The proposed U.S. missile-defense system in Europe remains a major sticking point in relations with Russia: the recent NATO-Russia Council meeting (July 4) chose to postpone further debate, apparently until after the next NATO summit and into the 2012 U.S. presidential elections. A week after that meeting, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told a European Institute-sponsored event in Washington that the impasse on missile defense is a great “impediment” in a generally upward trend in U.S.-Russian ties.

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The Czech Republic and, more surprisingly, Slovakia, have announced plans to participate in the U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) system in Europe by hosting parts of the network on their soil. Poland has already signed up as a site for deploying part of the planned system.

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Long Dormant Debate Brewing Again

Tensions are slowly building within the Atlantic Alliance about the future role of nuclear weapons in transatlantic security. New questions arise for NATO, the European Union and individual member States. All the pieces of the European strategic “mobile” have been set in motion in the past five years, and a major debate has started. NATO and EU members will have to find ways to maintain a modicum of consensus about this issue if they wish to avoid cracks in Alliance unity on global nuclear issues.

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“We in [Britain] are supporting you on your Joint Strike Fighter. Why are you not supporting us on the tanker?” This simple question, posed by Prince Andrew – the Duke of York and a man deeply involved in British industrial exports – to the representative of a major U.S. defense contractor at the 2008 Farnborough International Air Show last July in Britain, bares the frustration many Europeans in the defense industry have felt as of late. In other words, if the United States wants expanding international cooperation on warplanes in order to field stronger, more affordable modern Western air forces, is it helpful for Europe to see so many chauvinistic-sounding complaints in the U.S., especially in Congress, about the choice of a new in-flight refueling tanker for the U.S. Air Force? After a major competition for that important, long-running contract, the Pentagon chose a plane to be built by an international team involving Northrop Grumman-EADS, the European consortium that owns Airbus. The losing design came from Boeing, the U.S. aerospace giant that traditionally has been the sole supplier of in-flight refueling aircraft to the U.S. Air Force.

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