Saturday, April 21, 2007

Update: The New York TImes on US ABM in Europe

In Friday's issue, the New York Times discusses the plans of the US to engage in closer talks with Russia about a linking of US and Russian ABM systems in the future:

The package includes American offers to cooperate on developing defense technology and to share intelligence about common threats, as well as to permit Russian officials to inspect the future missile bases.

American officials said the initiatives were proposed at least in part at the urging of European allies, and reflected an acknowledgment at the highest levels of the Bush administration that it had not been agile in dealing with Russia — and with some NATO allies — on its plan to place defensive missiles and radar in Poland and the Czech Republic.

The offers of cooperation will be laid out for Russian officials in the coming weeks in a series of high-level meetings being scheduled by senior American officials, in particular Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. If those talks go well, they will continue over the summer and fall between President Bush and President Vladimir V. Putin.

However the New York Times continues to note the ultimate reasons behind Polish and Czech motivation to so readily accept the systems on their territory:

The missile defense proposals for central Europe also have become a proxy issue for Russian officials who still rankle at American and NATO expansion east after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Yet even among some officials in Poland and the Czech Republic, support for the two missile defense bases has more to do with binding the United States closer to their capitals against a future Russian threat than about deterring a future Iranian missile threat.

American officials have not announced the timetable for the coming talks. But in Moscow, Igor Ivanov, the secretary of Russia’s Security Council, said that Mr. Gates was due there for Kremlin meetings on Monday and that Ms. Rice would visit in May.

It is also clear that the US initially played on Polish and Czech wishes when choosing th location of the system. The US places its ABM system not where it would most likely yield the best "defensive" results from the start: the system will not be able to protect new EU members, such as Romania and Bulgaria, and long-term partners of NATO and the EU - Belgium (it is a paradox that NATO headquarters are located in Brussels).

It is far-fetched that Russia will follow the US's attempt to further promote its system which traces its start from a call Mr. Bush made to Mr. Putin several weeks ago. Russia has no threats that would be deterred by the US ABM system, the US undoubtedly has. And with all honesty, Poland and the Czech Republic do not share those threats.

The US is acting accordingly in building up credibility for its system by attempting to explore all the options on the table. If it continues to do so, then it will most likely accomplish its task. It is also evident that Russia is succeeding at its favorite game of all-out bluff by threatening to start burning bridges with Europe and the US. It is very difficult for the US State Department to discern what is really the opinion of the Kremlin and how far it is likely to go. The approaching presidential elections are being followed by an aggressive anti-American campaign in the media. Add on top of that Iran, where Russia's true position continues to balance on the wire between pure-play business interests and the real pursuit of building an Iran-Syrian foundation in the region, and the situation become too darn confusing.

The US must be extremely careful. Such issues have the ability to bring outrage in the eyes of key Russian MPs and most importantly key Kremlin administration officials. As for Russia, its only hope is to continue to stir the feelings of the Europeans, who have been placed in the very uncomfortable position of mediator. German social-democrats and a possible victory of Ms. Royal in France could add more eggs in Russia's basket when negotiating with the US on the issue. It is clear, however, that the US ABM question will be active for the next six months at least, thanks to Russia's diplomatic strategy.

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