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Confronting common security threats to bring Russia and US together

13:57 | 18.03.2013 | Analytic


18 March 2013. PenzaNews. Dmitry Rogozin, Deputy Prime Minister of Russia wrote a letter on 21 February 2013 to Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev proposing to develop an international asteroid impact prevention system. The message stressed the seriousness of space threats and inability of modern methods of celestial bodies’ detection to predict meteorite strike, which was confirmed by the event recorded in the Chelyabinsk region near the Chebarkul lake on 15 February 2013.

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According to Dmitry Rogozin, there are currently two asteroids posing a particular threat to the Earth. Asteroid named 2004MK4 will come closer than 35 thousand km to our planet in 2029, and 2011АС5 asteroid will pass by Earth at a distance of 2 thousand km in 2040.

In his letter, Deputy Prime Minister suggested to unite global forces in the effort to create international system of anti-asteroid security, which requires collective capabilities of Russia, the US and other countries. In his opinion, such cooperation could also resolve disagreements between Russia and the US on missile defense.

“This system should be global and universal in both technical and political aspects, and should be negotiated in the framework of the United Nations,” Russian media quoted Dmitry Rogozin.

He also expressed the view that broad international cooperation on the basis of such a large-scale program would help build confidence between the countries and discourage confrontational tendencies.

Dmitry Rogozin also stressed that he had repeatedly spoken on the need for creation of Strategic Defense of the Earth being Russian president’s special envoy for missile defense.

For example, way back in 2011 the politician suggested to refocus on asteroids the US missile defense system in Europe, the deployment of which still raises Russia’s concerns.

During recent talks, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov came to an agreement that the solution to ABM problem “should be found in the relations between Moscow and Washington.”

“We are ready for such conversations and continue our dialogue both with NATO as an organization, and the US as the main author of the US global antimissile defense,” Sergey Lavrov stated.

International analysts and experts also discuss the possibility of developing joint projects to address security threats both from space and nuclear proliferation.

The prominent German political analyst Alexander Rahr, Research Director of the German-Russian Forum, suggested that over time Moscow and Washington would reach a certain understanding on the issue of missile defense cooperation.

“Sooner or later Russia – with its technology and vision of ABM development – will join NATO’s project because theoretically missiles of some Islamic states, which are hostile towards Russia, may bring the country a lot of headaches,” he said, adding however that at this stage there are still many contradictions between Moscow and the West.

In the expert’s opinion, the US has no intention of backing down on its plans for European missile defense system despite Russia’s concerns.

“This system is created against Iran and North Korea as these countries may soon officially become new nuclear powers. This will force NATO to place missile defense particularly to reassure the public that fears potential launch of nuclear missiles at Europe or America,” the analyst said.

Moreover, accoding to him, the European missile defense system is a kind of guarantee of the US continued presence in Europe. So despite the high cost of the project, Washington will deploy it there.

“However, traditional American weapons such as missiles and nuclear warheads will leave Europe. Keeping it there is stupid – then Russia may feel even more provoked,” Alexander Rahr said.

Meanwhile, the question of creating a common defense system to counter space threats, in his view, is becoming increasingly important.

“The world needs technology that could protect the planet from possible asteroid impacts – the incident in the Chelyabinsk region could lead to much more victims if a meteorite fell 10 km closer to the city. It seems strange to me that this issue has not yet got to the US-Russian agenda: as far as I know, only Moscow and Washington have at least some kind of development to protect the Earth from dangerous celestial bodies. Other countries will only join these projects,” Alexander Rahr noted and stressed that he only heard Dmitry Rogozin’s proposals for joint projects in this field.

According to the expert, asteroid threat is a serious challenge that could enhance cooperation which would unite the international community.

“If the Cold War stereotypes become a thing of the past, military and space experts in Russia and the United States will be able to begin the development of a common program,” the analyst added.

Igor Sutyagin, Research Fellow at Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI), said that there is no political will to create an international asteroid impact prevention system either in Europe or in the US, which from his point of view is due to the lack of real opportunity to protect the planet from dangerous space objects.

“This is so technically complicated and expensive that politicians are not willing to roll up their sleeves and work closely on this issue in a difficult economic environment,” the expert said.

However, there is broad understanding of the threat.

“The United States, Britain and Japan have funded research programs in this area for nearly 20 years. For example, in the US there is a state-supported ongoing program of astronomical observations in order to detect dangerous celestial bodies. In 2005, cosmonauts and astronauts from all over the world published a joint letter calling to think about asteroid collision prevention system, which gave further impetus to developments in this sphere,” RUSI research fellow reminded.

However, according to the expert, resumption of the dialogue on cooperation in the field of missile defense should also be welcomed.

At the same time, Igor Sutyagin called the prospect of creating a defense system controlled by NATO and Russia “faded” as NATO members cannot be confident in its reliability if it has such a dual control.

“Russia could gain the right to control the combat use of NATO missile defense system not before the country agrees to provide NATO the right to control the operational use of its SAM regiment, which, for example, shields the cities of Kursk and Penza. Besides, the North Atlantic Treaty prohibits the countries that are not members of the alliance to influence NATO’s decisions on security,” he explained.

Paul Schulte, nonresident Senior Associate in the Carnegie Nuclear Policy Program and at Carnegie Europe, shared the view that it would be difficult to implement such a joint project.

“It is very desirable and politically important – joint ABM system is a good way to overcome unnecessary suspicion between NATO and Russia, but there are logical and technical problems in having missile sensor systems and control systems absolutely shared,” he said in an interview with news agency “PenzaNews.”

According to the expert, the cooperation is complicated, particularly, by the position of Russia, demanding legally enforceable guarantees that European missile defense is not directed against deterrent forces of the Russian Federation.

“I think from the western side there is a genuine difficulty in understanding what legal guarantees actually mean. If it comes to war, how is it believable that legal restrictions would interfere with what was necessary for the protection of millions of people? What laws can be imposed in a situation of nuclear exchange?” the expert pondered.

“It will be a war crime if you deliberately don’t protect people you could protect,” Paul Schulte emphasized.

However, the analyst expressed confidence in the need to maintain friendly dialogue between NATO and Russia.

“The logical difficulties of jointly operating missile defense in extreme conditions need not prevent discussions on what you could do in the conditions short of that extremity and need not prevent programs of joint research,” he said.

According to Senior Fellow for Regional Security Cooperation of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Middle East Michael Elleman, NATO cooperation with Russia is critically important to the strategist relationship.

“A joint data fusion centre is a critical first step. I believe the US is still promoting the creation of the centre, but Russia is reluctant to come to full agreement because Moscow fears concurrence and participation will be viewed as tacit agreement of US plans for missile defense in Europe,” he said.

In his opinion, the disagreements on missile defense are at the moment political.

“Barack Obama will work hard to allay Russia’s concerns by restructuring future elements of European missile defense plans, but he will have to make considerable progress on the Iran nuclear file to succeed. Further, even if Obama’s outreach to Moscow succeeds, missile defense cooperation will be challenging. Both countries will need to create new institutions and bureaucracies that are aligned with the cooperation mission. This may prove the most difficulty step forward on cooperation,” Michael Elleman noted.

Dr. Rainer Stinner, foreign policy spokesman of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) in the German Bundestag stressed that at that stage he was not pleased with the handling of the missile defense issue.

“Normally the first step in such a process should be a joint threat analysis and perception. This has never happened. NATO and Russia are in permanent dialogue. There seems to be quite a different attitude in the approach. Whereas Russia still defines the NATO as a threat or danger to Russia, the NATO is definitely not willing to give veto power concerning decisions of the alliance to a non-member state. Unfortunately, meanwhile this whole project is highly politicized,” he said.

According to the deputy of German Parliament, possibility of creating a joint missile defense system will be more real when Russia no longer perceives NATO as a threat.

“I learnt with great interest from Russian foreign policy makers, that Dmitry Medvedev’s idea of a new security architecture for Europe is still on the table in Moscow. We should use this as a starting point for an intense discussion on joint security issues,” Rainer Stinner concluded.

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