The Realist Prism: Countdown Begins on NATO-Russia BMD Deal

Russia's envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, has set a timer in motion for resolving the outstanding differences between the North Atlantic alliance and Russia over a proposed ballistic missile defense system in Europe. Since the architecture for this shield is expected to be finalized at the May 2012 NATO summit in Chicago, Rogozin said that time is running out to determine what role, if any, Russia will play in the system. "Our current dialogue on missile defense is very difficult," Rogozin said, "but we must finally either agree or disagree by the end of this year." If not, Rogozin warns that Russia may be forced to develop its own measures, which could raise tensions between Russia and the West and seriously impact the measurable improvement in relations between the U.S. and Russia that has occurred during the first terms of the Obama and Medvedev administrations.

As always, it is the continuing lack of trust between both sides that torpedoes all efforts to find a workable solution. The West wants Russian participation but does not want to give Moscow anything that would amount to veto power over how such a system could be used. This is the basis for NATO's insistence on two separate missile defense complexes -- one run by NATO, one run by Russia -- that would coordinate their activities but remain under separate management. By contrast, Russia favors a single, unified approach.

Washington, however, is leery of admitting Russia into the control room. There are already sufficient complaints about how the search for consensus among NATO's 28 members leads to watered-down decisions -- complaints that were on prominent display during the 1999 Kosovo campaign and which have resurfaced over how the missions in Afghanistan and Libya are being conducted. Indeed, the reason why the United States initially wanted a U.S. system that would be established by bilateral agreements directly with participating European states was in order to retain greater freedom of action. With Russia and the United States not even seeing eye-to-eye on the nature of the threats posed by Iran and North Korea, Washington will not want the deterrent value of the shield to be weakened by the possibility of Russian obstructionism in how it might be employed.

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