President Obama has shown that missile defense and arms control can proceed hand-in-hand.
By Joseph R. Biden Jr.
In September 2009, when President Obama decided to alter his predecessor's plans for missile defense in Europe, some critics claimed that we had sacrificed our allies in the interest of the "reset" with Russia. Others thought that we would derail the reset by proceeding with the new plan. The skeptics were wrong on both counts.
At NATO's summit in Lisbon last weekend, President Obama united Europe behind our missile-defense plans and received strong support for the New Start Treaty that is currently before the Senate. In doing so, he proved that missile defense and arms control can proceed hand-in-hand.
It's hard to remember how much relations between the United States and our European allies had frayed before this administration took office. U.S. leadership was viewed negatively by many foreign publics, and U.S. policies often met with opposition from our traditional partners. The positive atmosphere in Lisbon--and the substantial progress on priorities like missile defense, arms control and the Russia reset--simply would not have been possible without nearly two years of intensive diplomacy.
NATO's adoption of territorial missile defense as a new mission shows that President Obama has rebuilt the alliance's underlying consensus about the threats we face and how to meet them. Once considered an insurmountable political, technical and financial challenge, NATO's decision to embrace territorial missile defense demonstrates the alliance's determination to meet 21st-century threats.
The ballistic missile threat to our allies, partners and deployed forces is real and growing, particularly from Iran. Unlike previous approaches, this NATO missile-defense system will protect all NATO allies in Europe, not just some. And it will protect more European territory sooner than the system it replaced. The capability will improve over time, addressing existing and near-term threats first, then expanding to provide greater coverage and protection as the threat and technology evolve.
The U.S. contribution to this effort will be the European Phased Adaptive Approach, which will include Aegis ships capable of ballistic missile defense, a forward-based radar, and land-based SM-3 interceptor sites in Romania and Poland. Our European missile-defense system will employ cost-effective and proven technologies, using a distributed network of sensors and shooters, making it far more flexible, adaptable and survivable than earlier proposals. This system demonstrates America's enduring commitment to Article 5 of the Washington Treaty--that an attack on one is an attack on all.
NATO missile defense also provides the opportunity for further improvements in both NATO-Russian and U.S.-Russian relations. NATO and Russia agreed at Lisbon to carry out a joint ballistic missile threat assessment, to resume theater missile-defense exercises, and to explore further cooperation on territorial missile defense--things that were nearly unimaginable two years ago.
These agreements underscore the strategic importance the alliance attaches to improving its relationship with Russia. But trust and confidence in our relationship with Russia would be undermined without Senate approval of the New Start Treaty, which reduces strategic nuclear forces to levels not seen since the 1950s, and restores important verification mechanisms that ceased when the first Start Treaty expired last December.
The U.S. has been conducting on-site inspections in Europe since the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty of 1987, which banned medium-range missiles. That treaty showed how U.S.-Russian arms control can make Europe more secure, and New Start continues that tradition.
European leaders understand that New Start advances their security as well as America's, and that is an important foundation for future negotiations on conventional forces and tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. That is why all 27 of our NATO allies expressed their desire to see the treaty's early ratification.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, for instance, cautioned that delay in ratification would be damaging to security in Europe. And leaders from nations that border Russia (including Poland, Latvia and Lithuania) spoke out strongly in support of the treaty.
New Start is also a cornerstone of our efforts to reset relations with Russia, which have improved significantly in the last two years. This has led to real benefits for U.S. and global security. Russian cooperation made it possible to secure strong sanctions against Iran over its nuclear ambitions, and Russia canceled a sale to Iran of an advanced anti-aircraft missile system that would have been dangerously destabilizing. Russia has permitted the flow of materiel through its territory for our troops in Afghanistan. And--as the NATO-Russia Council in Lisbon demonstrated--European security has been advanced by the pursuit of a more cooperative relationship with Russia. We should not jeopardize this progress.
The Lisbon summit showed that American leadership in Europe remains essential. It also reminded us why the stakes of the New Start Treaty are so high. Our uniformed military supports it. Our European allies support it. Our national security interests are at stake. It is time for the Senate to approve New Start.