A NEW 'COLD WAR' IN THE OFFING?
In a build-up of long simmering tensions, which have suddenly emerged in the open, Russian Defence Ministry officials announced that both Poland and the Czech Republic could be targeted by Russian Intermediate range ballistic missiles, if the two countries, which are both NATO allies and close to the current American administration, chose to allow the USA to base elements of its missile defence system in them. According to the Financial Times, General Nikolai Solovtsov, the c-in-c of all Russian strategic missile forces, declared that a positive decision by Warsaw and Prague to the American request, would inevitably mean that Russian: "strategic missile troops will be able to target those facilities" (see: www.ft.com). This warning followed up those made last week by both Russian President Putin, and, Russian army chief, General Yuri Baluyevsky, with the latter declaring that in response, Russia might withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces treaty. Russian withdrawal, would potentially allow Moskva to build-up its European theatre missile force, in order to attempt in theory to overwhelm the putative American missile defence system (see: www.en.rian.ru). As per General Baluyevsky:
"It is not difficult for us to restart the production of the medium- and short range missiles because we have preserved all technologies....It could be done quickly if the need arises" (see: www.en.rian.ru).
However Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, perhaps by far the most capable of the foreign ministers among the G-8 countries, today played down the prospects of both a unilateral Russian withdrawal from the treaty, as well as a prospect for a new cold war. According to Lavrov in Moskva:
"the current developments in the world do not point at a new variant of the cold war....In essence, we are facing a choice between the arms race and finding solutions for the problems that we have inherited from the past....A strong and confident Russia has become a positive factor on the global arena. This reality has taken many people in the West by surprise and for some it is an unpleasant surprise, although we are simply defending our interests as other people do" (see: www.russianprofile.org).
Lavrov has put the matter squarely: "defending our interests as other people do". Per se, legally speaking a Russian withdrawal from the 1987 treaty, will be no more illegal than the American decision to withdraw from the ABM treaty of 1972, a few years back. Sans said withdrawal, by the bye, the proposed American anti-missile deployments in Poland and the Czech Republic would not be legally possible. Hence,any Russian decision to scrap the treaty, and embark on a intermediate range missile build-up, has to be judge on the following criterion: will Moskva benefit from such a withdraw and military build-up or not? What is the purpose of such a threat, and, to who or whom are such threats being made to? Let us be clear: the Russian threats are not of the Khrushchev variety, circa 1956 and 1958: to 'bury' London and Paris under Russian missiles unless both countries towed the Soviet line at one particular point or other. Instead, it would appear to this observer, that the real purpose of the Russian statements, and, Lavrov's pouring cold water on them, to a degree, are attempts to influence, European, especially, or perhaps one should say, most especially West European, and in particular Deutsche opinion. It is useful to remember that the greatest beneficiary of the 1987 treaty was not Moskva or Washington, but Bonn. It was the Federal Republic, which was the clearly most uncomfortable with the Cruise missile deployments of the mid-1980's, and, which was the happiest about the treaty ending or forstalling them. Indeed, as if on cue, Deutsche Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, stated today that:
"Because the sites for the stationing are quite near Russia, one should have talked about it with Russia beforehand" (see: www.ft.com).
A truism if there ever was one. Most especially from the Deutsche perspective. And, no doubt to quiet such German concerns, and, hopefully (but no doubt only secondarily) to try to better 'explain' the American position on the deployment, American National Security Adviser, Stephen Hadley will visit Moskva next week, at the latter's invitation, after going for talks in Berlin (see: www.en.rian.ru). Whether or not Hadley can smooth things over is a truly open question. While he will issue soothing mots for both the Germans, as well as the Russians, it is highly unlikely that he will make any concrete concessions (if such are in fact possible) to make the proposed deployment less threatening to Moskva. And, in fact to be quite clear about the matter, it is Moskva who in this particular game, has much to worry about. As the American online journal Stratfor.com, argues in their analysis:
"From the Russia's perspective, the establishment of the new BMD [ballistic missile defenc] system in Europe would represent the worst of all possible worlds. Its very existence not only would spotlight Moscow's declining diplomatic prowess, but also would testify to Russia's marginalization in the International system" (see: "The INF Treaty: Implications of Russian Withdrawal", www.stratfor.com).
Consequently, it beehoves the American administration, to summon up, and employ all of its (very limited indeed) diplomatic prowess in a serious attempt to calm Russian concerns. Indeed, it could be argued that the American deployment, is more of a diplomatic and strategic own goal, than anything else. Rather than providing greater 'security' for itself (and very secondarily its allies), the American move will simply have the end result of Russia rushing out to re-introduce a whole range of intermediate range weapons in order to render the missile defence shield worthless. As Stratfor argues:
"Though a direct arms race with the USA remains out of the question, a lopsided race in which the Russians focus on IRBM [intermediate range ballistic missiles] could change the game entirely. A barrage of several dozen IRBM easily could overwhelm a small squadron of BMD interceptors based in Europe--as well as any system that the United States conceivably might field in the next 20 years".
Whether or not Washington has the good sense (not something which most American administrations, especially the current ever have much in plenitude), to realize that to alienate Moskva is not a worthwhile exercise is something that remains unknowable at this time. My own surmise is that a true answer is not possible for the present, so I will respond: peut-etre.