12 April 2007

Russian FM on US Missile Defense Plan and Europe

Well, we’ve heard from Putin, Ivanov and Baluyevsky and now the Foreign Minister weighs in via an article published in London’s Financial Times yesterday under the title “A crucial debate on Europe's anti-missile defences.” (read the full article here)

Several points are laid out which may be taken as the official Russian position and of course, there are some issues therein. We’ll skip past the prelims and jump to the meat of the article, but first a review of the bidding on the proposed European-based element of the BMDS -- an X-band radar site and a missile field with 20 non-nuclear, hit-to-kill interceptors like those currently deployed in fields in the US, whose purpose is to provide extended coverage against missiles originating from hostile states in the Mideast and which by extension will provide a limited capability for defense of Europe.

What is the Russian position? First of all, for us - and for many others in Europe - it is unacceptable for anyone to use the continent as their own strategic territory. Any unilateral anti--missile projects would fundamentally alter the continent's geo-strategic landscape. It would also be an affront to all Europeans, as it would devalue the continent's pan-European and multi-national organisations - including NATO and the European Union - which we were told until just recently were the keystones of European security.
Nothing new here – the Russians, and before them the Soviets, have done their level best to de-couple America from Europe since the end of WW2, the most concerted and blatant example being the deployment of the SS-20 in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s. That Russia now seems so very much interested in the valuation of NATO seems a bit disingenuous.

We should like our US partners to understand that a strong Russia, or a strong Germany or France, or a strong Europe, living in peace and harmony, cannot pose a threat to US interests.

Of course, this comes on the heels of renewed declarations of intent to withdraw from the INF Treaty, re-open development and production of a Pioneer-like (SS-20) missile and the expected chest-thumping over “asymmetric means” of attacking the system once fielded. Previously discussed here and here all of which serves to lay the groundwork for purposeful discussion.

Second, Russia has legitimate interests in this sphere. Russia has more than once given concrete explanations for its concerns over the deployment of US anti-missile bases in Europe. I might add that their capabilities may well grow significantly, with the appearance of a new generation of anti-missile missiles - with a range of not hundreds but thousands of kilometres, multiple warheads and also hypersonic interceptor missiles.

As has been pointed out in other fora, the numbers and intercept geometry for a European-based leg of the BMDS do not work out for intercepts of Russian ICBMs bound for the US, if that were the intent – which it most certainly is not. The National BMDS in general, and the proposed European leg in particular, are not meant to threaten Russia's deterrent capability. Besides, as the head of Russia's Strategic Rocket Forces has announced on several occasions of the RSF's development of special techniques and technologies (read: depressed trajectories and MaRVs) that will thwart the US missile defense system.

Third, in an age where there ought to be no place for "hidden agendas" we are obliged to have open discussions, which are necessary in order to reach a common understanding and linkage of our interests. What is needed is a profound joint evaluation of the technological, strategic and political aspects of the problem, starting with a joint assessment of the threats.

The most suitable forum is the Russia--Nato Council, whose next meeting at foreign minister level will take place in Oslo at the end of this month. We hope its agenda will take full account of public opinion on the question of missile defences. That would be democratic, it would show respect for the interests of all countries without exception and it would put into practice the principle that security is indivisible in the modern world. States must not be divided according to their level of protection.

The question is whether the missile threat that we are told the US anti--missile base in Europe is supposed to repel is realistic. We are convinced that no such threat exists for Europe or the US today, or in the foreseeable future. None of the so-called rogue states possesses missiles that pose a real threat to Europe. The construction of missiles capable of reaching the US is an even harder task, requiring different technologies and production capabilities.

Ah, the mask slippeth a bit. Let us recall the words of President Putin at Munich earlier this year:
“Today many other countries have these missiles, including the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Republic of Korea, India, Iran, Pakistan and Israel. Many countries are working on these systems and plan to incorporate them as part of their weapons arsenals. And only the United States and Russia bear the responsibility to not create such weapons systems….It is obvious that in these conditions we must think about ensuring our own security (emphasis added)

to continue:

Fourth, we have time for serious analysis, since there is no sign of real threats at the moment. But they could become a self-fulfilling prophesy as a consequence of ill-considered actions. Should imaginary constructs get in the way of the flourishing trilateral efforts of Russia, the EU and the US to solve real problems in the Middle East, the crises in Iraq and Afghanistan and Iran's nuclear programme? It is these problems that really threaten our continent's security.

Fifth, discussion of a missile shield in Europe marks a watershed in European politics. Nothing can replace co-operation in security, which demands such a high level of mutual trust, or in overcoming the past and rebuilding the unity of the continent.

Either we take a decisive step forward, or European politics will go into reverse, bearing out the fears of those who saw in the expansion of Nato and the EU the potential for new dividing lines to be drawn in Europe.

Seems to be a bit of a disconnect between the perception of the threat betwixt the President and his Foreign Minister. Look, when North Korea fired the TD-1 across Japan in 1998 the thinking at that time was they were years away from that capability, and truthfully, given the failure of the TD-2 attempt last July they just may be. But recall not only our own IR/ICBM development programs but Russia's as well and the high incidence of failure early in those programs. Funny thing about rocketry, as one works successive improvements, success is not necessarily linear and it is safe to presume should North Korea or Iran (who are cooperatively developing longer range missiles) achieve a break through, they too will see accelerated improvements. So, no - time is not on our side. In the meantime, Iran just keeps working on development of the Shahab- 3 and other longer range weapons.

So where does that lead us? In her own, particular manner Russia is posturing for some major concession or accommodation in addition to reclaiming some semblance of the world stage as the super power she thought of herself during the Soviet era. With the START Accords coming up for renewal and looking for means to consolidate and improve land-mobile missile forces (i.e., a new road mobile MIRVed ICBM) and pressure from the armed forces for a more robust SRBM than the SS-21, look for pressure on for concessions from the West (read: US) on those fronts.

Europe, and more to the point, the linchpins of continental power - France, Germany, Italy and Spain are caught up in another cycle of geo-political ennui and rather than plan, prepare and build forces to address future threats, seem to want to wish them away. There will be no European designed, built and run missile defense system as a result, hence the elements proposed for Poland and the Czech Republic will form the nucleus of long-range missile defense for Europe. Frankly, if Russia is interested in dialogue and cooperation, this could actually provide a positive venue. How so?

It is a poor secret that post-Soviet era Russia's early warning systems are not as extensive or robust as during the Soviet era. In particular, with the independence of the southern tier of "-stans" the perimeter has moved inward, forcing deployment of EW radars further inside Russian borders. Establishing an agreement for sharing missile defense radar tracks that mirrors the current MOA on shared early warning may be a way out of this conundrum and has been forwarded at the Presidential level. The upcoming NATO-Russia council is the right kind of venue for this discussion and one hopes the stale rhetoric and bluster rolled out at Munich earlier this year will be mothballed for clear-headed discussion. We shall see what Russia's true motives are by the conclusion of the council.