An agreement signed between the US and Romania to base anti-missile interceptors on Romanian territory as part of a NATO missile-defense plan has caused renewed friction with Russia.

On September 13 US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Romanian Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi signed the second phase of a US plan to protect Europe from what the NATO alliance sees as a growing threat posed by ballistic missile proliferation. The missile shield system is expected to be fully deployed in Europe by 2020.

According to the agreement, interceptor missiles would be deployed at an unused air force base in Caracal in southern Romania, which will be operational in 2015. The plan ultimately calls for deploying increasingly sophisticated land- and sea-based assets around the European continent to identify and destroy enemy missiles.

Originally the US wanted to deploy the system in Poland and the Czech Republic, but that fell through when the Czechs pulled out. Moscow has long viewed with askance the plan to protect American interests from what the White House calls “rogue nations,” such as Iran.  Russian political and military officials have called the missile shield system a national threat.

Following intensified pressure from Russia, which sought guarantees that the system is not aimed at its territory, US President Barack Obama made a statement in 2009 saying the US “no longer planned to move forward” with the project. But not long afterward a new, scaled-down version of the shield was introduced, with Romania and Turkey as the only confirmed participants.

Romania responded to Russian concerns the day after the agreement was signed, saying that the system is purely defensive and no threat to Russia's strategic deterrent.

A recent visit to Moscow by French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe also appeared aimed at also placating Russia’s fears. In addition, Russia's NATO ambassador, Dmitry Rogozin, is expected to hold more missile defense talks in Paris with French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet and other senior officials.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has welcomed the agreement and called the Romanian site an important element of NATO's missile defense capability, which was agreed at NATO's Lisbon summit in November 2010. Although Russia agreed with NATO at Lisbon to explore missile defense cooperation, it has expressed disagreement regarding its implementation.

Several military experts in the US and Europe believe, however, that the missile shield system is largely political and not founded on actual military necessity. Further, they noted, it comes at a time of global economic turbulence and will be costly for the US and for Romania.