As NATO gears up for its summit in November, one of the top agenda items for discussion is missile defenses — namely, whether NATO will make it a core mission and how the alliance can cooperate with the United States in building a transatlantic missile defense umbrella.
The Obama administration’s approach to missile defense is two-fold — much the same approach as the Bush administration. President Obama is talking to nations bilaterally about hosting U.S. facilities such as radar and interceptors, which he wants to build up in several phases. But he is also seeking NATO’s approval to link up U.S. assets with European assets. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said that for a 10-year investment of just $280 million, all the separate missile defense systems that NATO members own individually can be linked together for far greater coverage and protection than each enjoys by itself.
It is unclear whether Turkey has been asked to host specific elements of the U.S. missile defense shield, although Turkey’s location makes it an attractive possible site. It would be up to Ankara and Washington bilaterally to decide to move ahead, although it would be hard to see why Turkey would be reticent to partake in the program considering its geographic vulnerability to the growing array of ballistic missile capabilities in its region.
At this time, however, Ankara is being asked to support the upgrading of missile defense to be a key NATO responsibility, which will be enshrined in the new Strategic Concept set to be agreed at the upcoming Lisbon Summit. It is essential that Ankara responds positively to this. The developmental Active Layered Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence (ALTBMD) program, which NATO plans to spend $1.5 billion on, can only protect its troops; it cannot protect populations and territory that are just as vulnerable to the missile threat. In today’s environment, where the proliferation of ballistic missiles is growing, to both state and non-state actors, transatlantic missile defenses is not a luxury: it is plain common sense.