White House Offers NATO Summit Pre-briefing

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Don’t expect the contentious Medium Extended Air Defense System (Meads) system to get any discussion time at the NATO summit in Chicago next month, but do expect the Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) and, of course, European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) systems to be readily mentioned, according to a preview this afternoon by President Barack Obama’s special assistant and senior director for European affairs.

In a speech ahead of the May 20-21 summit, Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in downtown Washington that Meads was best left to “bilateral” discussions – i.e., between the U.S. and Italy and Germany, the latter two of which are none-too-happy with Washington’s decision to end participation after the current research stage. In fact, if some lawmakers get their choice, the U.S. would pull out of Meads even earlier and try to force its allies to accept a lower cancellation fee.

But AGS and EPAA could be highlighted as alliance-wide efforts that supposedly help drive modernization and reform through the 63-year-old North Atlantic security consortium. Still, even here there are tempered expectations. For instance, the summit will not host any great meet-up of NATO and Russia, as once planned, as the former Cold War adversary remains ardently opposed to any strategic western missile defense initiative. To that effect, Sherwood-Randall reiterated that “finding common ground” with Moscow remains a “worthy” venture of NATO, but that the alliance was not interested in “outdated” modes of thinking about missile defense.

Moreover, the Obama administration continues to take heat back home from some Republican lawmakers who are either still more in favor of the George W. Bush-era Ground-based Midcourse Defense system or even just forcing NATO allies to ante up more for EPAA. Asked repeatedly by reporters and others in the CSIS audience about concerns of getting alliance members to raise their defense spending, Sherwood-Randall said it could really only be expected after the financial crisis abates.

But Sherwood-Randall did do the EPAA a solid when Alison Fortier, Lockheed Martin’s vice president of missile defense, asked about conservative attempts to direct the administration back to the Boeing GMD. The EPAA is based on Lockheed’s Aegis system, and while Sherwood-Randall adroitly did not directly answer Fortier’s question, the White House official probably gave as good of an answer as possible for Lockheed.

“We’re fully committed to the phased adaptive approach,” Sherwood-Randall said, adding that it has always been the plan to turn over command-and-control of EPAA to NATO, and that “a number of allies” not yet directly involved have expressed interest in participating in the system’s architecture.

Much like planting a piece of a major defense program in every state in America to help ensure Congress’ continued support, a similar situation with EPAA in Europe could be music to industry’s ears.

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