• Developments and Implications of Missile Defence

    GCSP Geneva Paper — Conferences Series N° 25

    Developments and Implications of Missile Defence  

    Dr Gustav Lindstrom

    March 2012 View this publication

    Executive Summary

    On 9 December 2011, the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP) hosted a seminar entitled “Developments and Implications of Missile Defence”. The event was organized by the GCSP with the financial support of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA). About fifty participants attended the event, representing government, international organizations, the think tank community, and academia. The seminar had four principal aims. They were to:

    • Examine recent developments in missile defence initiatives;
    • Gauge the potential consequences of missile defence on regional and global security trends;
    • Analyze the possible impact of missile defence developments on existing and future disarmament activities, including unintended consequences; and,
    • Offer preliminary findings of key issues that policymakers should be aware of as missile defence evolves.

    Four sessions tackled these issues and at least four key messages emerged from the discussions. First, there were divergences over the impact of the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) as it evolves. As the Obama Administration’s new policy for missile defence of Europe, the EPAA represents the first step towards a more regional approach to missile defence that is based on proven technologies and can be adapted to changing threat perceptions. Several participants noted that the system was progressing well and in a transparent manner, with an initial operating capability reached in March 2010 when the USS Monterey was deployed to the Mediterranean Sea. Over time, the EPAA would result in a win-win situation for the United States, Russia, and NATO – especially if collaboration between the United States and Russia became feasible. Several other participants offered a different picture, arguing that the EPAA was evolving on an auto-pilot mode that would not necessarily adjust to changes in threat perceptions. Specifically, there was concern that the EPAA would go ahead with Phase III and IV regardless of the status of Iran’s missile and nuclear programme. Such a trajectory would be of concern to Russia, raising questions over whom the system is targeted at.

    Second, participants noted that missile defence programmes are developing beyond the Euro-Atlantic area. Such programmes exist for a variety of reasons, ranging from the need to boost security perceptions to acquiring advanced technological capabilities. Missile defence efforts are particularly noticeable in the Middle East and South Asia, where countries such as China, India, Japan, and Israel are pursuing different forms of missile defence. Policymakers overseeing such programmes will face a number of questions that are often difficult to evaluate or measure. Examples include: how defence systems might complement deterrence measures, especially when dealing with fragile and uncertain contexts; how defence systems may inadvertently contribute to an arms race; and whether maturing defence capabilities give rise to unattainable expectations.

    Third, while there were diverging views on the impact of missile defence efforts on nuclear disarmament and proliferation, there was general agreement that missile defence may result in unintended consequences. Participants raised several examples. For instance, specific confidence-building measures such as de-alerting, de-targeting, and other elements related to the operational status of nuclear weapons could face a set-back if missile defence affects the balance between offensive and defensive weapons. Some participants raised concerns over the possible weaponisation of space as long-range interceptors could theoretically be used to target satellites in space.

    Fourth, missile defence will continue to be driven by technological advances. As such, it will gradually evolve into an effective technology against rudimentary threats. However, this does not exclude specific countries with advanced nuclear deterrents that might feel impacted. Participants discussed at large whether or not Russia’s nuclear deterrent would be affected when the EPAA reaches the fourth phase – with many arguing that it would not. While there was no agreement, several participants also noted that China could, in the medium to long term, be more impacted by missile defence than Russia.