly by reactions from the
political leaders of the Czech Republic and Poland. Czech Prime
Minister Mirek Topolánek said Russian inspectors might be
allowed to visit the U.S. missile defense radar in the Czech
Republic, while Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said his
country was ready to agree to the presence of Russian observers,
although not permanent presence, at the planned U.S. missile
defense base in Poland. This would be a factor of confidence in the
difficult negotiations with Russia on the missile shield, he

Meanwhile, access for Russian observers to the U.S. missile
defense facilities in the Czech Republic and Poland was discussed
way back in April 2008 at a meeting between Vladimir Putin and
George Bush in Sochi. However, both Prague and Warsaw categorically
rejected such a possibility. Later, they changed their position –
probably due to Moscow’s declared plans to counter the U.S. missile
defense system in Europe with Iskander missiles, and due to the
position taken by the leaders of France and Italy with regard to
the U.S. missile plans.

The positive changes in the settlement efforts were torpedoed by
decisions made at a meeting of the North Atlantic Council on
December 2-3, 2008 in Brussels. The meeting’s final communiqué
declared plans to build a “NATO-wide missile defense architecture”
that would include the European-based U.S. missile defense assets.
The communiqué makes no provision for Russia’s participation
in working out a concept for this Europe-wide integrated missile
defense system and, consequently, in identifying its targets (i.e.
against what missile threats it would be targeted). So, a
hypothetical European missile defense system, including the third
position area of the U.S. missile defense system, would have a
capability targeted against Russia. NATO’s readiness to “explore
the potential for linking United States, NATO and Russian missile
defense systems at an appropriate time” does not change much for

NATO’s decisions were largely determined by the goals of the
previous U.S. administration. By concluding bilateral agreements
with the Czech Republic and Poland for the deployment of the third
position area without consultations with other NATO partners,
Washington sought to bury the idea of building a European-Russian
missile defense system, which was acquiring real shape then. After
a series of joint computer-assisted command post exercises, which
involved, among others, Russia, the United States and Canada, the
parties agreed their approaches not only to a Europe-wide missile
defense architecture but also to the compatibility of their missile
defense assets and command information systems. Now, Russia has
been actually excluded from the European missile defense

An analysis of various options for building a European missile
defense system is planned to be prepared for a meeting of NATO
defense ministers, scheduled for February 2008 in Kraków
(Poland), and a respective report will be submitted to a NATO
summit meeting, to be held in April. With regard to Russia, NATO
has only confined itself to vague and unbinding words about the
need for continued cooperation between the two parties in missile


It would be naive to expect Barack Obama to radically change his
predecessor’s policy concerning the deployment of a global missile
defense system. Yet, he may introduce some adjustments to it. The
economic recession, total cash shortages, and the need to cut
defense spending may cause Obama to postpone the deployment of the
third position area – especially as there is an objective reason
for that: the two-stage version of the existing three-stage Ground
Based Interceptor (GBI), planned to be deployed at the Ustka
military range in Poland, now exists only on paper. The
Washington-based Center for American Progress said in its report,
published in December 2008, that the United States “should not
deploy a missile defense system that has not been proven to work
properly.” Interestingly, the CAP is headed by John Podesta, who
was co-chairman of the Obama-Biden Transition Project.

One of the two ways proposed by Medvedev for solving the missile
defense problem – namely, the establishment of Russian-U.S.
cooperation in building a truly global missile defense system – is
hardly practicable in the foreseeable future. There are no required
prerequisites for this, while the negotiability of Russia’s 2007
proposals for the joint use of early warning radars in Gabala
(Azerbaijan) and Armavir (Russia’s Krasnodar Region) has already
been exhausted. The consultations on missile defense and strategic
offensive armaments, held by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei
Ryabkov and U.S. Acting Under Secretary of State John Rood on
December 5, 2008 in Moscow, confirmed this conclusion.

At the same time, the second of Medvedev’s options – namely,
that the U.S. should take into account Russia’s concerns – can be
translated into life if both parties display balanced approaches
and readiness for reasonable compromises.

If Washington is sincere in stating that the deployment of the
third position area is aimed at intercepting only those long-range
ballistic missiles that can be launched from the territory of Iran
or other Middle East countries, then an acceptable solution can be
found, which would consist of two mutually complementary

The first element is Washington’s return to control and
verification measures as regards the third position area facilities
and the limitation of their combat capabilities. The measures,
proposed by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense
Secretary Robert Gates at “two-plus-two” meetings in October 2007
in Moscow, provided, among others, for restricting the radar’s
angle of view and not activating any missile-defense system based
in Poland and the Czech Republic until a real missile threat
emerged. Unfortunately, the U.S. later actually waived many of its

At the same time, Moscow should not insist on a permanent
presence for its observers at the U.S. missile defense sites in the
Czech Republic and Poland. The “almost permanent presence” for
Russian observers, proposed by Radoslaw Sikorski, would be quite
enough. It would ensure an acceptable compromise, as
round-the-clock control by means of surveillance cameras would be
supplemented with periodic, yet regular and unimpeded visits to the
missile defense sites by Russian observers accredited to the
Russian embassies in the Czech Republic and Poland.

The second element of the solution would be the assumption by
the United States of international legal obligations with regard to
the structure and composition of the third position area
facilities: 10 silos with Ground Based Interceptors and not one
more at the Ustka military range in Poland, and one radar and not
one more at the Brdy military range in the Czech Republic.

For its part, Russia could assume a legal obligation to refrain
from deploying Iskander missiles in the Kaliningrad Region,
provided the U.S. assumes obligations with regard to the third
position area. This measure would allay concerns in some European
countries, caused by Moscow’s plans to deploy Russian missiles near
their borders.

Speaking of a global missile defense system in general,
effective steps that could reduce tensions in Russian-U.S.
relations include establishing a joint center for the exchange of
data from early warning systems and notifications of missile
launches. Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton made a decision
to establish a Joint Data Exchange Center (JDEC) in Moscow back in
1998 and signed a respective memorandum on June 4, 2000. However,
the center has never been put into operation due to red tape,
although the parties already agreed on a site for the center, its
structure, a list of required equipment, and functional duties of
its personnel. In 2007, Putin proposed establishing two data
exchange centers instead of one: one in Moscow and the other in
Brussels. But this Russian initiative has not been followed up.

The JDEC could be the first step by Russia and the U.S. towards
building an interlinked early warning system, the importance of
which increases with the proliferation of ballistic missiles in the
world. This system does not necessarily need to be joint, which is
hardly practicable in the foreseeable future. It would be enough if
the present Russian and U.S. early warning systems, which now
operate autonomously from each other, were interlinked via the JDEC
and would thus guarantee the prevention of unintentional nuclear
war between the two countries. After all, no one can rule out an
accidental launch of a ballistic missile or, which is much more
dangerous, a provocation by third parties which may include
non-state actors, such as terrorist and extremist organizations. In
the future, this interlinked early warning system could be joined
by other countries, in particular France and China, which are now
building early warning systems of their own. Such developments
would undoubtedly enhance strategic stability in the world.

The missile defense issue must be resolved as part of general
efforts to normalize U.S.-Russian relations, which have seriously
deteriorated after the Five-Day War in the Caucasus. All attempts
to solve the missile defense problem will fail unless Moscow and
Washington achieve mutual understanding, predictability of their
actions, and, finally, mutual confidence with regard to each
other’s intentions.