The current brouhaha over a U.S. plan to deploy
anti-ballistic missiles (ABM) in Poland has nothing to do with a fear that Iran
will attack Europe or the U.S. with nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic
missiles (ICBM). It has a great deal to do with the Bush administration's efforts
to neutralize Russia's and China's nuclear deterrents and edge both countries
out of Central Asia.
The plan calls for deploying 10 ABMs in Poland and a radar system in the Czech
Republic, supposedly to interdict missiles from "rogue states" – read North
Korean and Iran.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Security John Rood claims
"North Korea possesses an ICBM-range missile" and that it is "certainly possible"
that Pyongyang could sell some to Iran. Barring that, Tehran could build its
own missile capable of striking Europe and the United States.
But the North Korean Taepodong-2, which failed a recent test, is not a true
ICBM – in a pinch it might reach Alaska. And Iran pledged in 2003 not to upgrade
its intermediate missile, the Shahab-3.
"Since there aren't, and won't be, any ICBMs [from North Korea and Iran], then
against whom, against whom, is this system directed?" First Deputy Prime Minister
Sergei Ivanov asked last month. "Only against us."
The chief of the Russian General Staff added, "The real goal [of the U.S. deployment]
is to protect [the U.S.] from Russian and Chinese nuclear-missile potential
and to create exclusive conditions for the invulnerability of the United States."
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice responded
that "The idea that somehow 10 interceptors and a few radars in Eastern Europe
are going to threaten the Soviet [sic] strategic return is purely ludicrous,
and everybody knows it."
But once you start adding up a number of other things, it isn't just 10 missiles
and a radar site. There is already a similar site in Norway, and the plan is
to put similar systems in Georgia and Azerbaijan. Britain is considering deploying
ABM missiles at Fylingdales, which even the U.S. admits would pose a threat
to Russian missiles.
"If the [Russians] are concerned about the U.S. targeting their intercontinental
ballistic missiles, I think that would be problematic from the UK because I
believe we probably could catch them from a UK launch site," says U.S. Lt. Gen.
Trey Obering, head of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency.
An editorial in the Guardian called the Fylingdales plan "the far side of folly."
The Russians are also suspicious that the Polish missiles are the camel's nose
under the tent.
Poland has made it clear that it doesn't feel threatened by Iran. For Warsaw,
this is all about its traditional enemy to the East, Russia. Besides the ABM
missiles, Poland is pressing Washington for Patriot missiles and high-altitude
THAAD missiles, plus it is purchasing American F-16s. In response, the Russians
have moved surface-to-air missiles into Belarus.
"It would be naïve to think that Washington would limit its appetite to
Poland or the Czech Republic, or to the modest potential that it is now talking
about," writes Viktor Litovkin of Russia's Independent Military Review.
All these systems will be tied into ABM systems in Alaska and California, plus
similar planned systems in Japan, Australia, and the Philippines (not to mention
sea-borne ABM systems in the Pacific, the Indian Ocean, and the Mediterranean).
Keep in mind that the Russians and the Chinese are already at loggerheads with
the Bush administration over its unilateral withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic
Total all those things up and toss in the recent decision by the Bush administration
to start designing another generation of nuclear warheads, and it is no wonder
the Russians have turned cranky.
The European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) have
– with reservations – gone along with the plan, in part because the EU would
like to squeeze Russian control over gas and oil pipelines coming out of Central
According to K.M. Bhadrakumar, the former Indian ambassador to Uzbekistan and
Turkey, the United States has financed a pipeline that runs natural gas from
Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan through Turkey, Austria, Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary.
The pipeline will be "a rival to Russian Gazprom's Blue Stream-2," scheduled
to open in 2012.
"Moscow is well aware that Washington is the driving spirit behind the EU's
energy policy toward Central Asia," Bhadrakumar writes
in the Asia Times, arguing that the U.S. "calculates that Moscow will
be inexorably drawn into a standoff with the EU over the latter's increasingly
proactive polices in Eurasia."
While Rice may suggest that "everyone" thinks Russian paranoia is "ludicrous,"
in fact the EU is split over the missiles and unhappy that Washington bypassed
NATO to make bilateral agreements with both countries.
Neither the right-wing Polish government nor the center-right Czech governments
dare put the issue up for a referendum. Sentiment in the Czech Republic is running
60-40 against the radar, and there is strong opposition to the missiles in Poland.
The German Social Democrats (SPD), junior partners in the current coalition
of Chancellor Angela Merkel, also oppose it. "We do not need new rockets in
Europe," says SPD chair Kurt Beck. "The SPD doesn't want a new arms race between the
U.S. and Russia on European soil. We have enough problems in the world."
French President Jacques Chirac also warned, "We should be very careful about
encouraging the creation of a new dividing lines in Europe or a return to the
The Russians have threatened to withdraw from the European Conventional Forces
Treaty and have even hinted they might reconsider their participation in the
1987 Intermediate Ballistic Missile Treaty. Russia is also making plans to quadruple
its production of new ballistic missiles and add to its nuclear submarine fleet.
Stockholm International Peace Research Institute researcher Shannon Kile says the Russians view the deployment "as a violation of the original NATO enlargement
agreement," where the U.S. pledged it would not permanently deploy or station
"military assets on the territories of former Warsaw pact countries."
Last month, the White House urged admitting Albania, Croatia, Georgia, Macedonia,
and Ukraine to NATO.
Implicit in Rice's "ludicrous" comment is that an ABM system would be incapable
of stopping a full-scale nuclear attack by a major nuclear power, and not a
few critics point out that the system has a dismal track record. Kile characterized
the proposed ABM as "a system that won't work to fight a threat that does not
But it doesn't have to work very well. ABM systems have a dark secret: They
are not supposed to stop all-out missile attacks, just mop up the few retaliatory
enemy missiles that manage to survive a first strike. First strikes – called
"counterpoint" attacks in bloodless vocabulary of nuclear war – are a central
component in U.S. nuclear doctrine.
Last week the Democrats blocked funds for the European ABM system. Robert Wexler
(D-Fla.), chair of the House subcommittee on Europe, said, "Europeans also question
why – if this program is really intended to protect Europe – did the administration
choose to bilaterally negotiate with Poland and the Czech Republic rather than
collectively decide this issue in NATO?"
But whether the Democrats will stand up to the White House is anyone's guess.
If you are sitting in Moscow or Beijing and adding up the ABMs, the new warheads,
and the growing ring of bases on your borders, you have little choice but to
react. Imagine the U.S. response if the Russians and the Chinese were to deploy
similar systems in Canada, Mexico, and Cuba.
A nuclear arms race, an increase of tension in Europe, and the launching of
a new Cold War: that is what is at stake in the European missile crisis.
Reprinted courtesy of Foreign Policy in Focus.