By Ivo Daalder
Last month, NATO leaders held a successful summit in Chicago at which they charted the future course of the alliance in Afghanistan, bolstered NATO’s partnerships with nations across the globe and made a commitment to ensure that the alliance will have the capabilities to meet the security challenges of today and tomorrow.
The alliance made many critical decisions in Chicago; one of the most important was the declaration of an interim NATO ballistic missile-defense capability — the first concrete step to defending NATO European territory, its population and forces against the growing threat of ballistic missile attack. Today, NATO has the ability to defend parts of southern Europe against a limited attack, a capability that will gradually expand so that all of NATO Europe will be protected by the end of this decade.
The Chicago decision represents a major achievement for the Obama administration, and for all 28 NATO allies. When President Obama entered office more than three years ago, he inherited a decision to deploy a missile-defense site in Europe — including an X-band radar and 10 ground-based interceptors — that aimed to defend the United States against an Iranian ICBM attack. The system was expected to be operational in approximately 2017.
Concerned that the threat of short- and medium-range missiles from the Middle East was growing rapidly and could easily overwhelm the limited defenses, the Obama administration looked for an alternative missile-defense architecture that would be able to defend our allies and bases in Europe sooner and more effectively. In September 2009, the president announced a new concept — the European Phased Adaptive Approach, or EPAA — that would “provide stronger, smarter, and swifter defenses of American forces and American allies.” The first phase of EPAA would become operational in 2011, thus countering the existing and growing threat much sooner, and the entire system would be based on technology that was proven and cost-effective.
A key part of the president’s decision was to seek not only NATO’s endorsement of EPAA, but to urge the allies to adopt territorial missile defense as a vital mission of an alliance adapting to meet 21st century threats. NATO leaders did so at their Lisbon Summit in November 2010, declaring that missile defense would become an integral element of their collective defense efforts. In Chicago, they turned that promise into reality by declaring an interim ballistic missile defense capability.
What does an interim BMD capability mean? It means that NATO will now have an operationally meaningful ballistic missile defense mission. The alliance agreed to a set of command-and-control procedures and rules of engagement for ballistic missile defense. It designated the Supreme Allied Commander of Europe, Adm. James Stavridis, as the commander for the ballistic defense mission. The actual command and control capabilities have been tested and validated by all allies. NATO allies as a whole have made a commitment to invest over $1 billion in command and control and communications infrastructure needed to support the NATO ballistic missile defense system.
The United States will contribute its own ballistic missile assets to the NATO mission. We have agreements with four countries — Poland, Romania, Spain and Turkey — to host interceptors, ships and radars. Our missile defense ship is already in the Mediterranean and able to operate under NATO operational control when necessary in a crisis. And only recently the U.S. transferred operational control of its radar in Turkey to NATO.
Chicago was a critical step, but it is only the beginning. The NATO command and control system will reach full operational capacity by the end of this decade. And the U.S. will continue the phased deployment of EPAA — with additional Aegis cruisers in Rota, Spain, in 2014; interceptor sites deployed in Romania in the 2015 timeframe and Poland in the 2018 timeframe, and improved versions of the interceptor deployed over time to counter increasingly capable, longer range threats.
We also expect European allies to make national contributions. The Netherlands and Germany have offered their Patriots as part of the NATO missile-defense architecture, and the Netherlands is also upgrading radars on its frigates to serve as missile defense early warning and tracking sensors. France is interested in making early warning data from its satellites available. Various other allies have expressed an interest in contributing national capabilities as well.
In Chicago, NATO leaders reiterated their commitment to cooperate with Russia on missile defense, making clear that this is “the best means to provide Russia with the assurances it seeks regarding NATO’s missile-defense plans and capabilities.” The alliance also reaffirmed that its defense “will not undermine strategic stability,” and that its defenses are “not directed against Russia and will not undermine Russia’s strategic deterrence capabilities.”
A few years ago, not many would have thought that NATO would embrace territorial missile defense as a core task. In Lisbon, the alliance took this decision; in Chicago, the decision became real. By the end of this decade, NATO will have an operational system that offers protection of all of NATO Europe against the threat of ballistic missile attack from outside of Europe.
Today, that commitment and capability underscores the true meaning of Article 5 of the Washington Treaty — to collectively defend alliance territory against armed attack.
Ivo Daalder is the permanent representative of the United States to NATO.
(New York Times, 6 June 2012)