Belmont Club

The Janus Shield

The National Journal says the administration is negotiating a legal framework with Russia that would allow it to exchange sensitive technical information with Moscow, including data on missile defense. “The United States is working to revive an agreement with Russia that would serve as the legal foundation for the two nations to exchange potentially sensitive information on a broad range of technologies, including missile defense systems”. The negotiations over what is now called the Defense Technology Cooperation Agreement, according to an unnamed Pentagon source, are slated to conclude “sooner, rather than later.”  The emphasis in quotes that follow are mine.

The Bush administration originally proposed the agreement in 2004. However, the United States broke off negotiations in 2008 following the Russian invasion of neighboring Georgia. …

For months Washington and NATO have ratcheted up diplomatic efforts to draw Moscow into collaborating on a European missile shield amid persistent Kremlin concerns that any antimissile system would undermine Russia’s nuclear deterrent.

Gates, in a visit last month to Moscow, suggested the former Cold War foes exchange missile launch data and set up a joint “fusion” facility in which NATO and Russian forces would have simultaneous access to missile threat alerts transmitted from both sides’ radar systems.

If the United States and Russia do eventually strike an accord to stand up a shared data center “you would need an implementing arrangement or project arrangement to do that work,” the defense official said in a recent telephone interview.

The proposed defense technology cooperation agreement, which would not require congressional approval, would serve in that function. It offers a number of legal provisions, such as intellectual property rights, information protection — in the event the two nations want to exchange classified data — and liability and claims, the official said.

Readers will recall that 39 Republican Senators wrote to the President in mid-April this year and urged him not to enter into any agreements that would give Russia a “red-button” veto over missile defense, including the transfer of sensitive technology. The letter seems to object precisely to the kind of sharing contempated by the Defense Technology Cooperation Agreement which “would not require congressional approval”.

“In our view, any agreement that would allow Russia to influence the defense of the United States or our allies, to say nothing of a ‘red button’ or veto, would constitute a failure of leadership,” they said. …

“We therefore ask for your written assurances that your Administration will not provide Russia with any access to sensitive US data, including early warning, detection, tracking, targeting, and telemetry data, sensors or common operational picture data, or American hit-to-kill missile defense technology.”

It is unclear what effect the letter by the 39 Senators would have. The administration plainly plans to go forward with a missile defense system that is somehow shared between Europe, Russia and the United States.

The Russians, for their part, “understand that we think this is an important part of going forward,” the official added.

U.S. officials earlier this month hosted a meeting with their Russian counterparts in Geneva for discussions “writ large” on missile defense that included proposals for cooperation, according to the Pentagon official.

The source said Moscow would respond to the proposals “in the next couple of weeks” before a similar conference is scheduled.

The Russian Embassy in Washington did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Interestingly, while NATO bends over backwards to assure Moscow that it’s own shield is no threat, Russia announced it would build its own missile defense shield “by the end of 2011”.  Moreover, Russian officials also said they were merging their missile attack warning and space surveillance systems into “a single military force”. Novosti reports:

Russia will build a national aerospace defense shield by the end of 2011, Chairman of the Federation Council Committee on Defense and Security Viktor Ozerov told reporters on Tuesday in the cosmonauts’ training center near Moscow. He believes that a combined aerospace defense force will cooperate more effectively with NATO’s European anti-missile defense system.

Last year, President Medvedev approved a plan to merge the Space Forces created in 2001, the Air Defense Forces and also the missile attack warning and space surveillance systems into a single military force. Commenting on the issue, Viktor Ozerov said as follows:

“Space Forces is a branch of the Russian army that focuses on space and ground intelligence, as well as anti-missile security. Cooperation with Russia on anti-missile defence was named among the priorities at the latest Russia-NATO summit in Lisbon. As of today, Russia and NATO member states have managed to agree on some aspects of anti-missile shield in Europe, though some difficulties remain with adjusting anti-missile systems of Russia, the US and that of NATO to each other.”

The obvious unanswered question is whether the Russians, having been given access to the NATO system, will provide a symmetrical level of access to their system or whether the whole thing will function like a one way mirror? Since nothing requires Congressional approval, the question will have to be put to the administration. Furthermore, in the light of Russia’s reorganization of its Space Forces, what can be the meaning of the goal “not to militarize space” so earnestly promised by Barack Obama?

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