Time for cooperative missile defense now

Recently, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has raised important questions about the alliance’s durability. European capabilities have not kept pace with those of America, principally because there has been no consensus about shared threats and risks. 

Last year, at Lisbon, NATO allies finally embraced missile defense cooperation as an integral part of its strategy. NATO leaders also agreed to extend the area for cooperation to Russia, and initiated the development of a comprehensive joint analysis of the future framework for broader missile defense cooperation. 

These decisions should be transformational, amounting to one of the most meaningful evolutions of alliance strategy since NATO expansion.

In Washington, however, some continue to use missile defense for narrow, partisan ends. They prey on lingering Cold War fears to score cheap political points at the expense of our national interest and security. 

As we see from the Iranian exercises, we face real adversaries that even now are building weapons to target our cities and those of our friends. Now is the time to invest resources and political capital in systems that are flexible and effective, that respond to the real threat we face, not those of the past.

The United States cannot and should not shoulder this burden alone. In this era of tight budget constraints, we need to work with our allies and partners to deploy working, cost-effective defenses.

Missile defense cooperation within NATO may take a variety of forms, ranging from data sharing and placement of American missile defense assets, to cooperation on advanced technologies. Cooperation with Russia will be limited, and will likely be confined to incremental data exchanges and transparency measures. 

In both cases of cooperation, the United States will be left with an independent missile defense system, broad international support, improved geographic access, and a stronger NATO. These developments represent a widening and deepening of missile defense, on American terms.

While there is a need to carefully ensure the US keeps to its promises, the view that Russia is the real enemy represents a last-century frame of mind. This is not only unwise, it is dangerous, as it masks the real threats we actually face. If Russia wants to help, on our terms, who is foolish enough to say no? 

Admittedly, missile defense cooperation will not be easy. For example, discussions continue among NATO Allies on how best to implement the Alliance commitments at Lisbon. These notably include the most recent discussions between the U.S. and the Czech Republic, during which the Czechs expressed dissatisfaction with current plans for their participation in the EPAA.

The important point to remember is that all Allies committed at Lisbon to develop a common missile defense. The U.S. must continue to honor its own commitment to this Alliance decision. All these challenges can be overcome, with clear vision and tight focus on those aspects of cooperation that we genuinely want.

We can see already that cooperative approach is in the national security interest of the United States. It will be an effective mechanism to reduce the threats we face today and in the future. Now is the time to move forward to implementation.

Brigadier General John Adams retired from the U.S. Army in 2007 and is member of the Consensus for American Security. His final military assignment was as Deputy United States Military Representative to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Military Committee in Brussels, Belgium, the highest military authority of NATO.