U.S. and Russia Weighing Joint Missile Defense Program

The Obama Administration is courting Moscow in hopes of developing collaborative missile warning systems

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U.S.-Russian discussions on potential collaborative mechanisms to warn of impending missile attacks could prove "very, very positive," President Obama's nominee to become the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said at his confirmation hearing on Tuesday.

The Obama administration has reportedly courted Moscow's interest in establishing two jointly operated sites--one to cooperatively examine and assess radar and other monitoring data, and another for the development of military responses to various missile threats--in a bid to win Moscow's support for a unified European antimissile framework. The missile-shield plan, adopted formally at a 2010 summit in Lisbon, Portugal, would enhance and connect individual NATO member states' missile operations while augmenting those defenses with increasingly advanced land- and sea-based missile interceptors fielded by the United States.

While Washington and other NATO governments have maintained the system is intended to counter an emerging Iranian missile threat, Russia has worried the scheme would undermine the credibility of its own strategic deterrent. The Kremlin's proposal to operate a unified system in which Russia and NATO would have responsibility to defend specific geographic areas has gained little traction with the alliance. Brussels instead prefers two distinct but cooperative operations.

U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, who would succeed retiring Adm. Michael Mullen as the United States' top military officer, endorsed deeper antimissile collaboration with Russia following a question by Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, about U.S. interceptor deployments in Alaska and the potential need for "a complementary system" in the eastern United States.

"The current strategy calls for replicating what you would describe as an air-defense capability on the West Coast, but is replicating that in Europe, because of the flight plan of any missile that might be launched from Iran," Dempsey said in his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"There's also some ... very early, nascent discussions with Russia about sharing early warning and things that could be very, very positive. So I think this work is ongoing and important, and I'll give it my full interest," he said.

Senior Russian and U.S. officials in Washington last week discussed the possibility of creating collaborative missile-defense operations facilities. The Obama administration is also pursuing the reinstatement of a pact that could lay the groundwork for the United States and Russia to share data on technologies relevant to missile defense and other areas.

In his prepared testimony, Dempsey also warned of potential military missteps by Iran.

"With its nuclear activities and its surrogate activities in southern Iraq, there is a high potential that Iran will make a serious miscalculation of U.S. "resolve," Agence France-Presse quoted the general as saying.

Dempsey added that he would pressure Pakistan to crack down on the Haqqani network and other militant entities in the nation's western tribal areas. "They have pressed some of those groups, but not all. It's not always been clear to us exactly why they press some but not all. But I will continue to work with Pakistan to reduce the safe haven on the [Pakistani] border," he said.

The general appeared to caution against attempting to use U.S. assistance to the South Asian state as a means of leverage, contending that ties continue to suffer as a result of a 1985 measure that restricted U.S. aid to Pakistan over the nation's nuclear-weapons development efforts.

"We have now a generation of [Pakistani] officers--generally, they are field-grade majors and lieutenant colonels--who not only know nothing about us but actually are somewhat antagonistic toward us because they've had no contact with us, and they simply remember a period of time when they were prohibited from having contact. I think that's a mistake," Dempsey said.

"As we go forward in Pakistan, I think we should continue to find areas of common interest, and there are plenty of those. And I think we ought to acknowledge where we have differences, and there ought to be consequences for greater or lesser cooperation, but I think we've got to stick with the relationship," the general added.

This article originally posted at National Journal.