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NATO Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) Policy and the Euro-Atlantic Alliance Security Dilemma in the Post-Cold War Era

NATO
Security
Ramesh Balakrishnan
Carleton University
Ramesh Balakrishnan
Carleton University

Abstract

Since its inception in 1949, NATO has been responsible for the collective defence of Europe as stipulated under Article 5 of the Washington Treaty. U.S. extended nuclear deterrence and bilateral arms control treaties between the two superpowers played a significant role in maintaining peace in Europe during the Cold War and after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. Since the 1950s, NATO’s nuclear deterrence strategies of “flexible response” and “assured retaliation” have remained an integral component of NATO’s “Strategic Concept,” the principal military doctrine of the NATO alliance that specifies conditions for the use of conventional forces and nuclear weapons by NATO. Bilateral arms control treaties such as the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty of 1971 and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Weapons (INF) Treaty of 1987 played a significant role in no small measure to reduce nuclear risks in Europe and contributed toward strategic stability between the West and the Soviet Union during and after the end of the Cold War. The introduction of Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) in such a fragile nuclear environment has significant repercussions for deterrence and strategic stability. This paper investigates the evolution of NATO’s strategic thinking about BMD in the post-cold war era using IR scholar Glenn Snyder’s alliance security dilemma theory. Alliance security dilemma theory postulates that an alliance member assesses the cost and risk of being abandoned or entrapped by an ally and that three factors determine the degree of alliance commitment: the extent of shared interests, one ally’s dependence on the other and explicitness and credibility of the alliance commitment. The abrogation of the ABM treaty by the Bush administration in 2001 and plans for installing a national missile defence system to protect the U.S. homeland (through missile interceptors and radars to be based at two locations in California and Alaska) stoked fears of abandonment by NATO. The Bush administration justified its ground-based missile defence strategy on the premise that regional missile threats from countries such as Iran, Syria, Iraq and Libya posed a grave danger to U.S. military assets in Europe. By 2003, the Bush Administration began discussions with NATO about installing a ground-based missile defence system at a “third site” in Eastern Europe. NATO member states were opposed to this ground-based long-range missile defence plan because of its failure to defend NATO strategic interests in Europe and were instead meant to undermine Russia’s nuclear deterrent. NATO began studying the feasibility of building an integrated home-grown missile defence system for Europe at the 2002 Prague Summit. By 2005, NATO was well on its way to commissioning the first phase of the Active Layered Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence (ALTBMD) for “theatre defence” of critical military and strategic sites of Europe and its North American allies. In a strategic shift from NATO policy on missile defence which privileged “theatre defence,” and eschewed land-based missile defence to protect the entire population of Europe, NATO embraced the notion of “territorial and population defence” of Europe against ballistic missile attacks and unanimously adopted the Obama administration’s “European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA)” BMD plan. at the Lisbon Summit in 2010.