A two-day international conference on anti-ballistic missile (ABM) systems, hosted by the Russian government, opened yesterday in Moscow. At the center of the agenda are the NATO-U.S. anti-missile systems in Europe, which Russia has repeatedly identified as a threat to its strategic forces. Chief of the Russian Armed Forces General Staff, Gen. Nikolai Makarov, warned during the opening session, that pre-emptive action against NATO's missile defense system is now on the table, if NATO continues to refuse to address Russia's concerns.
"The placement of new strike weapons in the south and northwest of Russia against [NATO] missile defense components, including the deployment of Iskander missile systems in Kaliningrad region, is one possible way of incapacitating the European missile defense infrastructure," Makarov said. Taking into account the "destabilizing nature of the missile defense system... the decision on the pre-emptive use of available weapons will be made during an aggravation of the situation," he said. The secretary of Russia's Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, added that, by 2020, the NATO system would have the capability to intercept a portion of Russia's ICBM force. "The geographical regions and technical characteristics of these missile defense systems create the foundations for additional dangers, especially considering the current and future levels of high-precision armament of the United States," he said. "There are just no targets for the missile defense shield other than Russia."
Repeating the offer Moscow has been making since then-President Putin brought it to the Kennebunkport summit with President George W. Bush five years ago, Patrushev said the optimal solution is joint development of a European ABM system which would strengthen security of all countries of the continent without exception, would be adequate to the probable threats, and would not undermine strategic stability. Just last week Patrushev announced that Strategic Defense of Earth issues such as preempting asteroid strikes, would be a major topic at the Security Council-sponsored global security forum in St. Petersburg next month.
Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov told the conference that missile defense talks with the U.S. have reached a dead end. "So far, we have not found a mutually acceptable solution to the missile defense issue, and the situation is at a dead end," he said. He noted that NATO intends to declare initial operational capability of the European ABM systems on May 20 at the Chicago summit, indicating its willingness to go ahead without Russian accord. "There is a dilemma facing our countries now," Serdyukov said. "Either we pass this test of cooperation and respond together to new missile challenges and threats, or we will be forced to undertake the necessary military measures." But he also indicated that an agreement on missile defense can, in principle, be reached, as the recent agreement on nuclear arms reductions shows.
The American response to the Russian assertions about the NATO system was to say that it's not aimed at Russia and to argue, in effect, that it doesn't work, anyway.
"In fact, we have no desire at all to disturb global strategic stability," Alexander Vershbow, the Deputy Secretary General of NATO, told the conference. "Quite the contrary: NATO missile defense will be capable of intercepting only a small number of relatively unsophisticated ballistic missiles. It does not have the capability to neutralize Russian deterrence." Madelyn Creedon, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Global Strategic Affairs, claimed that Russian virtual modeling that shows Russia as the only possible target of the NATO system is wrong, because it's based on the assumption that the system is activated immediately on launch, when in fact there's a delay before it's activated. A Russian missile could hit Seattle or Washington, but the delay wouldn't prevent intercept of more primitive missiles. These comments inspired the headline in one Russian newspaper, "NATO says Euro ABM can only intercept sub standard rockets."
The notion that Iran is even the threat to Europe that NATO claims it is, was itself challenged at the conference. According to Russia Today, political analyst Vladimir Orlov told the conference that the threats that NATO claims to be worried about are greatly exaggerated. "Missile threats by those countries which Americans and Europeans claim develop long-range missiles -- it is just not credible. Europe should not feel vulnerable, and the issue is that Russia instead of Europe now feels vulnerable," he asserted. He was backed up by France's Director for Strategy Affairs and Defense Policy Michel Miraillet:
"Firstly, Iran's ballistic missile program threatens neither Europe or the United States. Secondly, the Iranian nuclear program is developed for civil applications only. Therefore Russia considers Iran is a risk, not a threat to Europe." He also said, however, that it would be a risk to ignore Iran's missile program, which is quite capable at shorter ranges.
Over 200 experts from 50 countries, including all 28 NATO members as well as China, South Korea, Japan ,and Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) member states are participating in the conference. "As a goodwill gesture, Russia wants to make an excursion for the delegates to the heart of Moscow's A-135 ABM system near the Russian capital," reports RT.