Russian President Vladimir Putin recently oversaw a strategic exercise—including a series of coordinated missile tests—that drew on Russia’s nuclear “triad” (bombers, intercontinental-range ballistic missiles [ICBMs], and submarine-launched ballistic missiles [SLBMs]).
Both the ICBM and the SLBM reached their respective targets after having traveled distances of more than 6,000 kilometers. Less than one week later, Russia’s Strategic Rocket Forces carried out a successful test launch of a new ICBM from the Kapustin Yar test site.
These tests come as the debate continues over the depth and scope of U.S. cooperation with NATO on the development and implementation of a European-based missile defense system. Russia sees such a system as undermining its own nuclear deterrent; however, the proliferation of ballistic missile technology and a threat of a nuclear-armed Iran compel the U.S. and our allies throughout Europe and the Middle East to pursue missile defense systems capable of mitigating that threat.
Strategic and economic interests, as well as the presence of thousands of American troops stationed throughout Europe and the Middle East, overwhelm any objections offered against missile defense by the Russian government.
For these reasons, many proponents of missile defense recoiled upon hearing President Obama quietly offer greater “flexibility,”—especially on missile defense—in dealing with Russian negotiators after the upcoming election.
According to President Obama, he was referring to the fact that “[t]he discussion there very much just had to do with the fact that it’s hard to negotiate additional treaties when I’m off campaigning and doing all kinds of stuff.”
The President’s answer would be more plausible had his initial comments on “flexibility” not been a part of a private conversation between himself and then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Russia will almost certainly continue to exert greater pressure on the U.S. and NATO to limit the missile defense system.
As with many other things, NATO’s ability to effectively defend itself from a ballistic missile threat would be severely diminished if it caves to Russian demands.