Thursday, June 07, 2007

Vladimir and George talk about the Missile Shield : The "phony" Cold War draws to a close

Significant progress was made yesterday at the G8 summit in Germany during the meeting between George Bush and Vladimir Putin on the issue of the US plans for the deployment of an ABM system in Europe. But despite the relief that the discussion has caused by taking any "Cold War" analogies off the table, the US ABM shield issue is far from over, and many questions still remain which have little hope for an answer at the moment.

But the most important development is the fact that Russia now accepts the need for close cooperation on the US ABM deployment by its borders; it thus acknowledges that the US and Russia have common threats in the Middle East, particularly Iran. A cooperation with the US on missile defense from Iran, amongst others, also suggests that Russia is making more steps toward the US position on Iran's nuclear weapons development. A direction rooting for faster UN Security Council action against Iran.

With regard to Russia's offer to host the radar part of the system at its leased base in Azerbaijan, many questions still remain unanswered. The ABM system that the US is planning to deploy in Europe, apart from Navy-based US cruisers consists of a radar-base in the Czech Republic and a missile interceptor system to be installed in Poland. Russia opposes both of these bases. The Azerbaijan proposal offers to relocate the radar to a Russian-based radar system already in place there since 1985 under a long-term lease, under supervision from both the US and Russia. With regard to the missile interceptors, Russia's position is not entirely clear.

The New York Times reports Putin suggesting the missile interceptors could be located in US Aegis cruisers (presumably in the North Sea, or event the Baltic Sea). The US Aegis cruisers have recently been reequipped to host systems with the capabilities to shoot down short to medium range ballistic missiles (such as those that the US European shield is aimed against) as part of the US Global ABM shield system. Another proposal initiated by the US, as the Financial Times reports would be for the UK to host the missile interceptors. The newspaper reports that Russia has also expressed potential support for the UK option.

If the US does agree with a radar in Azerbaijan and missile interceptors in the UK, it would be too clear of a diplomatic victory for Russia, and it is highly unlikely that the US will give up its ideas of shield stations in Eastern Europe for any reasons whatsoever. But Russia has already offered to put all the recent heated rhetoric on the back burner if its proposals are accepted. For the US and NATO this a a sign of relief, as Russia's decision to aim missiles on Poland and the Czech Republic began to cause headaches about additional arms needed in those countries to protect them from Russia. Russia's attempted withdrawal from the CFE treaty and the intermediate range missiles treaty could also be halted, depending on the US interest in the Azerbaijan option.

For the first time the world is seeing Russia's thought-through diplomatic game being played out. It started in Munich, and the goal since then was to cause rifts within the EU and NATO, and generate the biggest amount of concerns among all of Russia's Western partners. The message from Russia was clear: "our opinion is not being noticed; if the situation continues, Russia will have to take action to get its opinion visible". By no means was this a "three-month" cold war; in the first meeting of the leaders of the confronting sides, significant progress was made, and the two were more than happy to continue constructive discussion.

The next meeting between the two in Main in early July will serve to hopefully finalize the details of the Russian-US cooperation on the US ABM shield in Europe. The proposals have not yet been fully analyzed by the two sides to make any forward-looking remarks. For now the ball is in the US court, and within time senior military experts and national security advisers should make clear statements with regard to the viability of the Russian proposal. As of today, the US has, in the words of George Bush and his national security adviser Steve Hadley only expressed "its interest" with the proposal. But it still is too soon to say the confrontation between Russia and the US is over on the ABM shields; not to forget the "diametrically opposed" positions with regard to Kosovo, and democracy.

For the recent developments of the US ABM story see this blog's earlier posts


pantxo petate said...

A well trained KGB man against a Yale C student. Of course someone will come to George's rescue and clean up his mess, yet another one.
The USA won't go for the Azerbaijan deal, they are dead set on encirclement, who knows, they might get away with it.

nikolay i. said...

Yes, the likelihood they would go for an Azeri base is in the range of 10%. The likelihood of them stationing missile interceptors not in Poland is less than 1%.

My guess is they will say we are ready to use the Azeri base as a supplement to the Polish and Czech bases, so as to try to not completely make fools of themselves.

Another option is that if Russia pulls the complaining off for another year, the next administration will cancel the gamble.

It must be noted that for the first time the US is deploying a system globally that has not been proven to work effectively even against minor attacks. The Alaska base can only shoot down a missile only if it has a tracking beam made for the Alaskan interceptor.