The proposed American and European missile defense shield is a reliable boogeyman in Russian politics, as we've written before, but Secretary Gates said Thursday he believes there's a real chance that Moscow and the West will eventually come to an accord. Speaking after a top-level NATO meeting in Brussels, Belgium, Gates acknowledged that it's one of the thorniest points of contention, and he had no breakthroughs to report -- but there is some progress:
One of the key issues in the NATO-Russia relationship is missile defense, and in a separate bilateral meeting with Russian Minister of Defense Serdyukov, we reviewed the active efforts of our defense teams to lay the practical groundwork for cooperation on missile defense in Europe. While I had hoped we would be ready to move ahead on this subject in the NATO-Russia Council, it is clear that we will need more time. The Department of Defense remains committed to working with the Russian Ministry of Defense in support of our Presidents’ instructions at Deauville, and it was encouraging to hear the strong consensus support at the NATO-Russia Council for practical cooperation on missile defense directed against threats from outside Europe, such as Iran, and not against each other.That might not sound like much, but in diplo-speak, it would be forward progress for the Russians to officially agree that a Euro-missile defense system is for Iran and not their own nuclear arsenal.
Gates said in response to a reporter's question that he believes the Russians do have some "genuine interest" in an agreement on missile defense -- as opposed to just using it as an outrage line for domestic audiences. We can get to the finish line from here, he suggested:
I think that the Russians have questions about -- particularly the longer-term nature of the -- of the missile defense capability. I do think they're serious. I have -- from the very first meetings I had in Russia with President -- then President Putin in 2007 through my meetings with President Medvedev earlier this year and my meetings with Minister Serdyukov, I think that they have responded with interest in our suggestions in terms of how information sharing might work, how we might to work together on this. I still think there are those in Russia who are skeptical of our motives. And so I think that we just need to keep working at this.
I think that the proposals for the data centers that were first made by the Russians some months ago and that we've since elaborated and that I conveyed back to them in more concrete terms when I was in Moscow -- I think there's genuine interest in that. And I think there is genuine interest in the joint analysis of the missile threat that we've -- that we've agreed to do.
So I think we just have to take this a step at a step -- a step at a time. I think that the Russians have a long history of hostility and wariness about missile defense, and so I just think we have to keep working at it with them.