NATO and Ballistic Missile Defense

Written by Stratfor

April 3, 2008
A joint communique released by NATO at its summit in Bucharest, Romania, on April 3 acknowledges both the contribution to the alliance of U.S. efforts outside NATO to place ballistic missile defense (BMD) installations in Europe and the continuing threat of ballistic missile proliferation. This marks both an endorsement for Washington’s BMD efforts and a sign of more expansive ballistic missile defense efforts within the alliance.

A Ground-based Midcourse Defense Interceptor being placed


U.S. President George W. Bush has found support for the Pentagon’s European ballistic missile defense (BMD) installations slated for deployment in Poland and the Czech Republic at the NATO alliance summit in Bucharest, Romania. A joint communique planned for release April 3 acknowledges that the proposed U.S. system will provide a “substantial contribution to the protection of allies” and that “ballistic missile proliferation poses an increasing threat to allied forces, territory and populations.” The statement represents an unequivocal endorsement not only of U.S. efforts, but of the alliance’s BMD efforts.

Despite more charitable explanations, Washington’s core near-term interest in the Polish and Czech installations is to defend the continental United States against limited, rogue intercontinental ballistic missile launches from the Middle East (read: Iran). This has been the principal consideration for site selection and interceptor configuration. Since broaching the subject with Prague and Warsaw in 2002, Washington consistently has acted bilaterally rather than through NATO. The U.S. goal is to create a system integrated with the larger U.S. BMD system, but fully functional without NATO assistance.
That does not mean that the U.S. system and NATO have nothing to offer one another, however. The engagement envelope of the U.S. ground-based midcourse defense (GMD) system will extend protection over portions of Western Europe from certain longer-range ballistic missile threats. Germany and the Netherlands already have invested in the U.S. Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3), the latest U.S. air defense system, which is capable of terminal-phase BMD. Meanwhile, NATO’s Active Layered Theater Ballistic Missile Defense (ALTBMD) program has been gaining speed for several years. Slated for initial operational capability in 2010, NATO in March opened a crucial integration and test facility in The Hague — nine months ahead of schedule.

All of the systems rely on U.S. technology, backed by more than $100 billion in investment during the past two decades. Several intercept technologies are already operational, and several more are in late development. Despite some the European tactical- and theater-missile defense programs of countries such as France, this U.S. technology is the enabling factor that will allow Europe to field a redundant, multilayered BMD capability in the future should it choose to do so.

For NATO’s European members, the more robust the BMD shield over their own continent, the greater the shield’s deterrent value to ballistic missile development programs in the Middle East. In Iran, for example, these programs represent a significant investment of national resources. The attractiveness of intermediate and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) is partially rooted in the difficulty in defending against them, and Tehran’s desire to bring more of the Western world into range, if even only symbolically. BMD undermines that, and significantly increases the cost of missile programs by raising the bar for penetrating anti-missile defenses. (Needless to say, Europe is far closer to the Middle East, and thus far more vulnerable to Iranian missiles.)

But while NATO is already working with the United States to acquire technology and field a nascent capability, the Bucharest communique is more than just a formalization of cooperation already under way. It confirms that Europe has a BMD program that offers something to United States, despite Washington’s bilateral — not multilateral — efforts in Poland and the Czech Republic. Even so, Washington holds most of the technological cards. More NATO support for BMD helps the United States by:

The ballistic missile threat does not loom as large for NATO as it does for Japan or Israel, making deployment less urgent. Nevertheless, the April 3 communique marks not only the acceptance of Washington’s push to place BMD installations in Europe, it sets the stage (and assures open architecture and future compatibility) for further U.S.-NATO BMD cooperation, integration and acquisitions.
 ©Copyright 2008 Strategic Forecasting Inc. All rights reserved SOURCE: Stratfor
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