At their summit in Bucharest this week, NATO leaders endorsed
U.S. plans for a missile defense system to be based in Poland and
the Czech Republic. This represents a major success both for
American diplomacy and the transatlantic alliance.
NATO support for America's plan to install 10 long-range,
ground-based missile defense interceptors in Poland and a
mid-course radar in the Czech Republic--the "third site"--paves the
way for a final agreement on a security deal between Washington,
Warsaw, and Prague that will strengthen transatlantic security,
counter the evolving Middle Eastern ballistic missile threat, and
allow the United States to extend its own security umbrella to that
of its European allies.
With the Czech Republic's ensuing announcement at Bucharest that
it has reached a final agreement with Washington on the radar and
will sign the deal in early May, it now looks increasingly likely
that full agreement on the third site will be reached before the
end of President George W. Bush's Administration. NATO's endorsement
was a major step forward and stands as testimony to the Alliance's
strategic relevance in the 21st century and its enduring commitment
to the principle of mutual defense.
The Bucharest Summit
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called the statement at
Bucharest a "breakthrough agreement." The communiqué issued
by the NATO Alliance states:
Ballistic missile proliferation poses an increasing threat to
Allies' forces, territory and populations. Missile defence forms
part of a broader response to counter this threat. We therefore
recognise the substantial contribution to the protection of Allies
from long range ballistic missiles to be provided by the planned
deployment of European based United States missile defence
The Alliance's message could not be more unequivocal that it
recognizes the threat of ballistic missile attack and supports
Washington's bilateral negotiations with Warsaw and Prague over
third-site installations. The communiqué specifically notes
the Alliance's "deep concern" over the proliferation activities of
both Iran and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
The communiqué also lays to bed the myth that third-site
installations are incompatible with NATO's growing role in missile
We are exploring ways to link this capability with current NATO
missile defence efforts as a way to ensure that it would be an
integral part of any future NATO wide missile defence architecture.
Bearing in mind the principle of the indivisibility of Allied
security as well as NATO solidarity, we task the Council in
Permanent Session to develop options for a comprehensive missile
defence architecture to extend coverage to all Allied territory and
populations not otherwise covered by the United States system for
review at our 2009 Summit, to inform any future political
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer stated in 2007 that
all NATO members share a mutual threat perception of ballistic
missile attack. He has also previously indicated that NATO
plans for a short-range missile defense system to protect southern
European nations will not be covered by the U.S. initiative and
will complement the U.S. missile defense system.
Speaking before the Summit, Polish Defense Minister Bogdan Klich
called on the Alliance to "pursue work on a NATO missile shield"
and to ensure complete complementarity and cooperation between the
two systems. The NATO communiqué takes forward
this approach by simultaneously accepting that the talks between
Washington, Warsaw, and Prague over the third site are bilateral
while also leaving the door open for future integration with
Alliance efforts in this field.
This communiqué represents a major victory for American
diplomacy. President Bush managed to outmaneuver Russian President
Vladimir Putin by rallying support for the statement before Putin's
arrival, but the statement cleverly allows for future Russian
participation and cooperation. The United States can
claim a diplomatic victory for this success, and if, as looks
likely, final agreement on the third site is reached before the end
of this Administration, it will represent a major legacy of the
During the Summit, Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwartzenberg
announced that Washington and Prague had completed their
negotiations for the stationing of a radar in the Czech Republic.
The negotiations between America and the Czech Republic have been
long and tough, but their successful conclusion cements the growing
closeness between the two nations and puts the Czechs in a
privileged defense relationship with the United States. President
Bush must now seize the initiative to finalize a deal with Warsaw
to station the interceptors in Poland.
Getting final agreement with Warsaw is by no means a done deal,
although NATO's endorsement represents a massive boost toward one.
Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski has dismissed the
possibility of permanently stationing Russian observers at the
proposed site, which has been touted as a possible counter-offer by
Washington to Moscow.
These thorny issues may now be easier to resolve, with
Washington wielding such significant leverage over Moscow. Although
much will depend on the outcome of President Bush's summit with
President Putin this weekend, it is vital that American negotiators
invest the time and resources necessary to secure a deal that
Warsaw can live with and that takes advantage of the prevailing
As President Bush embarks on a final meeting with President
Putin at the Black Sea resort of Sochi this weekend, many questions
about Russian-American relations remain outstanding. The Bucharest
Summit represents a mixed bag for Putin, who will undoubtedly be
troubled by the prospect of final agreement on the third site,
although he will claim to have won a victory of his own by
successfully maneuvering against Georgia and Ukraine's admission
into NATO's Membership Action Plan.
Overall, however, Washington will leave Bucharest in a
significantly stronger position vis-à-vis Russia. NATO's
positive language on missile defense will send Moscow a powerful
message that the United States is negotiating from a position of
diplomatic strength while it shrewdly keeps the door open for
Russia to ramp down its aggressive rhetoric. There is even a
small possibility that Bush and Putin will conclude cooperative
language on missile defense in their Framework on Strategic
Relations, which is set to be concluded at Sochi. President Bush
must keep his nerve in dealing with President Putin and not give
unreasonable concessions to Moscow, which would damage the
possibility of agreement with Warsaw.
Despite a number of high-profile diplomatic failures in recent
years, the Bush Administration has successfully navigated the
third-site missile defense issue and exposed Russian intransigence
and obstructionism while always being careful to leave a chair for
Russia at the negotiating table. NATO's endorsement of third-site
installations and its recognition of the threat of proliferation
give America and its allies a powerful incentive to move forward in
the immediate term with a third-site deal. They also provide a
platform for NATO to review its strategic concept for the 21st
century, formalizing a new concept in time for its 60th birthday in
Sally McNamara is Senior
Policy Analyst in European Affairs in the Margaret Thatcher Center
for Freedom at The Heritage Foundation.
Peter Baker, "NATO to Endorse U.S.
Missile-Defense Plan," The Washington Post, April 3,
Matthew Lee, "NATO Backs Bush's Missile Defense
System," Associated Press, April 3, 2008.
Matthew Lee, "Bush Wins NATO Nod on Missile
Defense," Associated Press, April 3, 2008.
Bucharest Summit Declaration, issued by the
Heads of State and Government participating in the meeting of the
North Atlantic Council in Bucharest on April 3, 2008, at www.nato.int/docu/pr/2008/p08-049e.html.
"Poland Slams NATO Foot-dragging on Continental
Missile Defense," Agence France-Presse, April 2, 2008.
Baker, "NATO to Endorse U.S. Missile-Defense
Bucharest Summit Declaration, item 38.
Susan Cornwell, "NATO Embraces Missile
Shield, Czechs Pledge Radar," Reuters, April 3, 2008.