NATO agrees to build missile shield over Europe
President Barack Obama won NATO summit agreement Friday to build a missile shield over Europe, an ambitious commitment to protect against Iranian attack while demonstrating the alliance’s continuing relevance — but at the risk of further aggravating Russia.
On another major issue, Obama and the allies are expected to announce plans today to begin handing off security responsibility in Afghanistan to local forces next year and to complete the transition by the end of 2014.
That end date is three years beyond the time that Obama has said he will start withdrawing U.S. troops, and the challenge is to avoid a rush to the exits as public opinion turns more sharply against the war and Afghan President Hamid Karzai pushes for greater Afghan control.
While celebrating the missile-shield decision, Obama also made a renewed pitch for Senate ratification back in the U.S. of a nuclear-arms treaty with Russia, asserting that Europeans believe rejection of the deal would hurt their security and damage relations with the Russians.
Two key unanswered questions about the missile shield — will it work and can the Europeans afford it? — were put aside for the present in the interest of celebrating the agreement as a boost for NATO solidarity.
“It offers a role for all of our allies,” 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 neighbor was singled out.
Under the arrangement, a limited system of U.S. 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 defenses. That would create a broad system that protects every NATO country against medium-range missile attack.
NATO plans to invite Russia to join the missile-shield effort, although Moscow would not be given joint control. The gesture would mark a historic milestone for the alliance, created after World War II to defend Western Europe against the threat of an invasion by Soviet forces.
As for the U.S.-Russia arms treaty, Obama was backed by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen of Denmark, who told reporters that the treaty, called New START and signed last April by Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, would improve security not only in Europe but beyond.