US and Russia: heading for another ‘Cuban missile crisis?’

Posted: October 15, 2011 in Uncategorized

by Robert Bridge on RT

Of the many inexplicable moves made by the Bush administration in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the one that is the most difficult to comprehend is the abrogation of the ABM Treaty.

Signed in 1972, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty kept the peace between the world’s two largest nuclear powers for 30 years until the US unilaterally withdrew from it in June 2002. On December 13, 2001, George W. Bush informed then-Russian President Vladimir Putin that Washington was walking away from the treaty.

The ABM Treaty worked on the ‘mutually assured destruction’ principle (MAD), which basically guaranteed the destruction of any side that was crazy enough to initiate a first-strike nuclear attack against another country. Apparently, however, some policy makers and politicians saw only limitations imposed on them by the ABM treaty, which limited missile defense projects.

As the Economist summarized: “The Bush administration does not like treaty-based constraints of any kind, and…this week it (also) pulled out of the 1972 Biological-Weapons Convention, the treaty that banned germ warfare.”

Welcome to the Brave New World of George W. Bush, the vestiges of which are stuck with us today, and despite so much hope that President Barack Obama would reverse course.

Ronald Reagan’s flirtation with Strategic Defense Initiative (better known as Star Wars) prompted Soviet leader Yuri Andropov to comment: “It is time they [Washington] stopped… searching for the best ways of unleashing nuclear war… Engaging in this is not just irresponsible. It is insane.”

Insane or not, US interest in the program, despite billions of dollars spent with no guarantee that the system will ever work, continues unabated.

In Sept. 2009, President Obama announced that the United States was “scrapping” the Bush missile defense project – complete with Patriot missile batteries in Poland and radar stations in the Czech Republic, just miles from the Russian border – replacing it with “new missile defense architecture in Europe.”

Whatever relief the Russians may have felt by Obama’s decision was quickly dispelled by several factors.

First, the “Obama Lite” missile defense plan is in no way inferior to the Bush plan, and quite possibly more lethal, at least as far as Russian security is concerned (Moscow has long argued that any missile defense project on its borders will be perceived as a threat to its national security, possibly compromising its nuclear deterrence).

“The technology has evolved in a way that allows you to deploy a system that is more effective in countering short, medium, and long-range missiles,” US Defense Secretary Robert Gates told a news conference in 2009. “It’s a more advanced system, more cost effective and efficient.”

Indeed, missile defense in Europe is just part of a broader missile shield involving defenses in California, Alaska and Japan, which the United States says are to defend against any long-range missile attack. No surprise that Russian specialists talk of being “surrounded” by this ever-expanding ring of steel. Imagine Washington’s reaction if Russia would initiate the construction of similar systems in Canada and South America!

Second, the United States and NATO, although arguing that the missile defense will protect Europe’s flank from a missile strike from some rogue state, usually mentioned as Iran, refuses to permit Russian specialists to assist in the development and operation of the system.

Third, although Iran is regularly cited as the reason for building missile defense in Eastern Europe, the Islamic Republic does not have the military capabilities to conduct such a strike even if it wanted to (why would Tehran conduct such a suicidal strike if it knew that retaliation would be imminent?). This was admitted by none other than the Obama administration as its reason for “scrapping” the Bush model.

Russia also opposes missile defense on those grounds, saying Iran is decades away from developing missile technology that could threaten Europe or North America.

While the United States may argue that it wants to protect its military technologies from falling into foreign hands, this does not explain why Washington refuses to draft legally binding guarantees that the system would never be used against Russia.

US President Barack Obama’s nominee for US ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, said Washington would never give Moscow legal guarantees.

“We’re definitely not going to use the word reassure in the way that we talk about these things,” McFaul said in an earlier interview with CBS. “We’re not going to reassure or give or trade anything with the Russians regarding NATO expansion or missile defense.”

That’s a very interesting form of diplomacy, isn’t it?

The problem with America and NATO’s reluctance to invite Russia on board the project is that without Russia’s full participation, Europe will get the exact opposite of what a missile defense project is aimed to do: promote peace in Europe! This is something the Europeans, especially in the eastern part of the continent, fail to comprehend at their own expense.

So now we have NATO and the United States, many years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, constructing a system that is designed to protect Europe from missiles the enemy does not have, while destroying the relationship it does have with Russia. Bravo!

As President Medvedev warned during the G8 Summit in France, if an agreement cannot be reached between the West and Russia over missile defense, then Europe will face the specter of an all-out arms race by 2020.

But since Prime Minister Vladimir Putin looks like the promising candidate in next year’s presidential race, things may get hotter in Europe than anybody in Brussels understands.

In 2007, then-President Vladimir Putin evoked one of the most dangerous showdowns of the Cold War to underscore Russian opposition to US missile defense system in Europe, comparing the threat to the Cuban missile crisis.

“Analogous actions by the Soviet Union, when it deployed missiles in Cuba, prompted the ‘Caribbean crisis,”‘ Putin said, using the Russian term for the Cuban Missile Crisis. “For Russia the situation is technologically very similar. We have withdrawn the remains of our bases from Vietnam, from Cuba, and have liquidated everything there, while at our borders, such threats against our country are being created.”

Better for European leaders to address the situation with Moscow now before Russia, which is no stranger to reluctant allies and backstabbing friends alike, finds other means of defending itself.

­Robert Bridge, RT

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