NATO representative Vershbow gives speech on missile defense

NATO Deputy Secretary General Ambassador Alexander Vershbow gave a speech on Wednesday on NATO's missile defense strategy at the 2013 RUSI Missile Defense Conference.

"I believe we have gone well beyond the point where you would expect me to argue extensively why NATO is focusing on missile defense," Vershbow said. "NATO takes collective defense seriously. Missile threats to our Alliance territory and populations are real and growing. Our defense against these threats must be real, too, and able to adapt to the threat in the future. And that's the approach we are taking."

Vershbow gave attendees an update on NATO's progress. Since the NATO Summit in Chicago, Interim Capability for NATO missile defense was declared. NATO allies in Southern Europe are now protected, and NATO gained U.S. ships which can intercept short-and-medium-range ballistic missiles, which Vershbow noted as a significant milestone.

"There are several other important principles that will continue to underpin our work, Vershbow said. "There is a clear and agreed understanding among the Allies that missile defense can complement the deterrent role of nuclear weapons, but not replace those weapons. We continue to assess the potential threats posed by missile proliferation on a regular basis, so we can adapt our missile defense plans if necessary. And we obviously want to ensure good governance and keep costs under control."

A remaining concern for NATO is Russia's participation in the organization. Vershbow said Russia remains very skeptical about NATO's missile defense plans and whether the organization can meet the rising demand for missile defense. The opportunity for Russia to join the missile defense program remains open, although Vershbow said it would not remain open forever.

"Missile defense cooperation makes eminent sense - for political, practical and military reasons, Vershbow said. "It would not only totally transform the NATO-Russia partnership. It would also bring greater stability and security to the entire Euro-Atlantic area."