Alexander Vershbow, the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, also spoke to the group about NATO efforts in Afghanistan.
Vershbow, just back from a trip to Europe, said a constant theme at all stops was missile defense. “There is a misunderstanding in all of Europe about what exactly our policy is, especially in relation to Russia,” he said.
Russian officials protested an initial plan that would have put radars in the Czech Republic and ground-based interceptors in Poland, believing it was a threat to Russia. They are OK with the revamped plan, Vershbow said.
A reassessment of the threat of Iranian missiles led the Obama administration to revamp the system, officials said. Under the new plan, Aegis-class cruisers will be armed with SM-3 missiles and a ground-based component will be added later. The system will provide more complete protection for Europe, Vershbow said.
“It will be ready sooner to meet the threats that exist, but will evolve to include elements that will deal with longer-range Iranian missile threats that may emerge toward the end of the decade,” he said.
The new system “is by no means an accommodation to the Russians, but a way to take care of the threat and to take advantage of breakthroughs in technology.”
Vershbow said the system is a stronger way of dealing with real missile threats and affirms American commitment to the security of Europe.
It also opens the chance for NATO and the United States to work with the Russians and possibly incorporate Russian radars into the missile defense system to help give early warning of launches, the assistant secretary said. “Having an early detection of a launch is the first requirement of any missile defense system,” he said.
Still, he said, “Our hope is to first work on a common threat assessment,”
The United States and Russia also may work together on a Joint Data Exchange Center – a proposal the two countries agreed to during the Clinton administration that was never put in place, Vershbow said.
“The recent Iranian missile tests have led the Russians to perhaps view the threats more along the lines we’ve been arguing along the years,” he said. “Until recently, they’ve been minimizing the threat. Iran has tested missiles that can produce intermediate range missile and ultimately [intercontinental ballistic missiles].”
On Afghanistan, the NATO allies are absorbing Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s assessment of the situation in the country. Leaders also are receiving the NATO commander in Afghanistan’s resource recommendations.
“I think there is … a determination to stay the course and to continue to contribute forces,” the assistant secretary said. “It’s clear the capacity of allies to increase (contributions) substantially is limited. This is one of the problems that NATO needs to confront as its looks at its strategy over the next decade: how can it generate more deployable forces.”
While the United States will be looking to allies for military forces, leaders also will be seeking expanded NATO contributions on the civilian side, Vershbow said. This would include added personnel for police and military training, economic development, counter-narcotics programs and the array of programs aimed at improving governance and the rule of law.
“Each ally has different capacities,” he said. “There is still a strong sense of purpose. The civilian surge is coming along but it is not easy getting the proper personnel and the security bubble needed so they can do their tasks.”
The whole question comes down to how the civilian side can complement the military’s effort in security. “We want to encourage the civilian population to put their money on the Afghan government rather than the Taliban,” he said.