BRUSSELS — NATO’s deputy secretary general, Ambassador Alexander Vershbow, admitted Thursday at a Security and Defence Agenda event at the European Parliament that “not much progress” had been made in terms of cooperating with Russia on missile defense.
He said that Russian objections to the missile defense system are not grounded on facts, but cooperation “could be a game changer in relations with Russia.”
“We will continue to seek closer cooperation with Russia,” he said. However, he warned that, “irrespective of progress, we will push ahead with missile defense capability as planned.”
Bob Bell, who is the defense adviser to the U.S. ambassador to NATO, said that as of May, the system has what he called “operationally significant capability,” meaning it is in place and can function, but is short of “initial operating capability,” which means it can actually be deployed.
Asked by Defense News for more specifics about what sorts of assets and technology were needed to achieve initial operating capability, he said, “we haven’t finished the process of defining the initial operating capability for the expanded missile defense program.”
The plan is to provide full protection across the whole of Europe after another decade, he said.
“We have the foundation. The robustness of it is a function of what countries bring to the architecture,” such as interceptor units, he said.
“The real question is if Europe will add more and make the system more robust.”
Noting that the U.S. Navy Aegis ships are “a keystone of the international capacity,” he pointed out that they were “multimission ships” that were not simply sitting on missile defense picket duty but were also engaging in exercises, operations etc.
He also said that Germany and the Netherlands have pledged to provide theater missile defense systems.
According to Vershbow, the current system can deal with “limited attacks from rogue states at an early stage of technological development.” It can deal with existing technology and tens of missiles, but could not defend against hundreds or thousands of missiles, or against sophisticated capabilities such as decoys, he said.