This article originally appeared in Global Security Newswire, produced independently by National Journal Group under contract with the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group whose mission is preventing the spread of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
WASHINGTON -- The United States is working to revive an agreement with Russia that would serve as the legal foundation for the two nations to exchange potentially sensitive information on a broad range of technologies, including missile defense systems (see GSN, April 22).
The Defense Technology Cooperation Agreement is a bilateral contract that would provide a legal framework on a host of defense-related research and development activities, including measures for countering improvised explosive devices, a senior Defense Department official told Global Security Newswire.
"Russia has a large defense industry and there are certainly opportunities for cooperation between both the United States and Russia that would require more than just having a series of meetings in order to effect any real type of cooperation," said the official, who requested anonymity because talks on the document are ongoing. "You would need to have your basic framework agreement before you could agree to the specifics."
The Bush administration originally proposed the agreement in 2004. However, the United States broke off negotiations in 2008 following the Russian invasion of neighboring Georgia.
As part of the continued strategic "reset" between Washington and Moscow, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his Russian counterpart, Anatoly Serduykov, agreed in September 2010 to create the new Defense Relations Working Group.
That body, in turn, has eight subgroups established to discuss various policy topics, including missile defense and defense technology cooperation. Both of those groups are co-chaired by U.S. Principal Deputy Defense Undersecretary James Miller.
Negotiations on the details of the technology cooperation agreement are being conducted under the aegis of the technology cooperation subgroup and led by Pentagon defense acquisitions chief Ashton Carter.
For months Washington and NATO have ratcheted up diplomatic efforts to draw Moscow into collaborating on a European missile shield amid persistent Kremlin concerns that any antimissile system would undermine Russia's nuclear deterrent.
Gates, in a visit last month to Moscow, suggested the former Cold War foes exchange missile launch data and set up a joint "fusion" facility in which NATO and Russian forces would have simultaneous access to missile threat alerts transmitted from both sides' radar systems.
If the United States and Russia do eventually strike an accord to stand up a shared data center "you would need an implementing arrangement or project arrangement to do that work," the defense official said in a recent telephone interview.
The proposed defense technology cooperation agreement, which would not require congressional approval, would serve in that function. It offers a number of legal provisions, such as intellectual property rights, information protection -- in the event the two nations want to exchange classified data -- and liability and claims, the official said.
The document does not specify which technologies would be covered, the official added, noting that the accord would allow for science and technology cooperation beyond just weapons systems.
"It's just a way for our two nations to be able to cooperate on specific projects," the official told GSN. "Or else you'd have to reproduce all of the provisions every time and that would be so laborious it would not be conducive to any type of cooperation. It wouldn't be consistent. It would not be the appropriate way for any type of partnership."
The Defense Relations Working Group is attempting to prepare a deal before the Group of Eight summit in France next month under which two of Moscow's high-frequency early warning radars, in Russia and Azerbaijan, are integrated into the U.S. "phased adaptive approach" to European missile defense, according to Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
He was unsure what that integration would involve.
"I've been told that an umbrella agreement on defense technology cooperation is needed to potentially upgrade" those two radar installations, he told GSN last week by e-mail. "It strikes me as a good idea for this reason alone."
Zenko has been told defense officials have no "hard deadline" to wrap up the agreement, though they initially wanted to put it in place before the first phase of administration's "phased adaptive approach" went operational.
The White House in 2009 announced it would scrap a Bush program for long-range missile defense in favor of a new approach that would see land- and sea-based Standard Missile 3 interceptors with increasingly advanced capabilities gradually deployed around Europe. That effort, which would also field radar systems, would eventually be folded into a broader NATO push to connect and augment member states' existing antimissile capabilities.
The first phase of the Obama strategy kicked off early last month with the deployment to the Mediterranean Sea of a guided missile carrier equipped with advanced tracking radar (see GSN, March 2).
The Pentagon official declined to estimate when the cooperation agreement would be completed, saying the Obama administration would like talks to conclude "sooner rather than later."
The Russians, for their part, "understand that we think this is an important part of going forward," the official added.
U.S. officials earlier this month hosted a meeting with their Russian counterparts in Geneva for discussions "writ large" on missile defense that included proposals for cooperation, according to the Pentagon official.
The source said Moscow would respond to the proposals "in the next couple of weeks" before a similar conference is scheduled.
The Russian Embassy in Washington did not respond to repeated requests for comment.