The May 23 Moscow European Security Conference gathered government representatives, defense officials and analysts from Russia, Europe and elsewhere to discuss the range of issues confronting policymakers for European security today. Sponsored by the Russian Ministry of Defense, which covered my expenses as well as those of other nongovernmental participants, the speeches and debates displayed an interesting admixture of standard post-Cold War rhetoric and genuinely innovative thinking. While the conference highlighted the many areas of divergence between Russia and the West on matters of European and global security, it also offered some opportunities for renewed engagement and dialogue on these often divisive issues.
Predictably, U.S.-NATO ballistic missile defense (BMD) plans dominated most of the discussion. Notwithstanding all the changes the BMD program has undergone, with major restructurings coming at the start of both of the Obama administration’s two terms, Russians continued to object to the unconstrained size and unpredictable future capabilities of the U.S. missile defense architecture. They reiterated their demand that the United States sign a binding treaty that would limit its BMD activities.
Perhaps the one new element in the BMD discussion was in how the Russians cited U.S. anti-missile capabilities as a threat to their conventional forces, in addition to their longstanding concerns over the program’s implications for Russia’s nuclear deterrent. For example, they noted that the Aegis radar control system found on key U.S. missile defense systems—and scheduled to be based soon in Romania and other countries near Russia—has considerable anti-air as well as anti-missile potential.