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Westlake Legal Group > Eastern Europe

NATO Considers Missile Defense Upgrade, Risking Further Tensions With Russia

BRUSSELS — NATO military officials are exploring whether to upgrade their defenses to make them capable of shooting down newly deployed Russian intermediate-range nuclear missiles after a landmark arms treaty dissolves next month, according to three European officials.

Any change to the stated mission of NATO’s current missile defense system — aimed at threats from outside the region, like Iran — would probably divide the alliance’s member countries and enrage Russia, which has long said it views NATO’s missile defense site in Romania and one under construction in Poland as a threat to its nuclear arsenal and a source of instability in Europe.

“It would be a point of no return with the Russians,” said Jim Townsend, a former Pentagon official and expert on the alliance. “It would be a real escalation.”

The United States announced in February its intention to withdraw from the 31-year-old Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, signed in 1987 in the waning years of the Cold War, citing Moscow’s years of violations, a step the NATO alliance supported.

The treaty, which prohibits missiles with a range of 310 to 3,420 miles from Europe, will be terminated on Aug. 2 unless Moscow and Washington come to agreement to revive it in the next few weeks.

NATO ambassadors will make one last attempt to push Russia to withdraw its new cruise missiles and revive the treaty on Friday in Brussels.

Discussions about new missile defense measures are at their earliest stages, officials cautioned. NATO’s chief spokeswoman, Oana Lungescu, denied that any studies of the feasibility of upgrading the ballistic missile defenses were underway. She said the alliance had repeatedly made clear that the existing ballistic missile defense system “is neither designed nor directed against Russia.”

But the alliance is considering new air and missile defenses, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced last week without revealing details. And given the rising threat of the Russian cruise missiles, NATO members are expected to order the alliance to study defense options, either after the October defense ministers’ meeting or the December leaders’ summit, a senior alliance official said.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_157431471_e2f75b17-e6b1-46f5-8e59-e1012d158b25-articleLarge NATO Considers Missile Defense Upgrade, Risking Further Tensions With Russia United States Politics and Government United States International Relations United States Defense and Military Forces Treaties Russia Nuclear Weapons North Atlantic Treaty Organization Missiles and Missile Defense Systems Europe Eastern Europe Arms Control and Limitation and Disarmament

The NATO Aegis defense system in Romania in 2016. The systems there and in Poland are currently incapable of firing the interceptor used to strike intermediate-range missiles.CreditKay Nietfeld/Picture-Alliance, via Associated Press

Such an order would require all 29 allies to agree to it. But some officials think that if the treaty ends, the allies will at least be willing to examine the options. The senior official said that if the allies ultimately could not agree on shifting the mission of the ballistic missile defense sites, they may be open to a compromise that would introduce new systems to defend against Russian cruise missiles.

The push for improved defenses is fueled by Russia’s fielding of a new class of missiles as well as the expected demise of the treaty — a casualty of deteriorating relations between Russia and the United States. Eastern European countries, particularly Poland and the Baltic states, believe they are under growing threat of nuclear bullying by Moscow and have been eager to see the alliance develop new defenses.

Based on intelligence from multiple allied agencies, NATO countries have forged a consensus that the new Russian nuclear-capable cruise missiles pose a threat. The missiles, some American and European analysts fear, could give Moscow significant leverage, using the threat of attack to force other countries to de-escalate or give in to Russian demands during a crisis.

The relationship between Russia and the West has spiraled downward since Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. Russia’s destabilization of Ukraine forced the alliance to reinforce its eastern flank with new troop deployments and military exercises. Moscow responded with its own military upgrades, ultimately including the deployment of a new class of ground-based cruise missiles that the West said violated the I.N.F. treaty. Russia’s election interference, its intervention in Syria and the attempted poisoning of a former Russian intelligence officer in Britain further heightened tensions.

Any move by NATO to redirect its missile defenses or expand its system with new capabilities could be a tipping point. Russians have never believed the alliance’s denials that its interceptor system would not eventually be used to shoot down Russian missiles. The system has remained a persistent irritant for Moscow, which questioned why the alliance still needed it after Iran agreed in 2015 to pause its nuclear enrichment program and threatened to direct missiles at the alliance interceptor sites.

Officials at Russia’s NATO embassy did not return requests for comment.

Last week, allied defense ministers approved an examination of potential responses to the Russian deployment of so-called SSC-8 cruise missiles, the weapon NATO accuses Moscow of deploying in violation of the treaty, according to three NATO officials. They include expanding existing deterrence exercises and publicizing the alliance’s nuclear exercises, which are highly secretive. Drawing more attention to the allied nuclear exercises and arsenal would help deter Moscow’s use of its own weapons, some officials think.

NATO will probably need to examine more broadly what defenses it needs against the cruise missiles. Such work, if approved this year, would include exploring whether it can upgrade its Aegis Ashore radar and interceptor sites in Romania and Poland and looking at new radar or air defense capabilities against the cruise missiles.

Upgrading existing ballistic missile defense capabilities, including its two Aegis Ashore sites, would be complex. The NATO Aegis systems in Romania and Poland are incapable of firing the interceptor used to strike intermediate-range missiles. And given their close positions to Russia, the systems have significantly less time to detect, lock onto and attempt to intercept the missiles.

The United States Missile Defense Agency has examined how existing Aegis Ashore missile defense systems could be upgrade with new radar, software and interceptors to allow them to strike intermediate ballistic missiles and potentially cruise missiles, according to current and former officials briefed on the discussions.

Newer technologies like high-velocity projectiles and directed-energy lasers are likely to provide a far better defense long term, experts said. Ballistic missile defenses intercept missiles high in the atmosphere, while cruise missiles fly relatively low to the ground.

Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general of NATO, has said the alliance is considering new air and missile defenses.CreditVirginia Mayo/Associated Press

Fielding new systems to defend against a cruise missile threat, rather than upgrading the existing ballistic missile defense, may also prove more politically palatable. “If NATO is to update its systems, it may undermine its yearslong claim that the launchers were never meant to counter Russia,” said Bruno Lété, a defense analyst in the Brussels office of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

But many Europeans see themselves as in the line of fire with the new Russian cruise missile deployments, he said. “There is a clear incentive for NATO to see if they can upgrade the existing systems to counter Russian intermediary missiles,” Mr. Lété said. “From a military perspective, this would be a relatively simple, decisive and cost-effective step.”

Russian military doctrine, according to American and European military strategists, is increasingly focused on using limited nuclear strikes to quickly end a potential conflict in Moscow’s favor. Such a use of nuclear weapons for a battlefield effect is unthinkable to European politicians and has made some allied officials more open to examining the practicality of using the existing missile defense system to defend against Russia.

“We want to make sure the Russians don’t want to exercise nuclear blackmail, and missile defense is the way to take away that intimidation, to deter that intimidation,” Mr. Townsend said.

American officials have focused on trying to deter Russian intermediate-range missiles by quickly developing their own ground-launched cruise missile, a class the I.N.F. treaty has banned. Many in the alliance oppose deploying new offensive weapons. NATO planners are not expecting a directive to add offensive capabilities, only to expand defensive measures, the senior allied official said.

Since April, the Aegis site in Romania has been undergoing an upgrade. Officials said it was long planned and did not involve recalibrating the system.

If the alliance wants to counter Russian cruise missiles, it may make more sense to deploy new technologies like directed-energy lasers, microwaves or electronic warfare measures, said Mark Gunzinger, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

“We have invested in ballistic missile defenses, but frankly the cruise missile threat is a growing threat and we just haven’t fielded the capabilities to deal with it,” Mr. Gunzinger said.

Even if the alliance opts not to upgrade its Aegis Ashore sites, Mr. Gunzinger said, Russia’s new weapons will force it to field new air and missile defenses. Without them, it would be difficult to reinforce its front-line troops during a conflict, he said.

“Deterring Russia is going to take a different posture in Europe,” Mr. Gunzinger said. “It will take air and missile defenses to counter their salvos, it will take electronic warfare capabilities, it will take long-range precision strike.”

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Howard Flight: Why the time has come for drug legalisation

Lord Flight is Chairman of Flight & Partners Recovery Fund, and is a former Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

Confessions of drug use in their youth by politicians raises the case for controlled legalisation of drugs – at least of soft drugs, if not yet of hard drugs. Such drugs are already legal to some extent in 30 countries – largely in Eastern Europe, Latin America, Croatia, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Portugal: in Latin America, in Ecuador, Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico and Jamaica. To this must be added Cambodia, where all drugs are used publicly and legally: it is considered the country with the most freedom when it comes to drugs.

The newest country to take the legalisation path is Canada, which has brought in complex new laws legalising cannabis. It has been legalised throughout the country, though the rules will vary amongst the ten Canadian provinces. Even the mandated minimum age for consumption varies between the ages of 18 and 21. Nova Scotia, with a population of 940,000, will have 12 stores run in conjunction with the province’s Liquor Board; but British Columbia, with a population of 4.6 million, will have only one store. In Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, it will initially be available only online.

Canada’s intention is to show the rest of the world that cannabis legalisation is a good thing. Like the UK, Canada has spent a quarter of a century discussing this territory and advocating legalisation. The Canadian measures legalise the industry, but criminalise a lot of the aspects around the use of cannabis: only purchases from officially recognised stores will be legal; giving marijuana to a minor will remain illegal. In Ontario, people will be free to smoke or vape marijuana anywhere just as they are allowed to consume tobacco, but elsewhere, public consumption remains illegal and subject to a fine.

Mexico arguably provided the strongest case for legalisation. Against the background of Mexico having relatively high drug abuse, the black market and the drug cartels caused substantial criminal problems, and led to a large number of deaths. Drugs were legalised in 2009, and a lot of the legalised drugs are from hard drugs, including heroin and cocaine. The Government has legalised these drugs, hoping that decriminalisation would help in making Mexico a safer place. This has not yet been as effective as had been hoped.

Similar arguments now apply to London. The growing number of knife deaths are drug cartel-related. Teenagers can earn £45,000 per annum pushing drugs, and if they get knifed – e.g. for acting against their cartel – others are always willing to take their place. The police have an impossible task in trying to enforce the law. My judgement is that a majority of the police favour controlled decriminalisation. Part of the programme should include I.D Cards, which should help fight crime in a wider context.

In the USA, support for legalising marijuana has risen from 32 per cent to 54 per cent over the last nine years. There is an economic and commercial case for legalising. One of the beneficiaries of legalising drugs is the Government. Once drugs can be distributed commercially, tax can be imposed on them in the same way as they are imposed on cigarettes. The potential tax revenues could reach £5 billion.

Legalisation on the streets would also reduce Government police expenditure, saving the costs of seeking to enforce the law on drug prohibition. The cost of court proceedings, prosecutions and the sustenance of inmates incarcerated for unlawful drug use can also be saved. The legalisation of marijuana would also enables many of the sick to reduce their pain.

The arguments against liberalisation are that making drugs more accessible can lead to more people committing more crime. It can also cloud the mind, and can end in crime. Drugs contain chemicals and substances that can cause depression. If individuals are free to buy any drug ‘over the counter’, addiction and depression can result. If drugs become readily available, businesses can commercialise on this and encourage people to buy and become addicted. The results so far from countries which have liberalised have been mixed. The Netherlands has been disappointing. It had been hoped that more people would have ceased consuming drugs.

The arguments for controlled legalisation are in principle more powerful than the arguments against. To achieve a satisfactory out-turn from legalisation, such a programme would clearly need well-disciplined, prescribed distributors; these could be Government stores, or independent stores licenced and closely monitored by government.

As things stand, in large western Cites such as London, the current laws are useless but have created a large criminal and vicious distribution industry. It is difficult to see anything other than legalisation and close Government monitoring thereof being able to address the drug problems.

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