To most people in Europe, the threat of missile attack is rarely on their radar. Of those who do think about it, some wonder about the cost; or about whether there really is a threat; or about whether missile defense actually works.
But next month, NATO’s leaders will meet in Lisbon and decide whether the alliance should build a missile defense for Europe. They will make that important decision based on the answers to some fundamental questions.
•Is there a threat?
In a word: yes. Missiles pose an increasing threat to our populations, territory and deployed forces. Over 30 countries have or are acquiring missiles that could be used to carry not just conventional warheads, but also weapons of mass destruction. Some of those missiles can already reach European cities, and the problem will only get worse.
The proliferation of these capabilities does not necessarily mean there is an immediate intent to attack us. It does mean, however, that we have a responsibility to be able to protect our populations. We cannot afford to have even one of our cities hit. Nor can we afford to be held hostage by the threat of an attack.
•Will missile defense work?
Building effective missile defense is challenging, but it can be done. We are now able to field mature systems that have been successfully tested. More-over, NATO has long experience in the development and operation of integrated air defense systems. We are already working to provide missile defense for the protection of our troops deployed on operations. By expanding this program and connecting it with the United States’ missile defenses, NATO would be able to defend European populations and territory from missile attack as well.
•How much will it cost?
Missile defense won’t be cheap, but neither will it break the bank. The current NATO program to provide a NATO missile defense system for troops deployed on operations is costing €800 million spread over 14 years, and shared by all allies. For less than €200 million more from our common budget, over 10 years, this program could be expanded to enable NATO to defend European populations and territory.
At a time of budgetary constraint, this is a lot of defense at an affordable price. With a relatively small investment, all the allies could plug into the multi-billion-dollar United States system, share the benefits of increased security, and demonstrate a shared commitment to our mutual defense. That is an attractive return on investment.
•What are the benefits?
In military terms, an integrated missile defense system would offer far greater overall capability than that offered by the individual national systems. By sharing data across the whole system, we would have a common picture of what is happening in our airspace. By linking together the systems, we would get multiple, coordinated opportunities to stop an incoming missile, rather than individual nations going it alone.
The political benefits are equally significant. It would be a clear demonstration of allied solidarity and burden-sharing in the face of a common threat. And it would offer opportunities for genuine cooperation with Russia. NATO-Russia cooperation on missile defense would finally, and firmly, herald a genuinely new era of cooperation under a common Euro-Atlantic security roof.
My conclusion is clear. We need to protect our populations and territories from the threat posed by the proliferation of missiles. NATO can do it, and at an affordable cost. The Lisbon summit should be the occasion for NATO to make the decision to expand the capability to protect our populations and territories — and, at the same time, reach out to Russia to cooperate with us and share the benefits.
Editors Note: Anders Fogh Rasmussen is the secretary general of NATO.
The New York Times