NATO’s new leader Anders Rasmussen confirmed in a recent interview with BBC’s Stephen Sackur that acquiring the US Missile Shield is a high priority issue for the organization. This comes on the heels of Barak Obama’s concession to Russia and shelving of key Missile Shield installations in Poland and the Czech Republic.
In an interview focused on Afghanistan, Rasmussen’s statement about NATO's priority for the US Missile Shield slipped under the radar like a stealth fighter. Many world leaders, including Vladimir Putin, thought the Missile Shield issue was buried, if not for good at least for many years. That doesn’t appear to be the case however. The Missile Shield is now back on the world radar with the US successfully shifting the diplomatic heat of installation to NATO and its individual members.
While the positions of individual NATO member states are still unclear it is highly unlikely that they would reject Missile Shield protection given the current state of nuclear proliferation around the world. Eastern European countries are especially interested and desperately seeking closer ties to the US in the face of the recent Russia - Georgia conflict. The EU’s response to the conflict left a chill colder than a Siberian winter over Eastern Europe, especially in EU member countries that previously held a false sense of security that the economic union may have brought. French President Nicolas Sarkozy was toyed with in negotiating a cease fire that Russia immediately ignored. Only Georgia’s close relationship with the US saved the country from Russian tanks parked within eyesight of its capital, Tbilisi.
The Missile Shield has much wider implications for the world than simply closer ties with the US. The technology is easily scalable to include defense from large numbers of missiles despite current US statements that it is only targeting rogue states. Vladimir Putin clearly understands this potential and has consistently and firmly raised the issue in all diplomatic venues around the world. In fact he withdrew Russia from the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe over the issue. This treaty placed strict limits on a variety of military equipment and forces in Europe and was the bedrock of security since it was signed in 1990. Prior to this agreement the sheer number of Soviet tanks within one day’s drive of many European capitals was staggering and unstoppable. While Russia has yet too significantly reposition large numbers of its conventional forces to European boarders the message has been clearly received at NATO headquarters. The response so far has been to push ahead with the Missile Shield. It’s highly likely that Russia will provide a much stronger message than simply withdrawing from a Treaty.