Saturday, June 09, 2007

A Russian View On Missile Defense

By Cernig

I've been reading and thinking some more about the Russian offer to base a US missile defense radar in Azerbaijan. Looking at the NewsNow aggregator today, I thought it might be informative to string together a bunch of short Russian news releases into one long piece and see what the whole Russian position is.

In what follows, I'm going to just run all those reports together and link each original inside the text.
Russia offered to develop a joint non-strategic missile defense system with NATO four years ago, First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov told a Saturday press conference in St. Petersburg.

"Four years ago Russia offered NATO to cooperate in the creation of a joint missile defense system of the theatre of operations. That would be a non-global, non-strategic ABM network using existing missile defense elements, such as Patriot missiles and S-300 and S-400 systems," he said.

"There has been a series of Russia-NATO computer drills, which confirmed that this project is feasible," Ivanov said.

Moscow has offered that all concerned nations collectively analyze all missile threats until 2020, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a Saturday press briefing in Moscow.

"We are offering a collective analysis of all missile threats for up to 2020," he said.

Moscow is dismayed that its proposal for the joint use of the Gabala radar instead of the deployment by the U.S. of anti-missile defense elements in Europe was perceived in the West as a sign of recognition by Russia of the existence of a real threat from Iran, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters in Moscow on Saturday.

"We are surprised that comments in Western media and statements by some officials distorted the entire picture, presenting it as though the Russian President had allegedly recognized the existence of a real threat from Iran," Lavrov said.

The U.S. plans to deploy elements of its missile defense system in the Czech republic and Poland will seriously hamper efforts to solve the Iranian nuclear problem, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

"The deployment of an AMD system in Europe can seriously impede these efforts [on a peaceful settlement of the problem of Iran's nuclear program]," he warned journalists in Moscow on Saturday.

Experts are actively working to clarify all aspects of Iran's nuclear program, including through the UN and the IAEA.

"Nobody has provided proof that the Iranian nuclear program has a military dimension," he said.

Nobody has been able to prove to this day Iran’s nuclear program has a military dimension, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday.

“Scrupulous, continued work is underway within the United Nations and in Europe with the aim to shed light on this issue,” the Russian foreign minister said. “Anti-missile defense deployment plans may interfere with these efforts.”
And now some Russian analysis:
MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Pyotr Goncharov) - President Vladimir Putin's proposal to use the Gabala radar in Azerbaijan in a joint antiballistic missile (ABM) system with the United States may affect the debate about missile defense in Europe.

The Gabala radar station, which Russia leases from Azerbaijan, is unique - it covers all directions from which missiles could potentially strike Europe, registering the launch seconds after a missile takes off, following its flight path and feeding the information needed to intercept it at the optimal point. However, there is more to the story than just practical considerations. Putin's proposal is changing the character of plans for an ABM system in Europe.

The United States believes the European ABM question has already been resolved. Indicatively, on the eve of the G8 summit in Germany, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates spoke about his readiness to discuss with China, as he had with Russia, opportunities, technical specifications and restrictions on American ABM elements in East Asia. In other words, the need to deploy the missile defense in East Asia was not a subject for discussion, just as it was not in the case of Russia and the ABM in Europe.

Nevertheless, Moscow did not abandon its hope to discuss the ABM issue with the United States. It was obvious that this problem would be one of the most sensitive at the summit in Heiligendamm.

At a news conference for journalists from G8 countries, the Russian president explained what Moscow thought about the problem. Above all, Russia wants to know why the ABM system is being deployed in Europe.

Putin's logic is simple. It is obvious that the Europe-based ABM system is not targeted against North Korea and Iran because their missiles simply can't reach Europe. Nor is it aimed against Russia because it is abundantly clear that Russia is not going to attack anyone. What's the point of deploying it then?

Putin expected his American counterpart to give a clear answer to this question in Germany. The Kremlin knows that the White House has not given the answer for a reason.

One more interesting detail has appeared in the European ABM saga. Recently, Washington has been much less specific in mentioning the potential targets for its ABM system. It defines them as countries with unpredictable and unstable regimes like North Korea and Iran.

But being unstable, unpredictable regimes will not last long. What will be done with the ABM after their inevitable transformation? There is no point in dismantling it or retargeting it at other countries using the same excuse.

Therefore, Washington is gradually pushing the idea that the ABM is being deployed in everyone's interest to deal with unforeseen circumstances - that is, permanently. But all controls and information will be exclusively in American hands.

Putin's proposal on the joint use of the Gabala radar would turn the ABM in Europe into a collective system of ABM security, a kind of ABM NATO.

How will the United States reply to this proposal? It would be naive to think that the American experts have not already thought about the Gabala radar, but apparently it did not suit them for some reason. Therefore, the White House is not likely to accept it right away. It will have many opponents in Congress and at security agencies. Most probably, the Russia-U.S. strategic dialogue promised by Bush will shed light on many questions.

Today, the United States is positioning itself as the leader of a global project. The creation of an ABM system that could protect the world against nuclear conflicts is bound to come to the fore, all the more so since the world community has not been able to stop nuclear proliferation.

It is also obvious that countries that have ABM defenses as well as missile systems that could easily penetrate them should cooperate in the formation of a global ABM. The Russian president has made the first and timely step in this direction.
Significantly, the Russians are ahead of the Western public in noticing that neocon elements close to the Bush administration are already advocating spurning international treaties against weapons in space and pushing for the return of Reagan's "Brilliant Pebbles" program. Such a program would inevitably be a threat to Russia's deterrent force whether the ground-based systems are or not. The Ajerbaijan offer may well be used by Russia as a springboard to bring that second part of the US plan into more open debate.
"Joint use of information collected by this (Qabala) station would allow the U.S. to give up plans of deploying elements of its missile shield in Europe as well as plans of deploying some components in space," Lavrov said.
I've also been looking at this handy little map from the BBC.

What leaps out, for me, is that the Azerbaijan site would give early warning for the most populous part of Russia as well as for Western Europe - and do so for incoming missiles from places like North Korea and Pakistan as well as from the Middle East. The US-proposed sites in Europe wouldn't do that as well, if at all.

I know I wrote just the other day that Putin's offer was a checkmate move designed to be turned down and which could then be used to turn world opinion against the US' plan. But now, I'm thinking Putin is looking at a win-win. He might actually prefer a situation where, somehow, Bush convinces his base to give Reagan's dream away to Russia and thus extends US technological protection over Western Russia and a new "NATO for ABM" is formed. If that doesn't work, he can still go with Plan B, using the American refusal to co-operate as a PR coup.

No comments: