Probably at the point where Russia agrees to it. Russia’s representative to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, spoke to Izvestia in advance of the NATO summit convening on Friday in Lisbon. According to excerpts from the Izvestia interview, cited in Bulgarian media:
Rogozin reveals that Russia insists on certain restrictions to the future missile shield, and that Russia’s potential inclusion in the system will require serious concessions on part of the North Atlantic Alliance.
“We tried to convince the Americans that it is necessary to agree on restrictions about the missile defense system – on the zones for locating elements, the number of the interceptor missiles, and the speed of the interceptor missiles,” Rogozin says.
These factors add up to a Russian insistence that NATO’s missile defense be effective only against slower, older-technology missiles approaching NATO territory from a limited sector of the compass.
The Russian posture has always been that NATO should have no defense against a ballistic-missile attack from Russia. The Russians view the U.S. national missile-defense (NMD) program with disfavor too. Although the NMD leaves the East coast of North America without dedicated, well-positioned interceptors, it would provide some cover for U.S. and Canadian territory against missiles launched from Asia. The view from Moscow hasn’t changed since the MAD era: any interference with Russia’s ability to hold NATO at risk with nuclear missiles is “destabilizing.”
As Emanuele Ottolenghi points out today (and I discussed here), NATO is already busy imposing limits on itself by declining to name Iran as a source of missile threats. Pleasing both Turkey and Russia could, in theory, leave NATO solemnly designating Syrian Scuds as its defining missile threat. Even if it doesn’t actually commit that absurdity, what NATO will probably do this weekend is agree to ambiguous language in the broad outlines of its much-anticipated new security concept. The language will be enough to undermine a focused consensus on what the threat is. As other heroic defense projects have demonstrated, that lack of consensus doesn’t just produce ineffective systems: it’s costly and it wastes time.
But there’s a more fundamental point to be made. NATO is allowing itself to be trapped with false premises. The alliance’s missile-defense concept need not be limited by any set of contingent political factors. NATO is a military security alliance. It should build a missile shield capable of defending against any missile system developed and produced by a non-NATO nation. That principle gets back to Ronald Reagan’s original premise: that the purpose of missile defense is to render intimidation with nuclear missiles obsolete.