NATO must do more to allay concerns expressed by Russian President Vladimir Putin over US plans to build a missile-defense shield in Eastern Europe, German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung said.
Putin on February 10 told policy makers in Munich including US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and North Atlantic Treaty Organization head Jaap de Hoop Scheffer that Russia „must react” to the missile shield now being discussed by the US, Czech and Polish governments.
The shield would „completely neutralize” the deterrence threat posed by Russia's own nuclear missiles, meaning „there will be no more balance of power.” „It's right for us as members of NATO that we remove those fears,” Jung told an audience in Berlin late yesterday, adding though that Germany supports the missile shield. Talks with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov had convinced him that Russia's concerns were genuine and that the NATO-Russia Council could do more to improve dialogue, Jung said.
Jung's comments underline German attempts to develop what Chancellor Angela Merkel has called a „strategic partnership” with Russia, newly resurgent as the world's biggest energy producer. Merkel put improved ties with Russia at the center of her current six-month European Union presidency.
That aim was strained in Munich, when Putin said that US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had eroded global security and that the US had „overstepped its political limits in almost all spheres,” leaving „no-one feeling secure anymore.” That prompted Gates to respond in a speech that „one Cold War was quite enough.” Putin also said that Russia would aim to achieve weapons of its own to „overcome” systems such as the anti-ballistic missile shield being negotiated between the US and Poland and the Czech Republic, two former Soviet satellites.
The system resembles the „Star Wars” defense proposed by former President Ronald Reagan near the end of the Cold War. Germany supports the system on the grounds of protecting Europe against non-state terrorist elements, Jung said, adding that Russia must understand that the system isn't designed to pose a threat to Russia. The Bush administration says the shield is designed to protect against attack by rogue states with nuclear aspirations such as Iran or North Korea. Putin, during his speech, turned to Gates and said „you have made a mistake” on the missiles' reach. Iran's missiles could reach no further than between 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) and 2,000 kilometers, he said. „It was certainly a very strong performance and much of it was very exaggerated when it came to our American friends,” Jung said of Putin's speech.
Still, „it would be a big mistake if Russia weren't on board” on issues such as United Nations Security Council sanctions against Iran on its uranium-enrichment program, he said. Security Council members relied on Russia to support sanctions on Iran including a ban on acquiring materials and technology that might be used for nuclear weapons, Jung said. He echoed Gates' statement, saying that „none of us wants to go back to the Cold War.” (Bloomberg)