LISBON // Nato planned yesterday to deliver a historic invitation for Russia to join a missile shield protecting Europe against Iranian attack, a milestone for an alliance that was built to defend against Soviet forces.
The Nato secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, previewed the hoped-for co-operation on missile threats by declaring at the outset of a Nato meeting with the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev: “It is a threat we can best defend against together. Starting today.”
The US president, Barack Obama, won Nato support on Friday to build the missile shield over Europe, an ambitious commitment to protect against Iran’s increasingly sophisticated ballistic missiles and a nuclear programme the West says is aimed at producing a bomb.
Two key unanswered questions about the missile shield – will it work and can the Europeans afford it? – were put aside in the interest of celebrating the agreement as a boost for Nato solidarity.
“It offers a role for all of our allies,” Mr Obama told reporters. “It responds to the threats of our times. It shows our determination to protect our citizens from the threat of ballistic missiles.”
He did not mention Iran by name, acceding to the wishes of Nato member Turkey, which had threatened to block the deal if its neighbour was singled out.
The Turkish president, Abdullah Gul, said yesterday that Nato met his nation’s demands and that the agreement “was within the framework of what we wished. We are pleased about this”.
And France, which had had reservations that the missile shield plan might come across as a substitute from nuclear deterrence, said it too had signed on after its concerns were answered.
“France would have refused a unilateral project disconnected from reality, or costly – or if it had been for that matter hostile to Russia or had been a substitute for nuclear deterrence,” the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, said.
He noted that no country was specifically mentioned as the object of the missile defence, but added: “France calls a cat a cat: the threat of the missiles today is Iran.”
Under the arrangement, a limited system of US anti-missile interceptors and radars already planned for Europe – to include interceptors in Romania and Poland and possibly radar in Turkey – would be linked to expanded European-owned missile defences.
That would create a broad system that protects every Nato country against medium-range missile attack.
The allies opened their summit by agreeing on the first rewrite of Nato’s basic mission – formally called its “strategic concept” – since 1999. They affirmed their bedrock commitment that an attack on one would be treated as an attack on all. In that context, the agreement to build a missile defence for all of Europe is meant to strengthen the alliance.
What remains in conflict, however, is the question of the future role of nuclear weapons in Nato’s basic strategy.
The document that members agreed to on Friday says Nato will retain an “appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional capabilities” to deter a potential aggressor. Germany and some other Nato members want American nuclear weapons to be withdrawn from Europe.
* Associated Press