Will Washington forgo an historic opportunity to help build a united Europe?

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Will Washington forgo an historic opportunity to help build a united Europe?
Published 26-03-2013, 15:58

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced on 15 March that Washington will postpone the fourth stage of its ballistic missile defense (BMD) in Poland and Romania. It will now deploy 14 missile interceptors in Alaska and by 2017 install an additional radar in Japan. According to Hagel, the decision was prompted by a "series of irresponsible and reckless provocations" by North Korea. But he also cited technical and financial reasons.

As regards BMD in Europe and hence the impact of Hagel’s announcement on Russia’s nuclear deterrent, there are no changes to the modified strategy that will make a material difference. Washington remains committed to the original plans of BMD deployment in so-called Phases 1-3 – the last of which is to be completed in 2018. However, in Phase 4, which under the current plan will not be completed until  2022 at the earliest, the US no longer plans the deployment of the more advanced SM-3 IIB interceptor; now it will deploy the slower IIA model.

President Obama’s Republican critics are bound to pounce on what they will see as the "appeasement” of Russia – because it is the deployment of the IIB interceptor that Moscow finds the most objectionable. But from Russia’s vantage point, this is only a minor and practically insignificant concession. Moscow has already expressed concern about the less advanced IIA interceptors and, in any case, will interpret the latest change in the US plans as a tactical (and easily reversible) step driven by current expenditure constraints rather than by genuine desire to accommodate Russia’s concerns. At best, the Kremlin may see Hagel’s announcement as a signal that in his second presidential term, Obama does want to show some "flexibility” on this issue. Indeed, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov has already said he does not see the US move as a concession.

It tends to be overlooked that, despite being nonplussed by US/NATO anti-missile defense plans in Europe, Russia does not, in fact, oppose them. What it wants to do is ensure that those plans do not in any way compromise the credibility of its own nuclear deterrent. This means that it needs to take steps to counter the US moves that in Moscow’s assessment do pose such a risk. 

To preserve the balance enshrined in the treaties signed by the US and the USSR in 1972, President Putin proposed in 2007 that Russia and NATO jointly develop an BMD system – a proposal that met with silence in the West. Three years later, at the NATO summit in Lisbon in June 2010, Putin’s idea was aired again – this time Moscow proposed a sectoral approach under which it would be responsible for security in the Eastern part of the European continent. This, too, fell on deaf ears. 

Arguably, the most troubling point about the standoff over anti-missile defense is that it creates a new fault-line in Europe. The US (West) appears indifferent to this, however. To date it has refused even to meet Russian requests for Washington’s BMD planners to establish greater transparency – namely, through "legal guarantees” that would enable Russia’s military to take counter-steps such as stationing missile defenses in the western and southern parts of the country and upgrading its naval capabilities.  

  • Could joint development of BMD serve as the basis for the European continent’s unity?
  • Are Western concerns about such close cooperation with Russia in any way justified?
  • Can President Obama rise to the occasion and open a new chapter in European security?
The topic for the Discussion Panel is provided by Vlad Sobell, 
Editor, Expert Discussion Panel 
Professor, New York University, Prague  

Expert Panel Contributions

Richard Weitz, 
Senior Fellow and Director,
Center for Political-Military Analysis
Hudson Institute, Washington 

The Obama Administration’s decision to adapt US ballistic missile defense (BMD) programs in response to a North Korean threat provides an opportunity for Russian President Vladimir Putin to set aside the protracted, debilitating, but unnecessary dispute with the United States and its NATO allies over missile defense. 
Under the new US plan, the US BMD deployment that Russian analysts insisted would threaten their nuclear deterrent has been eliminated. Even many US experts acknowledged that the SM-3-IIBs, if they worked as well as specified in their requirements from their European launch sites, might have been capable of intercepting Russia’s nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles based in east central Russia. 
Russia and the United States have sought to overcome their differences by establishing a joint missile defense architecture, at least for Europe, but this will not happen soon. Proposals to develop a joint Russia-US missile defense architecture face numerous obstacles. Multinational BMD raises challenging command-and-control issues due to the need for prompt interceptions. Legal, intelligence, and other barriers impede the sharing of sensitive BMD technologies with Russian companies or missile threat data with the Russian military. The diverging technical standards and operational procedures of Russian and US BMD systems compound this problem. When these and other obstacles lead to failed Russian-US negotiations to establish joint BMD architectures, one party tends to blame the other’s bad faith and malign motives for the lack of an agreement, thereby deepening mutual strategic distrust.
Nonetheless, the systems that the United States could possibly build in coming decades, whether in Europe or elsewhere, cannot seriously undermine the mutual deterrent relationship that exists between Russia and the United States. The massive size and great sophistication of Russian’s offensive nuclear forces would make any attempt to negate Moscow’s nuclear deterrent in coming years impossible.
Perhaps an advantage of Putin’s return to the presidency is that he is the one person in Russia who could end the BMD quagmire by conceding these points for the sake of pursuing stronger Russia-US cooperation on the more important interests they share. Putin made such a choice in 2001, when he declined to make a major fuss about the Bush administration’s decision to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, to avoid upending the new Russia-US partnership against global terrorism. Putin is a pragmatic, if emotional, statesman who has shown he can compromise with the United States and other countries to advance Russian national interests. Now is again such an occasion.

Martin Sieff
Chief Global Analyst, the Globalist

Sanity at Last on BMD 

New US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel has hit the ground running on ballistic missile defence (BMD), confounding his numerous critics who claimed that he did not understand the issues and, in any case, hated all weapons systems.
Hagel’s bold and decisive first decisions on ballistic missile defense realistically confront the growing threat from North Korea and, at the very least, open the door to defusing a long-standing deadlock with Russia. They also mark a crucial first step in decoupling efforts at strategic missile defense for the United States and North America away from the far more contentious issue of deploying the most advanced anti-ballistic missile systems in the heart of Central Europe.
Secretary Hagel announced on 15 March that the United States will postpone the fourth stage deployment of medium and short range BMD interceptors in Poland and Romania, most notably the RIM-161 Standard Missile 3 (SM-3 IIB). Instead, it will use the funds saved to build and deploy 14 additional Ground-based Mid-course Interceptors (GBIs) at its two deployment sites in Fort Greeley, Alaska and Vandenberg Air Force Base (AFB), California by 2017. Hagel said the decision was prompted by a "series of irresponsible and reckless provocations” by North Korea. But he also cited technical and financial reasons.
The move meets some Russian concerns about the SM-3 IIB, which will now not be deployed in Europe. US President Barack Obama is already facing attack from his increasingly desperate Republican critics over his alleged "appeasement” of Russia. Russia does not want to see the earlier and slower SM-3-IIA interceptors deployed in Europe either, and Hagel’s decision did not touch that issue – yet.
However, what none of Obama’s and Hagel’s critics seems to realize is that, while the deployment of the SM-3s would have been a sop to NATO’s more recent Central European members (the former members of the Warsaw Pact), none of those SM-3 IIB interceptors could be used at all to protect the cities and strategic defences of the United States itself.
That is because the SM-3 IIBs are designed to intercept short and medium range ballistic missiles. They would be quite useless in intercepting long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) fired against the United States from Iran, North Korea or anywhere else. Only the GBIs can do that. (By contrast the SM-3 IIBs would be more effective in defending Israel or Japan because they would be used against only medium range ballistic missiles fired at far shorter ranges, and therefore flying far lower and more slowly than ICBMs fired at targets half a world away.)
The prevailing view in the Kremlin is that Hagel’s decision to freeze SM-3 IIB deployment is just a tactical and easily reversible move that was generated by current expenditure constraints. At first glance, that is true. But there is a lot more to it than that.
Those budget constraints are systemic, structural and long-term, not just temporary aberrations, as Hagel and Obama well know. Even if the Republicans regain the White House in 2016 – a far from guaranteed scenario, to put it mildly – the rising Tea Party wing of the party led by Sen. Rand Paul is committed to sweeping government cuts and a genuine distrust of America’s post-Cold War "unipolar moment” and its global military deployments – far more than Moscow policymakers and pundits seem to realize.
To be credible and affordable at all, the global US defense structure has to be scaled back big time. Hagel knows that. It is the job President Obama appointed him to do. Now, with his bold and clear-eyed decision to prioritize missile defense against the increasingly erratic and unpredictable Kim Jong-Un in Pyongyang, he has shown the courage, vision, and ability to take bold new steps that he knows the president wants.
All this means that the decision to freeze the SM-3 IIB deployment is not a cynical ploy that can and will be easily reversed. It is potentially the first of a series of strategic decisions that can open the way for a round of mutually beneficial new deal making between the United States and Russia.
Vladimir Kozin
Leading Researcher, Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, Moscow

My answer to the first question:

Yes, it will definitely serve as the basis not only for the unity and security on the European continent but also for global unity and security at large if certain conditions apply (see my answer to the second question). Moreover, a joint or cooperative East-West BMD project would radically improve NATO and Russia relations as well as US and Russia ties and would help to consolidate the NPT regime, halt the BMD arms race that has already started, facilitate further reductions of the strategic and tactical nuclear arms and establish a nuclear-free status for this planet.

My answer to the second question:

The West’s concerns about close cooperation with Russia on the joint or cooperative BMD project are unjustified because Moscow has already – and on many occasions –expressed its readiness to block any ballistic missile threat by joint efforts if the principle of equality and equal security for all potential participants applies. 

However, if suggested cooperation in the BMD field between Moscow and Washington fails and if the US, together with NATO, continues to field interceptors (regardless of whether SM-3 IIAs or SM-3 IIBs) very close to Russia's shores unilaterally and without regard for its security interests, Moscow has the legitimate right to respond to such a threat as it deems necessary. If cooperation on the BMD project is reached, the US, Russia, and all other interested nations will have to draft a new, multilateral ABM Treaty, the basic principles of which have been described in my book The Evolution of the US BMD system and Russia's stance (1945-2013), Moscow. RISS. 2013, 370 pp (in Russian and English).

My answer to the third question:

I seriously doubt that President Obama will reconsider his provocative EPAA plan, which will lead to instability in the realm of strategic defense throughout the world. I also doubt that he will be able to open a new chapter in European and global security, especially in missile defense. The US Defense Secretary’s 15 March statement on, shall we say, a "modification" of the US position on BMD has nothing to do with Washington’s declared plans for the period ending in 2022. On the contrary, this announcement does not take into account Russian concerns and is, in fact, enhancing the United States’ BMD capabilities – both on continental US and in Europe.

Edward Lozansky
President American University in Moscow
Professor of World Politics, Moscow State University

US missile defense, meddling in Russia’s domestic affairs and "pipeline” policy are the major factors hurting US-Russia relations

It seems that US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's statement on the abandonment of plans to place upgraded missile interceptors in Poland and Romania and the deployment of 14 new interceptors on America's West Coast instead did not impress Moscow too much, although the doors to negotiations remain open.

The way I see it, for Russia this issue is more about psychology than security. The obdurate refusal by Washington to grant Moscow legal guarantees that the system will not be aimed against Russia's strategic nuclear deterrent is proof enough.

Those with intimate knowledge of the technological aspects of current BMD systems claim that it would be practically impossible to distinguish during an incoming missile's very short flight time between a dummy and a real weapon. This means that Russia can easily, and at minimal cost, retaliate against a nuclear strike by firing a mix of real missiles and a lot of dummies. On top of this, it is highly doubtful that a 100% effective BMD system can be built in the foreseeable future. 

For this reason, the real issue is why the US is still pursuing this costly project. I think that Jack Matlock, former US Ambassador to Moscow and head of the Russian desk at NSC in Reagan's time, is right when he says that among the driving forces are the military-industrial complex, which makes billions out of this project, and the almost religious belief – mainly among conservatives but among others as well – that America needs the BMD system at all costs.

In fact, Russia does not apparently object to the whole BMD idea – it just wants to be a part of the family at the development and deployment stages. The US and NATO firmly say "no” to this, which is what hurts the Kremlin the most. It has been stated many times on this Expert Panel and elsewhere that the West's continued rejection of Russian appeals for closer security cooperation is a colossal, geo-strategic mistake.

The main reason given for this unceremonious rebuff – that there is too great a difference between the West’s and Russia’s "values” – is laughable at best and cynical at worst. In matters of national security, values are about the last thing that governments worry about. America has proved this point again and again by partnering with regimes of the most obscurantist nature. In comparison with some of them, Russia appears a beacon of democracy.

These days both the Right and the Left lavish praise on Ronald Reagan, depicting him as one of the best presidents we have ever had. Well, it was Reagan who proposed even to the communist USSR that both sides work together on SDI and share US technology.  Some people dismiss this as Reagan’s clever propaganda gimmick rather than a serious offer. However, Jack Matlock, mentioned above, believes that the President was dead serious – and Matlock was closer to Reagan than any of the doubters.

All talk about values now appears even more hypocritical in light of the consequences of America's ten-year war in Iraq: the huge damage to the United States and Iraq in terms of human losses sustained, at least a trillion dollars or probably a lot more wasted, the US image in the world irreversibly tarnished, and – last but not least – the terrorist threat greatly increased rather than eliminated.

At a recent conference on US-Russia relations at George Washington University, Andranik Migranyan, a member of this Expert Panel, mentioned two major problems affecting these relations: missile defense and US meddling in Russia's internal affairs. I would add a third one on the economic front: America’s active pursuance of its "pipeline" policy urging Europeans to reduce their imports of Russian energy and increase those from the former Soviet republics through newly built pipelines bypassing Russia. This policy is yet more proof, if such were needed, that all talk of "values" is sheer humbug: the former Soviet republics encouraged by the United States are run by autocratic regimes along medieval lines. What price "democratic values” in this case, might one ask?

It is highly unlikely that these three irritants (and of course there are more) will disappear during Obama's remaining term. Russia, therefore, has no choice but to dig in and wait for 2016, while developing closer economic and security ties to its east and south-east. Cheng Guoping, China's deputy minister of foreign affairs, recently stated to the effect that "the matter of missile defense has to do with global strategic balance, and China and Russia have similar views on it."  Some food for thought for US strategy planners right there.

To add at least an ounce of optimism one should mention that top American, Russian, and European negotiators have agreed to talk at a security conference in Moscow on 23-24 May. US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, leading European security officials and the heads of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization and NATO are expected to attend. We can only wish them good luck.

Mark Sleboda
Senior Lecturer and Researcher
Department of International Relations and Centre for Conservative Studies
Sociology Faculty
Moscow State University

Both the US and the Russian government have openly and categorically denied that the Obama regime’s announced minor deployment changes to the fourth phase of their planned Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) systems from Eastern Europe to the Asia Pacific have anything to do with US-Russian relations. They also insist that those changes have nothing to do with the supposed "flexibility” on missile defense that Obama, speaking in private to Medvedev last year, may or may not have hinted was possible.

"The missile defense decisions Secretary Hagel announced were in no way about Russia,” George Little, a Pentagon spokesman said in Washington. The cited reasons for the planned changes were redeployment of some more advanced interceptors to Alaska to counter a supposedly more recently belligerent North Korea as well as "technological difficulties and budget considerations”.

Meanwhile in Russia, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was more blunt. "That is not a concession to Russia, nor do we regard it as such. All aspects of strategic uncertainty related to the creation of a US and NATO missile defense system remain. Therefore, our objections also remain.”

So why have journalists and commentators in the West, and even some in Russia, continued to blow this out of proportion and consistently misrepresent it as something it is not, thereby ignoring pronouncements from the two governments involved? Because they desperately want it to be a US concession to Russia, despite all factual evidence to the contrary.

In the US, the bizarre arcane rituals of petty domestic partisan politics have Republican critics frothing at the mouth over the opportunity to paint Obama as "weak” on "Putin’s Russia” and defense in general.

Meanwhile, naïve holdouts on either side hang on to the fading possibility of "détente” between Russia and the US, in stubborn denial of geopolitical, security, and ideological realities. 

Even more far-fetched are Russian proponents of Medvedev’s pie-in-the-sky fantasies of a new "Joint European Security Architecture” stretching from "Lisbon to Vladivostok”, which would see Russia lovingly embraced into the bosom folds of a "Greater Europe”. No one in the West is even remotely interested in such a prospect, and its mere suggestion must be a continual source of ribald behind-the-back jokes and hilarity.

The Americans continue to disingenuously insist that their backstabbing unilateral withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2003 and their mounting BMD are directed not at Russia’s or China’s strategic deterrent but at non-existent bogey-man threats from Iran – which does not even have a nuclear weapons program, much less a nuclear weapon. And then there are their hysterical cries about the negligible threat from the backward North Korea. 

Russian and Chinese leaders are not anyone’s fool, however. Recently they reaffirmed that they will coordinate their reactions to US plans to boost their countries’ missile defense in the Asia-Pacific region. The Chinese Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Cheng Guoping said, "The matter of missile defense has to do with global strategic balance, and China and Russia have similar views on it. Russia and the People’s Republic of China have been cooperating on the matter for years, and we will only be strengthening collaboration in this direction.” Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev has concurred: "We are concerned about the US plans to build a global missile defense system, including in the Asia-Pacific region. Our Chinese partners share our concerns and we have agreed to coordinate our actions in that respect.”

Both Russia’s and China’s increasing security concerns over American plans are very real and justified, especially in light of Washington’s unbridled penchant for illegal and aggressive wars, occupations, and covert actions over the last two decades. The United State’s BMD plans present several overlapping security threats to Russia.

First, while it is very true that the US’s very trouble-prone BMD defense systems currently present no threat to Russian and Chinese strategic deterrents, the key caveat here is "currently”. The plans call for a "Phased Adaptive Approach”, which is meant to evolve and upgrade over time. While this is currently sketched out for only four phases, it will undoubtedly continue to evolve far into the future. The real concern is about what this may become – and indeed what it is intended to become – in the medium term and about the new arms race and cold war that will ensue and threaten the future global strategic balance. The ultimate logic of such a system is to provide for Nuclear Primacy, which would allow "first strike capability” with acceptable losses and an end of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), the nightmarish scenario immortalized in the classic Kubrick film Dr. Strangelove or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb.

Second, there is a more conventional strategic military threat. The BMD plans establish a permanent US military presence and bases in Eastern Europe, right on Russia’s very doorstep. This would continue to tighten the NATO noose of containment of Russia, despite a supposed end to the Cold War and hostilities. Certainly the permanent deployment of the US military to Poland is the reason why the Polish government was so very enthusiastic to be part of the BMD system. They, at least, have been very open and direct about the fact that Washington’s plans were never about Iran and always about the permanent deployment of US troops on Polish soil to counter the alleged threat from Russia. The lack of any Polish criticism of the Obama regime’s revamped BMD plans only highlights this. The Poles already have what they want. Furthermore, the BMD plans involve the deployment of new and powerful radar screens in Romania and Turkey, which would provide total coverage of the western and southern Russian theater up to the Urals.

Third, the security threat that the American plans present to both Russia and China is part of US long-term plans for the military domination of space. The current public and journalistic debate on BMD never includes this aspect and is therefore extremely short-sighted.
BMD is about far more than just nuclear missiles or even US military bases in Eastern Europe. It is about the development of the technology and operational deployment necessary for the US to militarily dominate space. As the BMD systems evolve and upgrade they will provide the ability to shoot down any anti-satellite weapon and to deny the use of space to adversaries like Russia and China by acting as anti-satellite weapons themselves. It will be far easier for these systems to shoot down satellites in space than intercept ballistic missiles. Thus BMD "defense” in effect becomes a powerful weapon of control, extending US military hegemony into space.

Therefore any perceived or even real concessions that may be granted by the US on BMD are completely irrelevant in the bigger geo-strategic picture. With BMD defense, the US, in contravention of international treaties prohibiting the militarization of space, is forging resolutely ahead with the technological development, technical capacity and operational deployment that will be necessary for it to take control of this new battleground of the 21st century. The Russian and Chinese governments know this, which is why they will and must continue to be staunchly opposed to and seek to counter US plans. Their security and independence, as well as the security of the whole world, depend on it. 

Ekaterina Blinova
Fellow of the American University in Moscow
Nizhniy Novgorod

The US missile defense project in Europe has become one of the most serious obstacles in Russia-US relations. The deployment in 2012 of the program’s first stage fuelled significant tension between the two countries. At a conference in Moscow on 3 May 2012 devoted to missile defense, Russian military specialists strongly criticized the American approach to the problem and pointed to several apparent discrepancies in the BMD project. They singled out the following issues:
  • European missile defense is portrayed as a shield against the missile threat from Iran, but Iran does not yet possess a weapon of that kind.
  • Even if Iran develops an intercontinental ballistic missile in order to hit targets on the territory of the US, its flight trajectory over Scandinavia and adjoining waters will take place at an altitude of more than 1,000 kilometers, which rules out the possibility of its being intercepted by an SM-3 missile. 
  • The components of BMD installed in the Baltic, Norwegian and Barents seas may threaten the potential of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces. 
The recent changes in the BMD program announced by US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will postpone the most contentious "fourth stage” of the BMD in Poland and Romania. According to Reuters Russia signaled on 21 March that the change in the US plans could help the two sides make progress towards resolving the dispute. Indeed, Russia's point man in relations with Washington, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, conceded that the planned changes brought a new element to the issue. Nonetheless he claimed that Moscow still had concerns that US missile defenses could threaten its security. In particular, Moscow has yet to receive "legal guarantees” that the BMD will not be used against Russia. "There is no unequivocal answer yet to the question of what consequences all this can have for our security," Ryabkov commented.

Thus, it can be concluded that the announced changes do not signify a scaling down of Washington’s BMD global shield but rather its reconfiguration and expansion.

The American journalist, editor, and political activist Clifford D. May writes: "Chuck Hagel deserves praise – four words I did not expect to be writing – for announcing an expansion of the US missile-defense system” ("The Return of Missile Defense”). Fourteen additional ground-based long-range missile interceptors are to be installed in Alaska by 2017 at a cost of $1 billion. Their purpose: to destroy intercontinental ballistic missiles before those ICBMs can reach their intended victims. Combined with interceptors in California, this will bring the total number of West Coast interceptors to 44.

The concept of the American "defense umbrella” has got its "second wind”. American activists and organizations, especially The Heritage Foundation, have vociferously opposed the cuts in expenditure on the BMD comprehensive system and it seems they have scored a major victory. "The Heritage Foundation has produced a slick documentary on the missile threat and the need to counter it. Quite a few scholars and pundits have also beaten this drum. All these efforts have produced some results: the budget cuts were not as deep as they might have been,” concluded Clifford D. May. 

What does that mean for Russia and Europe? First of all, the US will not stop the development of the comprehensive BMD project: its details can be modified but the military lobby, aided by NGOs and activists, will continue to push for its expansion. Europe is considered to be a useful platform for the implementation of BMD, along with the realization of other US military interests. At the same time, the BMD project perpetuates the current gulf between Russia and Western Europe (Washington does not desire a close alliance between Russia and Europe). The US, Russia and Europe still need to sort out numerous issues in their mutual relations, and the BMD program in Europe is certainly one of the most urgent. 
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