Americas Missile Defence Intentions

Author: Vlad Sobell
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Americas Missile Defence Intentions
Published 14-08-2012, 06:26

Vlad Sobell

New York University, Prague

The most interesting thing about America’s Missile Defense (MD) intentions is why the US is apparently bent on going ahead with developing the system, some what may. The official explanation – the potential threat from Iran or North Korea – surely belongs to the realm of fairy tales: if one day Iran were able to develop nuclear missiles that could reach Europe or Israel, the US (and its allies) would destroy the capability to build such missiles before they saw the light of day. As regards North Korea, it menaces its immediate neighbors primarily through its oversized conventional forces, which could inflict swift and heavy damage on Seoul. While certainly strengthening the regime’s hand, its nuclear program does not materially alter this long-standing state of affairs. And North Korea is, in any case, kept in check by China’s ability to bring down the regime at any time it sees fit. So that leaves the US’s desire to discomfort Putin’s Russia as the only plausible explanation for pursuing MD. 

The Cold War, of course, did not end in 1991 with the demise of the Soviet Union.  The stand-off between NATO and Russia continues – as evidenced by the armed conflict between a Western ally (Georgia) and Russia in August 2008. However, unlike the Soviet era, the current phase of the War is not about the rollback of Communism; it is about establishing who is the "top dog” on the strategically crucial Eurasian continent. Washington cannot compromise because by doing so it would be vacating the arena, implicitly giving a green light to what it regards as Russia’s "neo-imperialism”.

The talk about "legal guarantees” is another piece of fantasy. Having been burned by American "guarantees” in the last decade, Putin will not trust the West again.  And he would be right not to do so.  As the saying goes, such guarantees would not be worth the paper on which they were written.

With regard to the suggestion that both sides co-operate and develop a MD system jointly, I am quite sceptical. This would necessitate a high level of trust and/or a close long-standing alliance against a very credible common enemy (it is unlikely that China will be so foolish as to be pushed into playing such a role). Washington would be unable to establish such a close alliance even with its European allies, let alone the "autocratic” Russia. And the latter, as noted above, is no longer disposed to trust the West.  So the War will go on indefinitely.

However, looking on the bright side, the risks are not as severe as they were during the Soviet era. Russia is not the same as the ideology-possessed USSR, and US hardliners will be restrained by "Old Europe”. Indeed, today’s tensions can be seen, above all, as an ongoing test of the respective strengths of the two sides, one that is arguably needed to calibrate safely the global balance of power. Nonetheless, Washington would be wise to refrain from risky brinkmanship. Its failure to restrain the Georgian hotheads in 2008 shows that situations, particularly in such trouble spots as the North Caucasus, can get dangerously out of control.

Russia: Other Points of View


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