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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Exposing the Insanity of Russia's So-Called Defense Policy

Writing in the Moscow Times Alexander Golts, deputy editor of the online newspaper Yezhednevny Zhurnal, exposes the fundamental lunacy that characterizes Russia's defense policy:

As Carl von Clausewitz said: "War is simply the continuation of politics using different means." Russia's current military strategy is becoming a continuation of its cheap policies and public relations.

The U.S. Defense Department director of anti-missile defense, Lieutenant-General Henry Obering, is traveling from one European country to another to argue that the elements of the U.S. anti-ballistic missile system planned for Poland and the Czech Republic are aimed at defending the continent from Iranian and North Korean missiles. The question Obering hasn't answered is why deploy a system that field tests have shown to be less than effective. It has not yet been proven that it is possible to destroy warheads on their path through space. So the White House looks ready to spend billions of dollars on a system unlikely to defend U.S. territory from enemy rockets. And, unlike most other proposals coming from the White House, this one has met with no domestic opposition. The European countries willing to take the systems are demonstrating their desire to follow in Washington's wake.

Russia insists the United States is "undermining strategic stability." When President Vladimir Putin said in his Munich speech last month that Russia must preserve its ability to strike at U.S. military forces, it was the first reference to the concept of mutually assured destruction since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since then, Russian generals have been falling over one another to issue threats against the United States and its allies. And talk of a "miracle warhead" capable of overcoming any anti-missile defense system adds to the possibility of Russia backing out of international agreements limiting short- and medium-range ballistic missiles. It also raises the specter of an Air Force strike against the installations in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Obering never tires of repeating that Moscow's reaction is the result of a misunderstanding that can be resolved through the usual consultations and giving Russian military experts the proper information. Even Moscow is convinced the installations are incapable of taking out Russian rockets and that 10 anti-missile batteries could never intercept thousands of Russian missiles.

Russia knows perfectly well that the batteries are no threat to its nuclear forces. The system is a symbol of Russia's loss of status. In 2002, Moscow viewed Washington's decision to pull out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with deep regret. This was not because Russia perceived a serious threat to its security, but because it saw this as an attempt to strip Russia of its status as set by the treaty -- the status of a country that could destroy the world's mightiest superpower.

From the moment the United States unilaterally abrogated the ABM Treaty, maintaining a strategic military balance became a priority for this government and an obsession for Putin. The field of nuclear weapons is the only one in which Russia has preserved its parity with the United States. There should be ongoing negotiations between Russia and the United States regarding both sides' nuclear forces, but the United States refuses to conduct them. The decades-long tradition of such talks in the past has served as proof of Moscow's nuclear parity with Washington. And the fact that the United States now rejects such talks is taken as a terrible insult to the Kremlin. This is why the Moscow leadership gets so worked up over talk of U.S. anti-ballistic missile batteries and different possible responses. Soon, the Americans will get scared and again want to return to arms negotiations.

Only according to such logic can we explain Russia's hints about backing out of the treaty limiting short- and medium-range ballistic missiles. Russian leaders are constantly complaining about the expansion of NATO and its encroachment on Russia's borders. But if they seriously consider NATO to be a military threat, then backing out of the above-mentioned treaty would be madness. It would effectively place all of Russia in the sights of U.S. missiles. If nobody really believes in such a threat, then hints about rejecting the treaty could prove an excellent opportunity to bring the United States back into the coveted arms talks, and thereby raise Russia's status.

In this way, the U.S. anti-missile battery and the "asymmetrical response" that Putin threatened would bear at least an indirect relationship to the issue of providing mutual security. Whatever the case, they bear a direct relationship to the shoddy policies of both the White House and the Kremlin.

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