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Analysis II
Last Updated: 08/07/2008
US-Russia negotiations on missile defence
Yakubu Joseph

Key Words: US, Russia, Security Council, Nuclear Arms, Missile Defense Shield, Human development, Arms Stockpiles, conflict resolution, Negotiation, United Nations

The ambition of countries to acquire missile defense capability is not a recent phenomenon. Ever since missiles first attacks were launched against England in World War II, many countries have sought to develop anti-missile defense system to protect themselves against possible missile threats (Union of Concerned Scientists, 2007). The United States, under the administration George W. Bush, since 2001, has been pursuing a robust missile defense project including a proposal to set up missile defense sites in Europe (Bhadrakumar, 2007). Russia has vehemently opposed the US proposal. The two sides have engaged in negotiations with each other and other key European stakeholders including Poland, Czech Republic, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and the European Parliament in order to resolve the disagreements, without any breakthrough yet. My interest in these multilateral negotiations is predicated on the belief that disagreements concerning security issues between US and Russia will have wide ramifications because the two countries occupy strategic positions in international affairs and, hence, the outcome of the negotiations will have impact on international peace, more so that the matter involves two former Warsaw Pact countries, Poland and Czech Republic.

The paper highlights the US anti-missile defense proposal, Russia’s objection, positions of Poland, Czech Republic, NATO and other European stakeholders, and then provides an analysis of the negotiations. In the concluding part, the paper isolates the factors that have hampered progress in the negotiations and ends by suggesting the way forward.

US anti-missile defense proposal

Although the idea of developing a missile defense capability has been on the United States’ defense agenda for a long time, its recent history can be traced to 23 March 1983, when President Ronald Reagan unveiled his Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), which would use lasers, radar, mirrors, and interceptors to protect the United States from ballistic missile attack from Soviet Union or other "rogue" nations (Perry, 2000). Even though the Cold War has ended, the idea of missile defense shield has remained on the desk of subsequent Presidents of the United States. What appears to have changed, however, are the reasons adduced for the necessity of the missile defense project. The focus of the present arguments has been on curbing threats from “rogue states” like Iran and North Korea (Bigg, 2007 and Eland and Lee, 2001). In 2001 President George W. Bush formally announced the withdrawal of the United States from 1972 Anti Ballistic Missile treaty (ABM) to go ahead and develop a National Missile Defense (NMD) system (President G.W. Bush, 2001). By 2002 there was already a presidential order to pursue this ambition (Samson, 2007). In his testimony before Senate Armed Services Committee, Donald Rumsfeld argued that the new security threats of the 21st Century imposed on the United States the need to develop the appropriate defense strategy (Rumsfeld, 2001). My preoccupation here is with the arguments, often advanced by the US, in support of their proposal to deploy Ground-based Missile Defense[1] (GMD) system in Eastern Europe. The arguments marshaled by the US in the anti-missile shield negotiations are as follows:

  1. To protect US citizens from ballistic missile attacks (Pullinger, 2007, Samson, 2007 and Rumsfeld, 2001).
  2. To assure US friends and allies that the US can respond to unexpected dangers and emergence of new threats, and resist intimidation from others ( Rumsfeld, 2001).
  3. As instrument of diplomatic pressure to dissuade potential adversaries from developing threatening capabilities, developing and deploying the capabilities that reduce their incentives to compete (ibid.).
  4. As instrument to deter others – even if the “enemies” acquire ballistic missiles, they can be deterred from contemplating their use by the ability of the missile defense allies led by the US to deliver a decisive retaliation (Pullinger, 2007 and Rumsfeld, 2001).
  5. Should deterrence and dissuasion fail, defend US, its friends, and allies from any adversary, if so instructed; defeat the adversary through a pre-emptive strike (ibid.).
  6. To demonstrate international support of ballistic missile defense (Samson, 2007).

It was on the basis of the aforementioned raisons d'être of the missile defense ambition of the US that it proposed a missile defense system in Eastern Europe, with 10 interceptors in Poland and an X-band radar in the Czech Republic (Samson, 2007).

Russia’s objection

No country felt thwarted by the US proposal like Russia. Russia consistently opposed the US proposal to deploy missile defense shield in Eastern Europe. Russia maintains that the stationing of the missile shield at its doorsteps poses a threat to Russia and disrupts global strategic balance (Bigg, 2007 and Bhadrakumar, 2007). In opposition to US proposed deployment of missile shield in Europe, Russia raised the following counter-arguments:

  1. Russia does not understand why the so-called threats from Iran or North Korea should be countered on the territory of Poland and the Czech Republic, and not for example in Turkey, which is a member of NATO and its participation in this issue would have been more logical (Bigg, 2007).
  2. Russia believes that the ulterior motive of US in seeking to install a missile defense system in Europe is to spy Russia (Reuters, 2007).
  3. Russia is concerned about the siting of the missile shield in Poland and Czech Republic, both of them former Warsaw Pact countries once under the influence of Russia (Ellison, 2007). The US move is perceived as a reminder to Russian political and military leadership of how much ground has been lost (DeBree, 2007).
  4. Russia is of the opinion that the US move to deploy missile shield in Eastern Europe can trigger a Cold War-style arm race (ibid.).
  5. Russia thinks that the deployment of missile shield will make them a desirable target for terrorist attack, and any attempt to destroy them will affect Russia’s national security since the sites are close to its borders (Buzhinsky, 2006).

The position of Czech Republic

The Czech Republic has expressed willingness to participate in the missile defense project of the United States. In the negotiations, Czech has maintained a position in support of the project based on the belief that it is important for the protection of the Euro-Atlantic area, and for Europe and the United States as well (Klvana, 2007). The Czech Republic claims that its desire to participate in the missile defense project is not to threaten anyone, but to deter terrorist groups or unstable or even rogue regimes from acquiring missile capabilities and threatening them with such capabilities (ibid.). The negotiations between the Czech Government and Washington on the deployment of the missile defense system have been positive from both parties’ standpoint as agreement between the two has been almost reached (Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, 2007a).

Poland’s position

Poland’s former Prime Minister, Jaroslaw Kaczynski started negotiations with the US for the installation of 10 interceptors missiles in the country and consistently expressed support for the plan as a way to strengthen the Trans-Atlantic alliance (Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, 2007b). However, Poland’s new government led by Prime Minister Donald Tusk, which came into power in November 2007, have vowed to once again weigh the benefits and costs of the missile defense project for their country, and draw a conclusion based on the result (ibid.). This means they intend to review previous negotiation carried out by the past regime of Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

NATO and other European Stakeholders

Generally speaking, European governments are not opposed to the idea of missile defense system, but have raised some concerns about the project (Pullinger, 2007). The European approach to the issue calls for the need to sort out disagreement about threat perception, assess the efficacy of the technology against the investment the project will incur, consider how the missile defense deployment will impact on relations with Russia, and the need for caution so as not to trigger arm race that would damage international security (ibid.). In this regard, the European position is that there should be clarification of those concerns, and wider consultation and participation of Russia and NATO will give the project a more integrative perspective.

Analysis of the negotiation

As I earlier mentioned, the negotiations involve several stakeholders - US, Russia, Czech, Poland, European Union, NATO, and other countries like China who have adopted a “wait-and-see” posture. In this section I will analyze the defining characteristics of the negotiations and appraise the strategies employed by the main parties.

1. Who are the negotiators?

One of the most important features of the negotiation is that it is taking place at the highest levels of government including the involvement of heads of state, ministers of foreign affairs and their deputies, ministers of defense and their deputies, and top ranking military officers of countries concerned. This is because the negotiations bother on issue pertinent to international security. The point to be derived here is that the calibre of negotiators that represent states depends to an extent on the issue at stake. The more important the issue is to a country’s strategic interest, the higher the profile of the negotiators will be.

2. Use of threats:

In reaction against the US insistence to go ahead with the missile defense project in Poland and Czech Republic, Russia carried out its threat to pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (Humphries, 2007). Russia also has threatened to strike at the missile defense sites should US go ahead with the plan, but the US does not seem to be deterred (International Herald Tribune, 2007). This is because the use of threats in negotiation does not always result in the intended outcome for even the party that employs it. As Neale and Northcraft (1991) and Schelling (1960) noted, the party that uses threat may seek to highlight their power for the purpose of influencing the behaviour of the other, but the threat may backfire if it invites anger or contentious tactics, and bring about unintended outcome - reduce cooperativeness and increase competition, increase impasse and decrease joint outcome (cited in Lytle and Kopelman, 2005).

3. Trade-offs:

In what seems like a concessionary move, Russian President Vladimir Putin made a surprise counter-proposal to the US during the G8 summit in Germany in June 2007 when he offered to his US counterpart George Bush the joint use of a Russian radar station in Azerbaijan as an alternative to US plans to station parts of a missile shield in the Czech Republic and Poland (Horakavo, 2007). On their part the US laid out details of a new proposal for cooperation with Russia agreeing to integrate Russian and Western anti-missile systems to share from bases tracking missile threats and making use of a Russian offer of radar facilities in Azerbaijan and southern Russia if US experts will have unfettered access to the facilities, and based on function assessment, the US does not see it as an alternative to the ones they proposed in Europe (Shanker, 2007). Due to this disagreement both countries have failed to find a middle-ground. While the negotiations are still going on, there have been no breakthroughs yet.

4. Impact of the new intelligence report on Iran:

The recent intelligence report on Iran[2] appears, in my opinion, to have dealt a blow to the American side. Furthermore, the release of this report seems to have somewhat galvanized the Russian argument that, contrary to US claim, Iran does not pose a security threat as the US construes it to be. The US President and some senior members of his cabinet are trying to down-play the report. Notwithstanding, European governments and other stakeholders are leveraging on the report to query the “rogue state” thesis in respect of US claim that Iran is a threat.

5. Psychology of the US-Russia negotiation:

It is very obvious that the negotiations have been marred by mutual suspicion and distrust often conveyed through rhetorics. The mere fact that the two sides have been making reference to the Cold War means that their past Cold War experiences are interfering with their attitude towards each other in the current negotiations.


While the US and Russia have not abandoned the negotiations in spite of lack of any breakthrough, withdrawal of both countries from key anti-arm proliferation treaties, the use of threats by both sides, mutual suspicion and distrust, and the parties’ reference to the Cold War may hamper their ability to find integrative solution and, hence, lead to intractability. The way forward perhaps is for the European Union, which considers both the US and Russia as strategic partners and has expressed concern about the potential of the missile defense disagreement to lead to arm race, to convene multilateral negotiations to get parties to find a common ground for security cooperation. The US approach of resigning to fear and isolationism against “rogue states” can only exacerbate situation. Constructive engagement with those labeled as “rogue states” may prove more effective in strengthening international security than diverting resources that can help in human development in stockpiling arms.



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------- (2007b). “Polish defense chief wants to rethink stance on missile defense”. International News, 19 November 2007,


Perry, J. (2000). “A Brief History of the Missile Defense System,” a research paper. Fortune City,


Pullinger, S. (2007). “US plan for a Missile Defense Shield in Europe”. Brussels: International Security Information Service, European Parliament.


Reuters (2007). “Putin says Russia will not allow missile shield to spy.” United Kingdom: Reuters, Friday 27 April 2007,


Rumsfeld, D.H. (2001). Testimony of U.S. of Secretary of Defense before Senate Armed Services Committee, Thursday, June 21, 2001.


Samson, V. (2007). The U.S. Missile Defense System in Eastern Europe: An incomplete system that will leave the continent less secure. A presentation at the hearing: “The U.S. missile shiled,” European Parliament, Brussels, Belgium, 12 June 2007. Washington, DC: Center for Defense Information.


Shanker, T. (2007). “Russian radar in Azerbaijan is unacceptable, missile defense chief says.” International Herald Tribune, Europe, 18 September 2007. The Associated Press.


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[1] Samson (2007) describes the Ground-based Ballistic Missile (GMD) as a land-based system designed to defend a territory against an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) attacks by hitting them and destroying them during their mid-course phase, or the middle of their flight.

[2] The recent report, “Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities,” by US National Intelligence Council admitted that Iran does not currently have a nuclear programme, see