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Analysis & Opinion
21.11.08 Will There Be American Missile Defense Systems In Europe?
Introduced by Vladimir Frolov

Contributors: Stephen Blank, Ethan Burger

The threat to deploy Iskander missiles to Kaliningrad was made public in President Dmitry Medvedev’s first State of the Nation address on November 5. Since then, both Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and president Medvedev himself, in his interview to Le Figaro daily, publicly offered Barack Obama to implement what for all intents and purposes would be the “zero option” – no U.S. missile defense deployments in Poland and the Czech Republic would be matched by no Iskander missile deployments in Kaliningrad.

Medvedev’s Iskander threat sounded like an attempt to publicly blackmail Obama out of missile defense deployments in Eastern Europe. Obama has said that he wants to be sure that the missile defense system is effective before approving it – a more cautious approach than that of Bush. But some observers say that if he drops the project after the latest Russian threats, he will hand ammunition to his domestic opponents who have accused him of being weak on Russia.

Poland also tried to frame and pressure Obama on missile defense. Obama had returned the congratulatory call of Polish President Lech Kaczynski and had discussed the U.S.-Polish alliance. The day after that call, on November 9, Kaczynski released a statement claiming that Obama had promised "that the [U.S.] missile defense project would continue."

Russia also publicly rebuffed the Bush administration in its offer to assuage Moscow’s fears over missile defense. “We will not give our agreement to these proposals and we will speak to the new administration,” said a high-level Kremlin official.

Will Moscow’s tactics succeed? Or is the chosen strategy of laying down markers for the new team in Washington counterproductive? Could Obama be forced to back away from Bush’s pet missile defense project? Or will Russia’s recent moves make it much more difficult for him not to proceed with missile defense deployments, least he appears to be succumbing to Russian pressure? Will the EU weigh into this debate?

Ethan S. Burger, Adjunct Professor, Georgetown University Law Center, Scholar-in-Residence, School of International Service, American University, Washington, D.C. :

There is a superficial similarity between the circumstances giving rise to the Intermediate Nuclear Force (INF) Agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union nearly 20 years ago and the factors motivating Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's present proposal with respect to Russia's plans to deploy missiles in Kaliningrad. The two situations are not analogous -- the missiles set to be deployed in Poland and the Czech Republic are defensive in nature, are intended to counteract the Iranian threat (illustrated by the small number of missiles contemplated), pose no military threat to Russia, and represent an important political statement to Moscow that it cannot exercise a veto over Czech and Polish foreign policy.

In the INF Treaty, the United States agreed not to deploy 464 ground-launched cruise missiles (GLCM) and 108 Pershing II ballistic missiles in exchange for the Soviet Union's agreement to destroy (or redeploy) SS-20, SS-4 and SS-5 missiles that were then deployed in Europe. The Pershing missile deployment was probably destabilizing, since they would reduce the amount of time the Soviet military would have to assess a nuclear attack by the United States, before deciding to launch its own missiles in response -- a view shared by much of the U.S. and West European arms control community.

Whereas the SS-4s and SS-5s were aging weapons, the mobile SS-20s represented a technological improvement of the Soviet's intermediate range forces. Not only were they potentially difficult to locate and count by "national technical means," they could carry three warheads rather than the one the SS-4s and SS-5 carried. Hence, there was a real symmetry of concessions when the United States and the Soviet Union agreed not to deploy these missiles.

In February of 2007, Russian President Vladimir Putin and senior Russian military officials criticized the INF Treaty, threatening to withdraw from the treaty (as the United States did with the 1972 ABM Treaty), but suggesting that this might not occur if there was no deployment of interceptor missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic (although it seemed that they might "tolerate a limited deployment of such missiles.") President Medvedev's recent address suggests that this is no longer the case, which is unfortunate.

President Medvedev's military threat seems anachronistic. According to the European Nuclear Agency, as of November 2008 there were a total of 197 nuclear power plant units in operation in Europe, and 14 other units were under construction in five other countries -- 31 of the operational reactors are in Russia, with eight to come "on-line" in the future. This suggests that by using conventional aircraft or cruise missiles, both Russia and NATO could turn their potential opponents into nuclear wastelands -- Chernobyl should have taught all informed persons a lesson. Military hostilities in Europe (but for Russian actions in the Soviet Union's successor states) in my view are not really a policy option for the West or Russia.

Then-President Ronald Reagan did not have to prove his anti-communist and hawkish credentials. Mikhail Gorbachev seemed to be moving the Soviet Union in the direction where it not only posed no threat to the West, but would have a more liberal political and economic policy as well. In fact, he probably enjoyed greater popularity in the West then Reagan, at least in Europe.

Unfortunately, we live in a different era. President-elect Barack Obama cannot be seen as weak domestically. Russian foreign policy toward Georgia, Iran, Sudan, Ukraine, and Venezuela, while not precluding a dialogue, raises questions in the West about Russia's motives, and about what is driving Russian foreign policy. Domestically, Russia seems to become increasingly repressive.

Both 1938 and 1968 is engraved in the Czech consciousness. The Poles remember when the territory constituting present-day Poland was part of the Russian Empire, and the conduct of the Soviet Army at the time of the uprising of the Polish Home Army in 1944, as well as the Soviet-Polish relations in the post-World War II era.

President Obama cannot afford to be seen either domestically or abroad as being "weak" on Russia. Improving bilateral relations is an entirely different matter -- cooperation in areas such as fighting nuclear proliferation, health, science (e.g. global warming and space exploration, etc.) are areas where he can succeed with president Medvedev, whereas Bush and the former President turned Prime Minister Vladimir Putin did not make adequate concerted efforts.

At this time, a "zero" option has zero chance of coming about. The United States recognizes that most EU countries ("old Europe" with the possible exception of the UK) are unreliable allies when it comes to dealing with Russia. Their dependency on Russian energy precludes their foreign policies from being based on the principles according to which the Council of Europe and the OSCE operate.

Perhaps, Russian president Medvedev will have a better sense of what will improve U.S.-Russian relations following his meeting with members of the Council of Foreign Relations. His participation in the G-20 meeting may also have given him greater perspective. Furthermore, he did not have to concern himself as much with domestic public opinion (including that of Russia's national security community). Now he just needs to convince the other members of the Russian political leadership.

Professor Stephen Blank, the U.S. Army War College, Carlyle Barracks, PA:

While Obama certainly differs from Bush's approach to these issues, Moscow's threats have made it more difficult for him to retreat. In any case, Moscow's arguments are literally incredible.

Iran's new Sajil missile and the Ashura missile are both missiles with 2,000-kilometer ranges that can target Russia. The fact that Iran can launch a satellite (with Russian assistance in building it) underscores Moscow's desire to pretend that Iran is not a threat, while privately urging action against it.

Russia is too wedded to the idea of using Iran for anti-American purposes and enriching key lobbies to pay serious attention to the gravest threat it can face, i.e., Iranian and other Asian missiles. At the same time, it knows full well that the missile defenses are not a threat to it. But Iskander missiles are a real threat to Germany Poland, and the Baltic States.

Once again, Moscow is blindly militarizing the European security agenda simply to score points against America, attempting for the umpteenth time to divide NATO and to assert a droit de regard over the limits of East and Central European state's defense programs (since Russian leaders have frequently asserted their belief that these countries are in any case not truly sovereign states, this effort to diminish their sovereignty is perfectly consistent with the logic of Russian foreign policy).

Moreover, Moscow cannot conceive of a relationship with the West that is not adversarial and based, both regionally and globally, on the presupposition of such hostility and on mutual deterrence. Russia seeks to shackle America to the Cold War paradigm of a mutual hostage relationship on both the regional and global levels, an inescapable corollary of which is the proposition that for Russia to be secure, its neighbors must be insecure. Neither European nor U.S. governments can accept this Russian approach.

Medvedev's recent efforts to back down from the threats made on November 5 and say “let's forget about the past and move forward” thus should not be heeded. While cooperation with Russia is desirable for all parties, it cannot be genuine if these threats, Georgia, and human rights are not addressed because of Moscow's violation of agreements that it has signed in all cases. This posture only benefits the elites and lobbies in the Kremlin, not Russia's people or its security. If Russia is truly worried about missile defenses in Europe, let it address the problem with Iran together with Europe and the United States, to remove the common threat we and other states would face from an Iran with nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.

Moscow's attempts to intimidate Washington and Europe into cooperation are reminiscent of Nikita Khrushchev's tactics, and that should not be a precedent that Putin and Medvedev want to emulate.
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