You build Shields - We will build Rockets : Is Russia restoring the balance of Power or Distorting it?
Russia on Tuesday proceeded with a number of previously agreed upon actions to both affirm its stark opposition to any US ABM (Anti-Ballistic-Missile) complexes in Eastern Europe, and support its military status as a nation able to counter new developments from the United States. Parallel to that, Russia has proceeded to revamp the process associated with the conventional arms treaty which has caused a great deal of confusion ever since it was signed and ratified by Russia in 1999, but never ratified by the other European NATO-member states (Ukraine and Belarus ratified the treaty soon after 1999).
President Putin met the Portuguese prime-minister on Tuesday, whose country is set to take over the rotating presidency of the EU this year after Germany, to communicate Russia's stance on US ABM development in Europe as well as some unresolved issues between the EU and Russia, such as Polish meat. Russia also announced that it was calling upon the urgent meeting of Conventional Armed Forced in Europe (CFE) treaty members to discuss future actions. The same day, Russian Strategic Missile Forces stated that Russia's new inter-continental ballistic missile with multiple warheads had been tested. Although all three events are ultimately linked, the media has created a certain degree of confusion regarding the missile launch, presenting it specifically as a counter-measure to the current US plans and EU-Russia disagreements. The Associate Press originally cited Russian military expert Alexander Golts as saying: ''It seems to be a brand new missile. It's either a decoy or something that has been developed in complete secrecy".
Yet nothing about the rocket and plans to build it were new. The development is a response to US plans to distort the balance of power between Russian and US nuclear arsenals. Full-scale plans for development of the RS-24 rocket with multiple warheads began with the US withdrawal in 2002 from the Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty and with their plans to build a global ABM system (a part of which in Eastern Europe has caused so much debate). The same year Russia announced that it was forced to take actions to counter US military development to sustain its military superiority in case of a conflict, and began developing the RS-24 missile that has the capability to break through the new US ABM system.
The reason why Russia was forced to pursue such a course of action is outlined in Wednesday's Kommersant newspaper. The agreements signed between Russia and the US in 1993, which obliged both sides to cut their nuclear arsenals to 4250 warheads made Russia lose out in its military parity with the US, as these accords specified the destruction of ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) with multiple warheads (the foundation of the Russian nuclear arsenal). To counter the loss in superiority, Russia had to increase the amount of new mobile ICBM launchers (such as the 1997 built Topol M) and submarines carrying ICBMs, for which it had very little financing. The 2002 accords between Russia and the US obliged the sides to cut down their arsenals further below 2,200 warheads but did not specify the structure of the remaining arsenal like the 1993 accords. This allowed Russia to resume building ICBMs with multiple warheads, which is a much cheaper and efficient way to build up an ICBM arsenal, especially with Russia's small military budget and the US plans for an ABM Global missile shield. Tuesday's test was a long-sought process, yet the actual day of the test coinciding with harsh statements of Russian officials serve to give the testing a "show of force" motivation as well. Russia now plans to produce 20 such rockets annually and plans to increase its warhead arsenal up to 2000 warheads by 2015.
It is very important to note, that no treaties are being broken with the testing and the production of the rocket, and that the US departure from the ABM agreements in 2002 left Russia no choice but to strengthen the offensive side of its nuclear deterrent, much cheaper than building an analog of the US Global ABM shield. These new missiles are also not tied to a threat to Eastern Europe, as they are ICBMs with very broad ranges (specifically aimed at the US). A parallel development of a strong US Global ABM system and Russian ICBMs with multiple warheads will prolong the balance of power in nuclear deterrents according to the mutually assured destruction scenario, that has kept the world away from a nuclear war for almost sixty years.
Meanwhile Russia's actions to call for an emergency conference of the CFE treaty members is the continuation of Russia's actions to set forth a new set of agreements for Europe's armaments. Russia has grown very annoyed with the fact that it has so far been the only country to fully adhere to the treaty and that its obligations with the treaty have been tied by NATO members to a withdrawal of Russian military bases from Moldova and Georgia. It must be noted that the CFE treaty imposes caps on heavy military equipment placement in Europe (tanks, helicopters, artillery); military bases filled with regular troops do not violate its accords. Russia's anxiety about the treaty is also supported by the fast expansion of NATO toward its borders, which violated understandings reached in the late 1990-s between Russia, the US and other NATO members.
President Putin's recent successful visits to meet the heads of Austria, Luxembourg, and now Portugal, have been used to cement support for Russia's concerns about a new rearmament of Europe, associated with the deployment of the US ABM bases in Poland and the Czech Republic. The Russian president has already referred to US plans as creating a "powder keg" in Europe and provoking the start of an arms race. Most states in Europe with ruling social-democratic parties have expressed doubt in the need for the US shield, and most EU members have agreed that the US position for unilateral installment of such systems in Europe without constructive discussions with Russia was a very wrong path to take. The chairman of Germany's ruling Social Democrat Party Kurt Beck in a recent article for the International Herald Tribune has said: "if we are talking about common security then we need to have joint discussion on key means of attaining it", implying consensus within NATO itself (which does not exist today), and a discussion with Russia. He has also pointed out that:
Moreover, serious doubts have been expressed as to whether the defense system actually functions.
The United States has so far invested over $100 billion in the development of a defensive shield. That is a huge sum which, spent differently, could have achieved more for the security of the United States.
The world has arrived at a crossroads. It would be a ground-breaking decision if, acting in trans-Atlantic accord, we were to pave the way for a new round of global disarmament. In doing so, we would be sure of the support of the peoples of our countries and far beyond.
So far Russia's diplomatic efforts on the road to block US deployment of an ABM shield in Eastern Europe have proceeded rather successfully. As this blog said in previous posts on the issue, the goal of creating disagreements within NATO and the EU about the need for US ABM deployment has been achieved, with more European states expressing doubts on the need for such a defensive mechanism.
Russia will most likely not have the "veto" power on the issue of US ABM deployment in Eastern Europe, as the US side has said numerously, but what Russia hopes to achieve is that the European nations have "veto" power over it. The Russian position has always been to accept the US ABM deployment only unless there is consensus in NATO and the EU of a true need for such a system. The reasons behind Russia's anxiety are that the US shield is said to aim at Iran and North Korea, while having the ability to monitor the entire European part of Russia, where many strategically important structures are located. Russia has first of all expressed doubt that a need for such a shield exists, due to Iran's slim chances of developing ICBMs to target Europe within the next ten years, and second, it has found little support for the ABM shield to be placed in Poland and the Czech Republic over for example Turkey (where it would have a better "view" on the rogue states of the Middle East while not monitoring Russian territory).
As it looks from Russia's recent actions with regard to the CFE treaty, it may be initiating the start of discussions to draw up new treaties on arms in Europe; with the US current administration in urgent need to deploy the US ABM shield in Europe and so much confusion remaining over the CFE treaty, such discussions will most likely be backed by all sides and will be set to reduce the current deadlock associated with Russia's stronger diplomatic bargaining position compared to the 1990-s when the European security treaties were signed.
This topic has been carefully monitored by this blog, and it is an issue of utmost importance for Europe and the world, when treaties signed in the era of the cold war are outdated, and those signed in the 1990-s putting Russia at a disadvantage to its Western partners. Given a successful effort by Russia, Europe, and the US the world may see a whole new round of security treaties that would take into account the current geopolitical situation (for more information visit the previous posts on the US ABM issue below):