NATO and Territorial Missile Defense

In a series of issue briefs on Transatlantic Missile Defense, Simon Lunn, Associate Fellow of RUSI, and former Secretary General of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, penned “NATO and Territorial Missile Defense: A ‘No Brainer’ or More Questions than Answers?”

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At the upcoming NATO summit in Lisbon, it is expected that member states will endorse the protection of Alliance territory and populations against attack by ballistic missiles as a NATO mission. The implementation of this decision will involve the linking of two projects: NATO’s already-agreed plan to protect deploying forces against ballistic missiles known as ALTBMD; and a U.S. initiative known as the Phased Adaptive Approach (PAA). The latter will protect European and U.S. territory and populations against the threat of attack by ballistic missiles from the Middle East. Linking and integrating the NATO and U.S. projects will mean that assets deployed and funded by the U.S. – including radars, sensors and sea and land-based interceptors – will be available for the defense of European territory as a core Alliance mission. The resulting territorial missile defense (TMD) capability would complement NATO’s integrated air defense system.

The decision to develop a NATO TMD capability has a compelling logic. Ballistic missiles pose a known and growing threat as they are acquired by more and more coun-
tries. At the same time advances in technology are making defense against them more feasible. Why not take advantage of U.S. plans to deploy this technology through the PAA as part of its missile defences; harness these plans to NATO’s more limited goal of protecting military forces, and in so doing create a defense system for Europe? The initiative would create – in the words of NATO Secretary General Rasmussen – “a common security roof,” ideally including Russia, at what he believes would be a bearable cost for Alliance members.

Taking these elements together the proposal would appear to fall into that well known category, the “no brainer.” It is not surprising therefore that the project appears to enjoy widespread support within NATO and to be on a glide path to a consensus decision at the Lisbon summit. However while there is considerable support there are also questions, concerns, and a residue of skepticism and hesitation.

The basic questions are those asked of any form of defense – what is the level of threat and risk, what is the likely cost of defending against it, and will the defense be effective? However, for all the disarming simplicity of the proposal itself, these are not simple calculations as they depend on assumptions that are highly variable and open to interpretation. Moreover, the decision also brings into play a variety of other elements of what can loosely be called the bigger picture of Alliance politics.

A decision by NATO to develop a TMD system should therefore take into account a range of factors and consequences, both direct and indirect. These include:

  • The nature and scale of the threat
  • The direct costs now and in the future
  • The opportunity costs in terms of things not purchased
  • The implications for Alliance cohesion
  • The effects on the role of nuclear weapons onNATO strategy
  • Technical feasibility
  • Effectiveness and availability
  • Command and control
  • Industrial opportunities
  • The impact on NATO – Russia relations

Transatlantic Missile Defense Issue Briefs

Atlantic Council Work on Transatlantic Missile Defense

In October 2010, the Atlantic Council hosted a conference on missile defense entitled “Transatlantic Missile Defense: Looking to Lisbon.” The conference featured senior U.S. policymakers and experts from across the transatlantic community in a conversation about the political, technical, and budgetary issues relating to transatlantic missile defense in the weeks before the November 2010 Lisbon NATO summit. These issue briefs, written by discussants at the conference, provide a European perspective to the transatlantic debate on the future of missile defense within the NATO Alliance.

These briefs and the recent conference continue the work of the Atlantic Council on transatlantic missile defense. Previous activities include a workshop on NATO-Russia missile defense cooperation in November 2010, a conference on the implications of the Obama administration’s Phased Adaptive Approach missile defense policy in October 2009, as well as a conference on the Bush administration’s ‘Third Site’ missile defense architecture in 2007.

The Atlantic Council’s work on transatlantic missile defense is sponsored by Raytheon.

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