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Russia-NATO row over missile system
Thu, 14 Apr 2011 08:16:31 GMT
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The establishment of a missile system on the European soil remains an issue in Russia's talks with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, known as NATO, despite an agreement on the matter between the country and the United States. It seems like earlier optimism is fading into despair, following the two countries' proposal for cooperation in the field.

Background

Russia and the US have disagreed over the recent years on the aggressive plan, which was tabled during George W. Bush's presidency under the pretext of confronting alleged threats posed by Iran and North Korea. Based on the project, advanced radar, capable of covering a 6,000-kilometer radius, was supposed to be based in the Czech Republic, complementing the US ones in Alaska and California while interceptor missiles were to be deployed to Poland.

Taking over from Bush, Barak Obama tried to moderate the Russo-American ties as part of his 'policy of change' by suspending the missile plan. Two years on, in November 2010, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev proposed Moscow's cooperation with the project during NATO's summit in Lisbon, Portugal.

His ambitious proposal was met with stiff resistance on the part of the senior military officials, but Kremlin's foreign policy establishment went along, enjoying the Russian Federation Ministry of Defense's support. However, according to Russian press, cooperation towards a joint project, which can contribute to the main plan, has faced fundamental problems. The question now is what the setbacks are and which course of action would Obama take. Russian press say the commander-in-chief has proposed the new four-phase plan, examination of whose details expose the depth to the impediments.

The US four-phase plan for deployment of a missile system in Europe

According to a report run by the Moscow-headquartered Kommersant newspaper on March 3, 2011, the plan is to be fully implemented by the end of 2020.

In the first phase, the guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey would be dispatched to the European coasts and a portable ground-based radar station established in southern Europe by the end of 2011. It, however, is not exactly clear where the deployment site is going to be.

The second phase involves the placement of SM-3 Block IB missile systems and modern and fully-developed radars in the Eastern Europe. The missiles are probably to be based in Romania. Based on determined timetable, the phase is to be finished by the end of 2015.

The US would have established missile systems bases in Poland by the end of 2018 during the third phase.

The fourth phase embraces Washington's deployment of missile systems, known as SM-3 Block IIB, in Europe by the end of 2020. The system's radars can intercept MBR intercontinental ballistic missiles, which has a range of 5,500 kilometers.

The reasons for Russia's concerns about the new US plan

General Eugene Bozhinsky, expert at the Russian Center for Policy Studies (PIR), says that, in fact, we are worried about the fourth phase as the first three do not threaten Russia's security. But the fourth one, which creates the capability of intercepting medium-range intercontinental ballistic missiles, can endanger Russia's deterrence power and the very phase forms the moot point in the upcoming talks.

Moscow is also concerned about the assimilation of the US plan with NATO's plan for establishment of missile systems in Europe. This is while Medvedev had proposed a similar choice regarding creation of missile systems with regional coverage during the NATO summit. Two rounds of negotiations on the matter have, however, not led to any conclusion yet.

In order to further animate the negotiations on how to implement missile plan, Medvedev appointed the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin as his Special Representative to missile system talks with the Western alliance.

According to Russian press, Kremlin wants the other party in talks to give legal guarantee that it would not use the Europe-based missile systems against Russia's strategic and nuclear missiles. Regarding the issue, a senior official from the Russian Federation Ministry of Defense says that the Europe-based missile system would not be created since the US plans to install a missile system and Europe's system would be part of the US plan.

The problem is that any form of legal guarantees regarding a missile system in Europe is a sensitive issue in the US. The US government has told Russia that approving such a guarantee in the senate just a year before the presidential elections is unrealistic. We should remember the approval of START II in congress.

The main reason is that the US withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) unilaterally ten years ago. This treaty was signed between the Soviet Union and the US on May 26, 1972 and the US has not been willing to sign such guarantees and treaties since. Therefore, follow-up on the treaty has been fallen on negotiations between the presidents of the two nations in Paris and the NATO summit of defense ministers in Brussels. Sergei Ryabkov, deputy foreign minister of Russia, said the Russian side had expected such a negative reaction from the US and tried to find common points between the two. But still, time was short, Rybkov warned.

On June 8, 2011 the defense ministers from NATO member states will convene to discuss the missile system. They are expected to discuss the issue with their Russian counterpart as well.

But still, the argument on whether or not the missile system is needed for Europe and whether not Europe is under an imminent missile threat continues to go on. Washington says the missiles are supposed to defend Europe against a missile attack by Iran and North Korea but Russia does not accept this claim. Eugen Bozhinsky, a retired general and analyst from the PIR Center speaks about Iran as well. He says Iran has missiles with a board of 1,800 and 1,900 kilometers. But Iran only needs a maximum range of 2,400 kilometers in order to reach Tel Aviv. If Tehran wants to build a missile with a longer range it cannot keep it secret as it would have to tests it at least tens of times. Iran would need a country like Russia to test such long-range missiles. They would also need numerous satellites and vessels to follow the missile, which Iran does not have.

Still, if Russia enjoys equal rights as the US and NATO it would be willing to turn a blind eye to the baseless allegations about Iran. On the other hand, Medvedev and Putin have said that if the West fails to address Russia's concerns regarding the missile system a new weapons race is likely to begin.

European analysts and politicians from NATO-member states argue that they will have a hard time convincing their populations why they need to rely on Russia, whom they believe is not trustworthy and could even be considered a threat, for creating the defense system and providing security.

Samuel Charap, the Director for Russia and Eurasia and a member of the National Security and International Policy team at American Progress, says the European missile shield should not be abandoned. Vladimir Orlov, the founding Director of the Moscow-based PIR Center, believes that the chances of such a system being built are low but still possible as it is the only joint NATO-Russia defense project.

Regarding US optimism US Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher said in a March 21 speech in Washington that Russia has radars it can offer for the project, which the US is in need of. She said the US looked forward to joint defense studies and joint military drills with Russia and said information should be shred through radar systems which can be a foundation for the joint missile system. She said the US will cooperate with Russia I order to enhance the capabilities of the missile system.

When five months passed with no progress on the issues, President Medvedev said in a meeting with Joe Biden last March that some problems were raised this year and solving those problems should be on the agenda. He said some other issue existed in the Near East and North Africa which also needed to be addressed.

Of course Medvedev did not suggest there were connections between the missile system and the recent developments in the Middle East and North Africa. But Hillary Clinton at the time made remarks regarding her country's plans to place the 'Standard M3' air and missile base on Polish soil.

Clinton stressed that the warship and the equipment that would be deployed in Poland were a part of a missile system of which US President Barack Obama spoke in September 2010.

Some of Russian analysts believe that the plan to deploy missile systems in Poland is political; because Warsaw was not pleased with US's refusal to implement its contract to deploy underground anti-ballistic missile system, Clinton wants to offer Washington's loyal ally - Poland - an alternative.

However, in an interview with Eco Moscow radio station in 2011, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said a formal agreement guaranteeing that missile systems would not be used against the other party was the key for Russia's cooperation with NATO,

“Since the approved plan for NATO missile system which is being designed, is 100% based on the US missile system, and since we realized from initial contacts that this system would be established anyway, we will continue our negotiations with NATO on how we will be able to do this together.”

“We have to reach an agreement on what legal guarantees are there that their missile system is directed against us? In return we are ready to guarantee that our missile system is not directed against them. Currently these are the key issues.”


The Russian foreign minister believes that if such agreements are reached, then it lies on experts and military officials to see how to implement the system.

“The two sides -- Washington-Moscow and Brussels-Moscow -- should have political resolve. We call for a unified system. Now we should think to see how to implement this plan ... when we are told that the missile shield is not against us, therefore, we accept that Obama does not intend to carry out an attack against us ... we are also sure that NATO will not do it either. But in such cases, intention is not the only thing that matters and potential power is also of importance. It is the first time in the last 20 years that we are told “This is not against you.” However, it will be problematic in the future. I reiterate that the key to our cooperation in missile shield issues, is the existence of legal guarantee for the agreements to ensure that each side's missile shield will not be used against the other.”

Final Analysis

Russia and the US are still fundamentally at odds over mutual implementation of the missile shield. The fact that the Russians are more cooperative is because they hope the US may prepare the grounds for investment of American companies in Russia by lifting the sanctions remaining from the Soviet Union era. Russia, which witnessed the outflow of $23 billion worth of capital in 2010, hopes to revitalize its crisis-hit economy by entering the World Trade Organization and establishing more enhanced economic ties with the US. Therefore, Russia is trying to show the US that it is with Washington more than before. However as mentioned, the US and Russia disagree on mutual implementation of the missile shield plan. Such coordination will in the long run be to the detriment of Russia, because the US, after it achieves its short-term objectives, will intensify its pressure to gain more advantages from Russia.

However, the US-Russia relations should not be assessed in a rush, because the two countries have a lot of mutual interests. In fact, Russia cannot go ahead with its policies at the global level without the help of the US; also the US policies, without Russia's support, will face hurdle at the international arena. Therefore, the two countries' fundamental problems should not be magnified to the point that it leads to the assumption that Iran can take advantage of the existing contradictions for itself. Russia is definitely influenced by the US, however, it should not be forgotten that at the same time it has impact on the US policies. Today, Russia with its myriads of problems has been downgraded to a second-rate power in the world and it is no way favorable to Moscow which has always claimed to stand against the US unilateralism at the international arena.

MSD/HN/MYA/ASH/GHN
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