May 12, 2012

The Significance of Russia’s Threats on Missile Defense

May 11, 2012 | From 
One of the touchiest subjects in the U.S.-Russia relationship just got touchier. 
As Vladimir Putin returns to the Kremlin, exuding more swagger than ever before, it’s becoming clearer that Russia has shifted into a new, higher gear in its quest to rebuild the old Soviet power bloc.
In an especially bold statement just days before Putin’s rule became official once again, Russia’s top soldier said that if Washington forges ahead with plans to build missile defense facilities in Eastern Europe, Russia will destroy the posts with a preemptive strike.
Last year, then President Dmitry Medvedev said Russia would retaliate militarily if the U.S. fails to reach an agreement with Moscow on the missile defense system. But Chief of General Staff Nikolai Makarov ratcheted the rhetoric up to a new level in his May 3 statement, saying “if the situation worsens,” the Russian military will “use destructive force preemptively.” Makarov said that if Moscow and Washington fail to reach an agreement, Russia will “be forced to take military and technological measures” to protect itself. Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov warned that such a time is drawing near, saying talks between Moscow and Washington regarding the shield are “close to a dead end.”

Moscow’s threats are not empty bluster. Russia is exceedingly powerful militarily, and its recent threats were timed to coincide with the commissioning of a new military facility in Kaliningrad, its westernmost enclave, near the Polish border. This facility will be capable of monitoring missile launches from Europe and the North Atlantic, and will become capable of offensive measures. U.S. Sen. John McCain lambasted Russia’splans in Kaliningrad, saying the use of missile defense “as an excuse to have a military buildup in this part of the world, which is at peace, is really an egregious example of what might be even viewed as paranoia on the part of Vladimir Putin.”
Sore Spot in U.S.-Russia Relations
For many years, the subject of U.S. missile defense plans in Europe has been one of the touchiest in U.S.-Russian relations. The U.S. and nato say the missile defense system is intended only to counter Iran’s missile threat. But Moscow rejects this claim, saying the shield could undermine Russia’s nuclear deterrent. The Kremlin has proposed running the missile shield jointly with nato, but the alliance has rejected that offer.
Originally, Washington and nato had planned to build a beefier version of the missile defense system. But, in order to appease the Russians, President Obama abandoned that proposed system, and substituted it with the current, less threatening plans. Critics said the substitution meant the Obama administration had effectively given Moscow veto power over U.S. defenses. But the concession wasn’t enough for Moscow.
Russia has been displeased with the speed of progress on the revised missile defense system. This displeasure led to Obama’s infamous open microphone gaffe in March, when he told Medvedev it would be wise to save the talks about the missile defense system until after U.S. elections, when President Obama would have “more flexibility.” But President Obama’s attempts at greasing Russia’s cogs were not enough to satisfy the Russians, as evidenced by the county’s top general threatening the preemptive strike. In a May 10 reinforcement of Russia’s stance on the matter, President Putin told Washington that he was too busy to come to the United States for next week’s G-8 summit at Camp David.
Under Russian pressure, Washington has folded like an origami crane, but it has not been enough to appease Moscow.
Western Response
Although the May 3 statements do not threaten immediate action, they heap extra pressure on Washington to further capitulate to Moscow’s demands. The U.S.’s military weariness is more evident with each passing month, and Russia’s belligerence gives Washington yet another reason to slide out of Eastern Europe.
In one indication of America’s fatigue, U.S. State Department special envoy Ellen Tauscher responded to the threat saying neither the U.S. nor Russia can afford another arms race: “Your 10-foot fence cannot cause me to build an 11-foot ladder,” Tauscher said.
So, who is willing to build that ladder—to provide security to Eastern Europe—if Washington won’t? The mantle of responsibility will ultimately be passed to Germany. Germany is the perfect candidate, because it is both powerful enough to provide protection and also on increasingly amicable terms with Russia.
European states are already aware of the fading relevance of Washington and nato in the region and are taking measures to replace them. Ireland recently joined the Scandinavian and Baltic states to form the Nordic Battlegroup. Meanwhile, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia formed the Visegrad Group. Stratfor said both of these military alliances are “responses to a militarily powerful Russia lying to the east” (“nato’s Ordinary Future,” May 9). They are just as much a response to the U.S.’s eroding military willpower.
European nations can plainly see that the U.S. is now a bankrupt nation with a shattered will. If the Visegrad countries and the Nordic Battlegroup nations have picked up on America’s fading capability, and have taken drastic measures to compensate for it, surely Germany will soon follow suit. And European calls for Germany to rearm and assert its power are becoming louder all the time.
As Russia’s desire to rebuild its former Soviet glory intensifies, so does its saber rattling and its actual military capabilities. Trumpet editor in chiefGerald Flurry has said that Russia’s resurgence is significant mostly because it will prod Europe to unify more quickly. Mr. Flurry said Russia’s “power will be able to challenge Europe when nobody else can,” and added that Russia’s rise “strikes intense fear in Europe.” The recent threat from Russia’s top military officer gives the beleaguered U.S. an excuse to wash its hands of the missile defense project and to entrust Eastern Europe’s protection to Germany. Moscow’s expanding military might and intensifying threats will hasten America’s egress from the region, and Russia’s European neighbors will take note and consolidate their power with Berlin at the helm.

No comments: