Though the cold war is long over the nuclear threat to collective security remains, posed by rogue states such as Iran and North Korea. The very fact that the agreement of Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev last Friday to reduce the long-range nuclear arms stockpiles of the US and Russia by a third led TV news programs and made the front pages of newspapers is evidence that the bugbear of Armageddon is still very much a concern for world leaders.
A global reality is that Russia’s acceptance of any international defence strategy is necessary for any Western plan to deal with the rogue states of the world to have any hope of succeeding. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is presently in the process of drafting a new strategic concept in the face of new and unpredictable threats in a globalizing world, not least of which is challenges posed by ever more clever terrorists, as demonstrated by this week’s Moscow subway bombings.
Last weekend saw the Brussels Forum convene, a three-day event organized by the German Marshall Fund of the United States. The Forum is an annual high-level meeting of North American and European political, corporate and intellectual leaders who gather to address key challenges facing both sides of the Atlantic. Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay attended, and was part of a panel that discussed the Alliance’s future. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen made perhaps the boldest statement during that session, calling for Russia to be included in a proposed Euroatlantic missile shield. Rasmussen used the metaphor of a security roof, one that would stretch from Vancouver to Vladivostok, one that would protect all NATO members - as well as Russia.
Rasmussen admitted that to include Russia under any such roof would involve many “practical challenges” as partners in such an enterprise would need to share sensitive technologies and the results of intelligence gathering. While the first might be overcome it is unlikely that Moscow would agree to the second, as historically the Kremlin keeps such cards close to its vest. Rasmussen suggested that NATO must accept “a radical change in the way we think about European security, about missile defense, and about Russia.”
However, there are financial considerations in a world not yet recovered from the American induced recession. The chair of the expert group drafting the new strategic concept, former US Secretary of State Madeline Albright, admitted that defense budgets are a problem. In Canada, for example, with the Afghanistan commitment very much in the public eye, it is unlikely that the populace would agree to an increase in military spending for something as difficult to conceptualize as a missile shield. Reagan’s Star Wars initiative proved very costly, and there is no evidence that it would have been 100% effective.
All this because of the wild card that is Iran, the nation that Rasmussen singled out as a country that is playing “hide-and-seek with the international community.” Russia has vested interest in keeping Tehran at bay, and perhaps this is part of Rasmussen’s thinking when he calls for Russia’s involvement in a missile shield. And let’s not forget that while on a Russian visit in December Rasmussen delivered a speech declaring that NATO would “never attack Russia.” How does this bode for countries such as Estonia, who rely on Article V, outlining the membership’s collective defence as part of the nation’s strategic reassurance?
A missile interceptor system for North America is already in place: it is Europe that the NATO boss is concerned about, hence the desire to include unpredictable Moscow.
An informal meeting of NATO foreign ministers is taking place in Tallinn on April 22 and 23. It will mark the first time that the new Strategic Concept will be discussed at the ministerial level. Rasmussen’s comments in Brussels should spark lively debate.
NATO wants Russia under common roof