Russian's apparently endless objections to the Euro-American missile defense shield don't mean that Moscow has a veto over it, America's ambassador to NATO said Friday.
Ivo Daalder, the United States permanent representative to NATO, mused that there could be several reasons for Russian leaders' wooden-spoons-against-metal-pots rhetoric about the missile shield. But no matter how loud the banging gets, Daalder said it won't be what influences major U.S. and European decisions about the missile defense system.
"The Russian objections won't be a driving force in what we do," Daalder told reporters at a breakfast meeting. "What will drive deployment of the system is the evolution of the threat."
And the threat, he said, has been increasing, not diminishing. Daalder talked much more candidly than American officials have in the past; he specifically called out the threat of an Iranian nuclear missile attack against Europe as the reason for the ongoing missile defense plans. He dismissed the idea that the shield was, or could ever be, an attempt to neutralize Russia's strategic force, which includes so many thousands of weapons that it could easily brush aside a few interceptors based on the Continent.
Washington has committed itself to forward-deploying four Aegis BMD warships to Spain in a few years for standing patrols in the Mediterranean, and after that the U.S. and Europe will rely on ground-based radars and interceptors. As we've talked about, Moscow views this as an encroachment, and its politicians have seized an opportunity to rail against the hated Outside Enemy, just like the bad old days. They've demanded legal guarantees from Washington that the Euro-shield isn't going to impinge upon their strategic deterrent.
Why not give them? Daalder checked off the reasons: The United States doesn't think a treaty is necessary; it's only one of the countries involved with the shield anyway; and administration officials are not sure it could pass the Senate. (These days, there's no way.) Also, the U.S. and Russia did have an anti-ballistic missile treaty before, but the U.S. abrogated it under President George W. Bush to begin building Europe's missile defense shield. Daalder acknowledged the "evolving threat" might make it necessary to walk away from another treaty with Russia.
Diplomats are always gracious, however -- reporters asked Daalder about President Prime Minister Putin and President Medvedev's overall rhetoric about missile defense, and Daalder said that although the West has stressed the missile defense isn't aimed at Russia, "I'm not convinced everyone in Russia believes that." In other words, some Russians may honestly fear the missile defense plans, which, he said, is a good reason to keep up discussions and outreach.
Reporters also asked whether Daalder thought Putin and Medvedev were just playing to the crowds, given this weekend's elections, but the ambassador only addressed that possibility obliquely: "The timing of this is probably not coincidental," he said.