At the NATO Summit in Chicago earlier this month, the Atlantic Council’s Simona Kordosova had the opportunity to interview Ellen Tauscher, US special envoy for strategic stability and missile defense, and vice chair designate of the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security.

 1. NATO declared at the Chicago Summit that it has achieved an interim NATO Ballistic Missile Defense capability. What exactly does this entail?  

Although still in the initial stages, NATO can now exercise a territorial missile defense capability in a crisis over portions of NATO Europe; specifically a defense of the populations, territory, and forces across southern NATO Europe. This is an initial and operationally significant first step towards fulfillment of the commitment President Obama and his fellow heads of state and government made in Lisbon in November 2010 that the Alliance will develop a territorial ballistic missile defense capability. 

It’s important to note that the declaration is of an interim capability, and that this system will continue to improve. NATO is further developing the Active Layered Theatre Ballistic Missile Defense (ALTBMD), by expanding its capability to conduct command and control for full territorial missile defense.  The Alliance aims to reach Initial Operational Capability (IOC) of the ALTBMD in the 2015 timeframe, and Full Operational Capability (FOC) in the 2018 timeframe. 

The President has directed that the AN/TPY-2 radar in Turkey be transferred to NATO operational control. We also will be able to transfer Aegis BMD ships to NATO operational control in a crisis, as conditions warrant. When assets are under NATO operational control, overall engagement authority will reside with Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), and engagements will be conducted according to NATO-agreed and pre-delegated procedures.

2. Missile defense is currently one of the most contentious issues in relations with Russia. What exactly it is that worries Russia the most about the system? installations in Central Europe? 

The United States has been open and transparent with Russia on our plans for missile defense in Europe, which reflect our commitment to deter a growing threat to our allies from Iran. The United States regularly explains that the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) cannot intercept Russian ICBMs targeting the United States. The NATO Alliance remains committed to missile defense cooperation with Russia, a commitment made clear at the Chicago Summit. Missile defense cooperation would provide Russia increased transparency into our missile defense plans and capabilities, and would reassure Russia that our systems are not directed at it. US and NATO missile defenses will not undermine Russia’s strategic deterrent. Cooperation is the best way forward and is in the interests of Russia, NATO, and the United States.  

Promising proposals are on the table. The United States and NATO are committed to cooperating with Russia on missile defense.  However, in pursuing cooperation with Russia, the United States plans to deploy all four phases of the EPAA and will not agree to any constraints limiting the development or deployment of US and NATO missile defenses.

3. The official US administration policy suggests that the primary aim of EPAA is to deter a potential threat from Iran. Some countries read this to mean that if Iran were to give assurances the international community needs over its nuclear program, the EPAA might not be put in place as planned. Why does the US administration remain reluctant to declare that EPAA will be installed as envisioned regardless of any external actor’s behavior? Don’t we need such a capacity in light of the proliferation of missile technologies and WMD?

We are deeply concerned about Iran’s development of ballistic missiles and possible nuclear weapons program.  Threats from the Middle East are why the Interim Capability is focused on the protection of the southern part of NATO Europe.  President Obama made clear in his letter to the Senate in December 2010 that the United States will continue to deploy all four phases of the EPAA. While advances in technology or future changes in the threat could modify the details or timing of the later phases of EPAA – one reason this approach is called “adaptive” – we plan to deploy all four EPAA phases. At the same time, while we undertake missile defense cooperation with Russia, our two governments could do even more to prevent the proliferation of ballistic missile technology. Working together on missile defense would send a strong message to proliferators that Russia, NATO, and the United States are working to counter proliferation.

4. So far, the EPAA has been largely based on US contributions. In addition to the basing agreement and the upgrade of Dutch warships, what other contributions can NATO’s European members make to EPAA? How dependent is EPAA on the European contribution to the system? Will the United States continue to build the installations even if its European partners remain reluctant to contribute more significantly?

The Alliance decided to develop a ballistic missile defense capability by combining the Alliance-developed command and control system with nationally-contributed sensors and interceptors. NATO Allies have committed over $1 billion in common funding for the command, control, and communications associated with missile defense. Spain, Turkey, Romania, and Poland have agreed to host key US assets.  For sensors and interceptors, the Alliance relies on national contributions.  The United States has committed to providing assets associated with the EPAA to NATO as national contributions, as conditions warrant.  Individual Allies are stepping up.  The Netherlands also has indicated that it will spend close to 250 million Euros to modify the radars on its frigates to detect and track ballistic missiles at long ranges. In addition, The Netherlands has committed to providing its Patriot batteries for NATO missile defense.  Others have systems that may be upgraded to achieve sensor or interceptor capability. 

5. What do you consider as a major achievement and a major “disappointment” of the Summit? What should be NATO’s major priorities in the months to come?

There were a number of major decisions reached at the Chicago Summit.   Much of the discussion focused on issues related to the war in Afghanistan. The Alliance further defined the transition timeline established at the 2010 Lisbon Summit by declaring a mid-2013 milestone, when ISAF’s focus will shift from combat to support of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) through training, advising, and assisting the Afghan security forces. Additionally, NATO agreed to a broad profile of what a post-2014 NATO-led mission in Afghanistan could look like. Finally, NATO Allies, ISAF partners, and others in the international community agreed to a plan to financially sustain the ANSF after 2014.   NATO also reached agreement on a series of steps to strengthen the alliance’s defense capabilities over the next decade. 

The Alliance’s first-ever Deterrence and Defense Posture Review identified the “appropriate mix” of conventional, missile defense, and nuclear forces that NATO will need to meet future security challenges. 

Allies showcased progress on the 11 “critical capabilities” identified at the Lisbon Summit, including Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) and an interim Missile Defense capability; a long-term commitment on Baltic Air Policing (BAP); and dozens of smaller multinational projects known as Smart Defense initiatives.  

On missile defense the Alliance will continue to make progress, with the aim to reach Initial Operational Capability (IOC) of ALTBMD in the 2015 timeframe, and Full Operational Capability (FOC) in the 2018 timeframe. 

Finally, allies agreed to deepen cooperation with non-NATO partners critical to alliance operations, such as those in Afghanistan and Libya. At President Obama’s request, the North Atlantic Council will look at ways to further enhance our partnerships across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia in order to more effectively and efficiently deploy operations to ensure our collective security. 

When looking toward US arms control objectives following the summit, I want to emphasize that strengthening and maintaining European security will remain a top US priority. Arms control is an important part of that effort. From robust multilateral conventional arms control arrangements to bilateral nuclear arms agreements like the New START Treaty, each element contributes to a stable and predictable security environment in Europe.

Strategic stability, cooperation, and transparency between the United States and the Russian Federation are important elements in maintaining European security. 

The United States and Russian Federation together still control over ninety percent of the world’s nuclear weapons and the need to continue working on bilateral nuclear reduction efforts is essential. 

The DDPR demonstrates that the allies support these objectives:

  • Allies look forward to continuing to develop and exchange transparency and confidence-building ideas with Russia.
  • Considering the broader security environment, NATO signaled that it is prepared to consider further reducing the non-strategic nuclear weapons assigned to the Alliance in the context of reciprocal steps by Russia, taking into account the greater Russian stockpiles of non-strategic nuclear weapons in the Euro-Atlantic area.   
  • Allies also signaled their support for bilateral US and Russian efforts to promote strategic stability, enhance transparency, and further reduce their nuclear weapons.
  • Allies support the establishment of a committee to serve as a consultative and advisory forum on arms control and disarmament issues.

Simona Kordosova is an assistant director at the Atlantic Council’s Program on International Security.

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