NATO, Russia square off over missile defense
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in Brussels
December 8th, 2011
10:19 AM ET

NATO, Russia square off over missile defense

By CNN's Elise Labott

NATO and Russia remained at odds over the alliance's plans for a missile defense system in Europe after a foreign ministers meeting in Brussels Thursday.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said "differences remain" over the plans, but he rejected Russia's complaints that NATO was ignoring Moscow's concerns the missile defense system could be used against it.

"We listen and we have listened today," Rasmussen said after a meeting of NATO's 28 foreign ministers with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. "We take Russian concerns seriously."

Rasmussen's tone was softer than his comments Wednesday, when he said Russia's threats to withdraw from the START treaty and deploy ballistic missiles on its southern border to counter the missile shield were reminiscent of a confrontation of a bygone era and reflect a "fundamental misunderstanding of the West's intentions."

"We do not consider Russia an enemy," he said Thursday after the meeting. "We consider Russia a partner."

Lavrov said after the talks that NATO was unwilling to compromise

"Unfortunately our partners are not yet ready for cooperation on missile defense," he said, adding the Moscow needed "clear guarantees" the missile defense system would not target its own nuclear deterrent.

"We stand ready for dialogue provided that legitimate concerns of all parties are taken into consideration," Lavrov said. "We can find a mutually beneficial solution, we still have some time but time is running out every day."

The Obama administration and its European allies have tried to ease Russia's fears over the project by insisting that the system is directed toward countering the missile threat from the Middle East from which Russia also needs protection.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attempted to make that argument again following the meeting.

"We will continue to press forward on missile defense; we'll be transparent. We have explained that our system cannot and will not threaten Russia, does not affect our strategic balance with Russia," she told reporters. "No other country will be given a veto over what threats we perceive are most salient. Ballistic missiles against the territory we are pledged to protect are not coming from Russia in our assessment but from other locations. It's not directed at Russia, not about Russia; it's Iran and others who are threatening to develop missile technology."

Since NATO approved the U.S.-designed system at last year's summit in Lisbon, Poland, Romania, Spain and Turkey have agreed to deploy parts of it.

NATO asked Russia to participate in the system but negotiations have been deadlocked over Russia's demand for a legally binding treaty guaranteeing the shield would not be used as a deterrent to Moscow's own systems.

Rasmussen said he hoped a political agreement with Moscow could be reached before a summit between NATO and Russia in Chicago next May. That is when NATO is expected to declare an interim operational capability of the system.

Last month, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev threatened to withdraw from the START treaty on nuclear weapons reductions and deploy ballistic missiles in its exclave of Kaliningrad on its border with Europe if NATO moved ahead with the plans for missile defense.

Tensions increased last week when Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's ambassador to NATO, suggested Moscow would close transit routes that send vital supplies to troops in Afghanistan.

More than half the supplies for NATO forces in Afghanistan now arrive from Afghanistan's northern border with Russia and Central Asia. The so-called Northern Distribution Network has become even more important to the war effort in Afghanistan now that Pakistan has shut down its border crossings into Afghanistan following a U.S. air attack killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers late last month.

U.S. officials have said that Rogozin has indicated that his remarks were taken "out of context," but he has yet to clarify his remarks.

Rasmussen said such threats to close the supply routes were an "empty threat" because stabilizing Russia was "clearly in Russia's self interests."

Moscow "knows from bitter experience that instability in Afghanistan has negative repercussions in Russia as well," he said, referring to the Soviet occupation of the country in the 1990s.

Tensions remained high with Russia over comments by Hillary Clinton this week voicing "serious concerns" about recent Russia's parliamentary elections and calling for an investigation into allegations of fraud and vote-rigging. Russia's Foreign Ministry described Clinton's comments as "unacceptable" and Medvedev said Russia's political system was "none of their business."

NATO ministers also discussed Afghanistan and plans to gradually transfer security control to Afghan forces before foreign combat troops plan to withdraw by the end of 2014, as well as tensions with Pakistan over last month's attack. The United States has expressed condolences for the attack and is leading an investigation into the incident.

Rasmussen on Wednesday expressed regret for the attack and called for renewed cooperation between NATO and Pakistan in Afghanistan.

"I fully agree that at the end of the day we need a positive engagement of Pakistan if we are to ensure long-term peace and stability in Afghanistan," he said.

The NATO meeting follows Monday's conference in Bonn, Germany, where some 100 nations and international organizations pledged to keep supporting Afghanistan beyond the 2014 withdrawal.

soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. Russ

    If we left Afghanistan the only catastsrophe would be an unstable environment underneath Russia's underbelly and massive influx of opium on the Russian market. We leave and the US saves money and lives. The mission was never to conquer Afghanistan or rebuild it. It was to smash AL Queda's network there and in Pakistan.That's been done!! Bin Laden is dead and Al Queda is crippled and has moved on to other countries like Nigeria, Somalia, and Yemen.Leave Afghanistan to the Pakistanis and Indians to fight over. The Russians were the ones that helped the Iranians build the nuclear reactors and create the level of tensions there are now. Now the Russians demand this. What great partners!!

    December 10, 2011 at 6:24 pm | Reply
  2. Cassandra Chu

    ... we've almost got them right where we want them....

    December 10, 2011 at 10:14 am | Reply
  3. outspoken

    Is Russia in europe or somewhere elase ?

    December 9, 2011 at 2:55 pm | Reply
  4. Jason

    Iran is harmless. You war mongering people who are filled with fear are going extinct. Better slap some sanctions of somebody quick just so they know you are not completely extinct!

    December 9, 2011 at 12:56 pm | Reply
    • Russ

      In 1979 iran stormed the US embassy and kept 50 plus Americans hostage for 444 days. During the 1980's they mined the persian Gulf so oil tankers and US ships escorting them would blow up. They funded Islamic Jihad which blew up the Us Marine barracks that killed 200 plus Americans and French on a peacekeeping mission so the PLO coulld evacuate Beirut from the Israelis. BTW the mastermind was eventualy found and blown up in a car bomb himself. Iran armed the Mahjdi militia in Iraq that used IEDS to kill American soldiers. Did the US storm their embassy anywhere? Mine their ports? Try to kill the Saudi ambassador? War mongering is in the eye of the beholder!!!!!

      December 10, 2011 at 6:39 pm | Reply
      • Rob

        Russ you may have made one of the best counter arguments I have ever heard

        December 12, 2011 at 9:33 am |
  5. PPeter

    The US should make Ukraine a member of NATO to have a permanent thorn in Russia's cockiness.

    December 9, 2011 at 12:20 pm | Reply
    • EvolveOrPerish

      Would have been a great Idea 5 years ago when Tymoshenko (Orange Revolution was all the rage) now she's in jail and Ukraine is basically a puppet gov't of Moscow. Thus – not gonna happen. NATO was initially designed to keep "the Germans down, and the Russians out"- including Ukraine. Unfortunately Russia still sees NATO's original intent as current – hard to blame them. But with Pakistan giving it to us – royally – We will need supply lines and thus allies. Our decade-long inefficient military crusade has not yielded any obvious sustainable benefits. Meanwhile China and Russia are laughing themselves silly at us for disposing of our military might against their enemies. China has actually slipped into Afghanistan and obtained rights to one of the worlds largest copper mines – and all we are doing is stacking up the dead bodies. It seems apparent that US foreign policy is absent of any longterm constructs aimed at improving our livelihood or even that of our foreign victims. US foreign policy will continue to be a cluster so long as weapon system Sales/exports plays such a prevalent role. Public opinion has not yet wrapped its head around this – but hopefully some of our public leaders will. It seems obvious that if we don't exit the middle east soon, now – after riling them all up – we will only become further engaged. I am not a hater of LMT or RTN – I just think we should be stockpiling and exiting the middle east – more than exporting and deploying out there right now.

      December 9, 2011 at 1:18 pm | Reply
  6. TheChaunce

    What is the big deal here? I dont understand why Russia cares so much. Their ALLIES want to put a missle DEFENSE system on their own PROPERTY. So Russia can give Iran Nuclear Reactors, the US can't help Europe protect itself? NATO should just go out and say that they are trying to protect themselves from ALL Missle Attacks. It should be their right. Its not like they are putting actual nukes in these locations. Russia responds by threatening to place nukes on the border. Obviously, a missle defense system is needed in Europe after a comment like that, never mind the fact that its not even them that NATO is concerned about.

    December 8, 2011 at 12:49 pm | Reply
    • Tiger

      That's exactly why I'm saying. Europe wants a missile defense system to fend off missile strikes from Iran, and Russia threatens to point missiles at them. To add to that, Ukraine and Georgia want to join NATO, and Russia threatens a nuclear attack? These countries they're bullying don't even have nuclear weapons and have no plans to obtain them. I don't see what these countries ever did to them. And has been pointed out, well Russia has sold missiles to Iran and helped their nuclear program, and they're too stubborn to see that it's for developing nuclear weapons, not just for peaceful purposes. Iran has enriched more than enough for civilian energy.

      December 26, 2011 at 8:54 pm | Reply
  7. EvolveOrPerish

    Lockheed Martin and Ratheon have all to gain here...Logistically speaking Russia and Israel are already armed to the teeth to defend themselves. Iran striking Europe? – what a f'n joke. They do not need assistance from RTN or LMT. However NATO/Eastern Europe is being pumped silly to buy arms from RTN/LMT. We do need help from Russia to continue to allow us transport over its land and air – or we will have a shitload of starving and ill prepared men on the ground in Afghanistan. Would be the biggest modern geopolitical catastrophe yet. If Hillary Rodham keeps pushing the russians – we will learn their bluff is cold – and we will suffer. LMT and RTN should pack their bags and stay out of politics. We need to keep what few allies we have in the world. Logistically it makes much more sense for RTN and LMT to supply russia directly in addition to eastern europe and israel. But we all know that would never happen per NATO membership agreements. Even we can discern RTN and LMT ultimately do not care particularly about radical Islamic Extremism/Iran's threat to the Western World. Then ask yourself where the distrust in our alliance with Russia originates.

    December 8, 2011 at 11:43 am | Reply

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