Rome '08 Workshop

WMD Proliferation–Threats and Response 

Mr. Peter C.W. Flory

NATO Assistant Secretary General 

Mr. Peter C.W. Flory

It is an honour to be here today to talk about NATO’s response to WMD proliferation, and in particular, NATO’s policy on missile defence as an element of the Alliance’s overall strategy to counter WMD. 

When Metternich was informed that his longtime rival, the wily French diplomat Talleyrand, had died, he is said to have remarked, “I wonder what he meant by that?” At April’s Bucharest Summit, NATO leaders agreed on what I consider a balanced, realistic, and forward-looking statement on missile defense. I would like to organize my remarks around that statement—and tell you a little bit about what NATO meant by that. In particular, I will try to give you some insight into the debates, discussions and considerations that led up to the Bucharest Declaration. 

I think this context on how NATO arrived at that statement is important. When negotiations between the U.S., Poland and the Czech Republic on extending the protection of the U.S. missile defence system to European allies were first announced in January 2007, missile defence had not been on the agenda of most European governments or security experts since the end of the Cold War. Technical work on missile defence had continued at NATO and among experts in national capitals and industry. But at least at the beginning, the political debate in Europe that began last January had a pronounced Cold War era-tone and flavor—helped, if that is the right word, by some very Cold Warlike statements from Russia. By the time we got to Bucharest, however, the debate had moved on in a very constructive manner and laid the groundwork for our statement in Bucharest and for our subsequent work. 

The first element of the Bucharest statement was:  

“Ballistic missile proliferation poses an increasing threat to Allies’ forces, territory and populations.”  

  As the details of that assessment are classified, I cannot go into them here. What is important is that the 26 members of the Alliance looked at the intelligence on WMD and missile programs in Iran, North Korea and elsewhere, including Iran’s nuclear program and its ambitious missile testing over the past few years, and concluded that these programs pose an increasing threat to the Alliance. This echoed NATO’s findings at the Riga and Prague Summits. 

While no one can predict with confidence the exact pace of Iran’s missile and nuclear developments, there is an awareness among Allies that current trends are bringing more and more of NATO territory into missile range of Iran. There is also an appreciation of the fact that developing a NATO system to defend NATO territory against ballistic missiles, if the Alliance decides to do so, will take time, so delaying decisions until we have perfect clarity on the threat would involve risks. 

I think the Bucharest Declaration also reflects an awareness that in addition to specific programs in specific countries of concern, there is also, at a more general level, a growing nexus or potential nexus between (1) the spread of dangerous capabilities, specifically ballistic missiles and nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons and technologies, (2) political instability, and (3) extremist ideologies, in areas of importance to NATO and NATO members, that could pose a threat to the security of the Alliance. This approach is sometimes described as a “capability-based approach,” focusing not only on identified threats, but on the broader question of how an adversary—any adversary—might fight, and what capabilities might be needed to counter such threats. 

After noting the increasing threat, the Bucharest Declaration goes on to say:  

“Missile defence forms part of a broader response to counter this threat.”  

One of the questions many governments asked themselves, after the U.S. proposal put missile defence back on the agenda in NATO, was, where does missile defence fit into the spectrum of traditional measures for combating the spread of missiles and WMD?  For example, should it be addressed by diplomacy, arms control, non-proliferation regimes, and traditional military deterrence? For some, the question was, will missile defence undermine or weaken these traditional tools? 

The answer NATO came up with was to recognize that missile defence is part of a broad, layered defence along with all the mechanisms I just mentioned. Most nations, of course, simply do not have the desire to possess dangerous, destabilizing weapons. In other cases, existing treaty and political norms, together with vigourous non-proliferation policies and diplomacy, have helped shape the balance of incentives so nations have abandoned the pursuit or possession of these weapons—for example Kazakhstan and Ukraine, South Africa, and Libya. 

But these mechanisms have been unable to prevent some nations from defying the rules and norms. Not every nation agrees to be bound by treaties and agreements, and some of those that do, cheat. And it doesn’t take a large number of nations like this to create a threat to others. 

In this context, Alliance leaders concluded that missile defence could support traditional arms control and non-proliferation measures. In particular, by devaluing ballistic missile capabilities, missile defence can over time reduce the incentive to develop missiles in the first place. 

Another consideration was the impact of missile defence on traditional deterrence. Here there is no doubt that traditional military deterrence will continue to play a vital role. But there is a growing concern that, in an era of dictatorial and/or extremist regimes that may not share our values or assumptions—and especially after September 11 redefined the limits of what might be considered “unthinkable”—traditional deterrence, while necessary, may no longer be sufficient. NATO nations also understand that some countries pursue ballistic missiles and WMD precisely because these can furnish an asymmetric means to counter traditional military strengths and deterrence. 

Another element in this discussion was the potential value of defensive options in deterring or countering threats, for example, in the case of a rogue regime willing to launch an attack against an Alliance member, then use its own population as a shield to prevent a military response.  

The impact of the proposed U.S. European Site was of course a critical element in our discussions. Thus the Bucharest communiqué continues, 

“We therefore recognize the substantial contribution to the protection of Allies from long-range ballistic missiles to be provided by the planned deployment of European-based United States missile defence assets.”  

When NATO Defence Ministers met in June 2007, they asked us—the NATO staff—to assess the implications for NATO of the planned U.S. missile defence system elements in Europe. This analysis covered issues such as, how much coverage and protection would the proposed U.S. site provide for NATO territory, and what would be the implications of the U.S. system for NATO’s ongoing work on territorial missile defence? 

We did an extensive analysis and, on the first question, reached the conclusion I just cited: the European Site would provide a “substantial contribution to the protection of Allies from long-range ballistic missiles.” 

As to the second issue, I probably need to review for you what NATO was already doing on territorial missile defence. (I will talk about NATO’s work on theatre missile defence shortly.) 

As many of you are aware, at the 2002 Prague Summit, NATO leaders asked the NATO organization to examine options to address the “growing Ballistic Missile threat to Alliance territory, forces and population centres.” This led to the Missile Defence Feasibility Study, which was completed and approved in 2006. It concluded that missile defence for NATO territory was technically feasible within the assumptions and limitations of the study. 

 But this study did not include the U.S. missile defence system in Alaska, and it did not, of course, include the proposed Third Site. So we had to consider, how does the proposed U.S. European site change the results of the MDFS? Not surprisingly, the U.S. system has a substantial impact on the MDFS analysis, since the amount of NATO territory that a NATO system would have to protect would be substantially smaller than without the U.S. system. 

On the relationship between the U.S. European site and NATO’s ongoing work, the Bucharest declaration went on to say: 

“We are exploring ways to link this US capability with current NATO missile defence efforts as a way to ensure that it would be an integral part of any future NATO-wide missile defence architecture.”  

Here I need to give you a little more history on what we mean by “current NATO missile defence efforts.” NATO has been thinking and working since the 1990s on theatre missile defence for deployed forces (as distinct from the analysis of defense of NATO territory I just described). This work has its roots in the 1991 Gulf War, when Saddam Hussein used Scud missiles to attack military targets in Saudi Arabia—as well as using extended-range Scuds against Israel in a strategic gambit to bring Israel into the war. 

This work culminated in an Alliance decision, following the Istanbul Summit in 2004, to develop the Active Layered Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence program, better known as ALTBMD, to protect deployed NATO forces against missiles with ranges of up to 3,000 kilometres. Through the ALTBMD program, NATO is developing a command and control backbone that will link sensors and interceptors to be provided by nations. We are expecting this system to achieve an initial capability in 2010-2011. 

Based on the above findings, Allied leaders in Bucharest decided: 

“…[b]earing in mind the principle of the indivisibility of Allied security as well as NATO solidarity, [to] task the Council in Permanent Session to develop options for a comprehensive missile defence architecture to extend coverage to all Allied territory and populations not otherwise covered by the United States system for review at our 2009 Summit, to inform any future political decision.”  

 Here the language is pretty clear. In fact, the Conference of National Armaments Directors (or CNAD) had already prepared, in preparation for Bucharest, an initial technical report on architecture options for a NATO missile defence system, building on the proposed U.S. system, to provide coverage for those areas not protected by the U.S. system. The CNAD, which I chair, is working now to refine those options and to complete additional analysis that the nations have asked us to undertake in preparation for the Strasbourg-Kehl Summit. Specifically, we will look at or continue our work on debris issues, defence against shorter range missiles, including the potential threat of missiles in the hands of non-state actors, technical questions relating to C2 information exchange, and the performance of national missile defence systems in providing comprehensive coverage of NATO territory and population centres. This work will provide the capability options for the political-military deliberations leading up to discussions and possible decisions at the Strasbourg-Kehl Summit next April. 

At Bucharest, we also addressed the question of Russia, and Russia’s response to the proposed U.S. European site and the possible linkage of NATO and U.S. missile defence systems.  

“We also commend the work already underway to strengthen NATO-Russia missile defence cooperation.  We are committed to maximum transparency and reciprocal confidence building measures to allay any concerns.”  

Our approach to Russia is an important part of our overall approach to missile defence, and I want to be clear, NATO wants to work with Russia to address Russia’s reasonable concerns. To that end, we have held a number of meetings of the NATO–Russia Council to discuss the issue of the U.S. site and territorial missile defence for NATO, including detailed briefings by the U.S. on its missile defence system and the proposed European site. 

At the same time, Russia does not have a veto on Alliance decisions. And Russia has not, frankly, helped its cause by threatening Alliance members, or offering implausible arguments as to why Europe should not have the option of being defended against ballistic missiles—something Russian leaders have themselves enjoyed for more than three decades. For example, it doesn’t take an Einstein, as the Secretary General has said, to recognize that what the U.S. is proposing does not threaten Russia’s strategic deterrent forces. 

 Meanwhile, on the practical level, NATO is working with Russia to develop interoperability between NATO and Russian theatre ballistic missile defence systems and operators who might be deployed in adjacent areas of responsibility in a future crisis response operation. This work is generally going well. Most recently, this January we had a successful computer assisted exercise in Munich. On the other hand, Russian officials have been clear that Russia will break off this cooperation if NATO joins the U.S. in a missile defence system. 

Finally, Alliance leaders joined in encouraging  

“the Russian Federation to take advantage of United States missile defence cooperation proposals” [and expressing readiness] “to explore the potential for linking United States, NATO and Russian missile defence systems at an appropriate time.”  

I think these statements show how serious we are, in NATO, in seeking to work with Russia to address Russia’s reasonable concerns, and potentially, to consider the linkage of U.S., NATO and Russian missile defence systems. It also shows that Allies recognize and support the efforts the U.S. has made in offering Russia options for missile defence cooperation. 

In closing, as you have seen, the work we are doing on missile defense is a new chapter in NATO’s almost 60-year mission of collective defense. As Secretary General de Hoop Scheffer said in Prague in May,  

“the image of NATO as a mere fire brigade is too narrow. Yes, we must remain capable of responding to imminent threats. But we must also look ahead—we must scan the strategic horizon for potential new challenges, and we must develop common approaches to deal with them—making sure we take into account the time needed to develop those solutions.” 

Top of page | Home | ©2009 Center for Strategic Decision Research