Just over two years ago during the November 2010 Lisbon Summit, 28 member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation agreed to develop a missile defence capability which would protect “its populations, territories, and forces against the growing threat of ballistic missile attack”. To this end, leaders of the alliance decided to expand the existing Active Layered Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence (ALTBMD) system by integrating it with the American European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA). As time passed, it became clear that the initiative, which was intended to become one of the most valuable contributions to NATO security, had instead ripened into the subject of what now seems a never-ending political conflict between NATO and Russia.
According to Mr Kinsley, this conflict was rather inevitable since “it is hard to imagine how Moscow could have remained unalarmed by the advancements of NATO's BMD, given the technological characteristics and geographical positioning of the system". Developing this line of thought further, Mr Kinsley suggests that technologically, “NATO’s new defence system is highly adaptive and flexible. In essence, this means that while BMD is currently programmed to counterbalance Middle Eastern threats to NATO such as Iran, it could in future be upgraded to intercept any missile attack from the Eurasian region”. In other words, ‘beefed up’ by additional radar and satellites, BMD has the potential capacity to track and block missiles that originate not only in the Middle East but also in Russia, ultimately negating Moscow’s own strategic deterrent. It is not therefore the system’s initial technical capabilities that most concern Russia, but its potential to be ‘upgraded’.
Discussing the missile defence system's geographic parameters Mr Kinsley argues that “Moscow might not even need to wait for an upgrade for its nuclear deterrent to be undermined”. The expert explains that the current BMD radars and interceptor sites are not in optimal geographic locations for effective defence of Europe against any Middle Eastern threat, and “Moscow has every reason to believe that NATO’s BMD is targeted against Russia”. According to the researcher, adequate missile defence against Muslim states would necessitate positioning BMD support systems in Romania, Bulgaria or Albania, but BMD radars and interceptors have been placed in the Czech Republic, Poland, and just off the Baltic coast. In Mr Kinsley’s opinion, such choices of location for BMD support systems are quite symbolic of the real intent behind NATO’s strategic defence program. The expert contends that “the only obvious strategic reason for choosing Poland for interceptors and the Czech Republic for radar installations is to provide another layer of protection against Russia's European-based ICBMs. Positioned as close to the Russian border as possible, the BMD shield could potentially engage all ICBMs launched against NATO countries from any Russian site west of the Urals”. In this respect, NATO’s BMD not only undermines Moscow’s nuclear deterrent but also reduces its retaliatory capabilities. In this context, it is hard to see how Russian officials would not find NATO’s BMD advancement alarming.
Mr Kinsley believes that the only way to alleviate tension between the two sides is to come up with a legally binding agreement, essentially, a formal treaty. The first step toward creating such a pact would be to implement confidence-building measures to promote greater transparency regarding BMD capabilities. Once a minimal level of trust is established, the sides should develop a list of specific military-technical criteria, such as interceptor numbers, velocity, range, location, and performance, which would allow for a joint understanding of NATO’s deployment plans and capabilities and their impact on strategic nuclear balance. In essence, the resulting legal agreement should enable Russia to control the degree to which NATO’s actions in the realm of missile defence correspond with its declared intentions and do not impinge upon Moscow’s strategic interests. Only when such formal agreement is reached can Russia be minimally assured that NATO’s BMD is not targeted against it.