REBECCA ROBERTS, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News, I'm Rebecca Roberts. Two weeks ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin caused a flap with tough talk about America. Putin told an international security conference in Munich that the U.S. had overstepped its national borders and made people around the world feel less secure. He also denounced U.S. plans to deploy elements of an anti-missile defense system in two NATO countries, Poland and the Czech Republic.
President VLADIMIR PUTIN (Russia): (Through translator) Who needs the next step of what would be in this an inevitable arms race? I deeply doubt that Europeans themselves do.
ROBERTS: The commander Russia's strategic forces followed up on Putin's comments. He said Russia might respond to the U.S. deployments by aiming missiles at Poland and the Czech Republic. This week, the U.S. national security advisor, Stephen Hadley, traveled to Moscow hoping to smooth Russia's ruffled feathers.
He explained that the U.S. defense system is intended to intercept missiles that might come from a rogue state like Iran, not Russia. To gauge what the missile defense dispute means for U.S.-Russia relations, we turn to Rose Gottemoeller, director of the Moscow Center at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. She joins us on the line now from Moscow. Rose Gottemoeller, welcome to the program.
Ms. ROSE GOTTEMOELLER (Moscow Center of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace): Thanks so much.
ROBERTS: Those were some fighting words from President Putin. Are U.S.-Russia relations really that strained?
Ms. GOTTEMOELLER: In my view, U.S.-Russian relations are at a real crisis point now, but I think it's a positive crisis point because it's making people in Washington examine the relationship and think about the kind of work we can do with Russia and the kind of work we can't do with Russia.
ROBERTS: And can you explain for us why the Russians are so upset about this missile defense plan? I mean, U.S. officials have made it clear these missile defense couldn't possibly be used against Russia. So what's at issue?
Ms. GOTTEMOELLER: Part of it is a political issue and just a kind of gut issue. The Russians feel like they have been talking themselves blue in the face, telling the United States and the Europeans they don't like NATO enlargement, they don't like NATO forces coming up to Russian borders. And what do we do? We not only bring NATO forces up to Russian borders, but we also then talk about putting in place a missile defense system on the borders of the Russian Federation.
And we can tell them time and time again that this system is not designed against them, but they just don't believe it, so it's a trust and confidence issue for them, a political issue in that sense. But also I don't think they understand the technology of the system that well. They don't understand that the system is not designed against their own missiles.
ROBERTS: Well, also from a strategic point of view, in addition to angering Russia, does putting missile defense sites in the Czech Republic and Poland make sense if the threat is supposedly coming most likely from Iran?
Ms. GOTTEMOELLER: I haven't looked into the technology of it in great detail, but I understand that the way the system is designed, it is designed in fact to go after missiles that would be on a trajectory launched from Iran, and that is precisely what the Pentagon has been saying. They are not designed to go after missiles launched from Russia, which would be, you know, very capable missiles and moving at a lot faster speed than could be chased by the NATO systems deployed in Poland and the Czech Republic.
ROBERTS: At the core of this is the very basic question of whether or not missile defense actually works. How close do you think the U.S. is to really being able to have an effective defense against incoming ballistic missiles?
Ms. GOTTEMOELLER: Well, we've made the decision that we're going to start small and build up, that we're going to start with systems that aren't very capable and build up over time. The argument that is made about these systems to go into Poland and the Czech Republic is that in fact they are not capable against a very well-developed high-technology system such as those that the Russians deploy but that they would be capable against kind of starter systems such as those that the Iranians would be deploying in some years to come.
I've got to stress the Iranians aren't there yet with a long-range missile that would reach Europe, but the feeling is that they can be within a very limited number of years, and therefore a missile defense system that isn't very capable is good enough.
ROBERTS: Rose Gottemoeller is director of the Moscow Carnegie Center. She was also a senior official in the Clinton administration's energy department. Rose Gottemoeller, thanks so much for joining us.
Ms. GOTTEMOELLER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
Earlier this month, Russian president Vladimir Putin caused a flap at a security conference when he denounced U.S. plans to deploy elements of an anti-missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. The U.S. says the system is intended to intercept weapons from rogue states and is not aimed at Russia.
Earlier this month, Russian president Vladimir Putin caused a flap at a security conference when he denounced U.S. plans to deploy elements of an anti-missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic.
The U.S. says the system is intended to intercept weapons from rogue states like Iran and is not aimed at Russia.
Rose Gottemoeller, director of the Moscow Center of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, explains what the U.S. is planning and why the Russians are so upset.