Ever since the dawn of arms control negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union, the issue of antimissile defense systems has featured prominently. In the SALT I Treaty the Russians were allowed to deploy a system around Moscow, the Americans were prohibited from the blowing in the system. The logic behind the limitation was to make the balance of terror stable because if one side possessed an effective antimissile system, it could contemplate a nuclear strike on its opponent in the expectation that it would remain relatively unscathed in the event of a counterstrike.
Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative popularly known as Star Wars abandoned this premise in the belief that the American government had to do everything to protect its citizens. It therefore envisioned a defense system in space. The Reagan administration did not consider this to be a violation of the Seoul Treaty.
The issue resurfaced under George W. Bush who claimed that the United States needed an effective antimissile system, not against the Russians, but against countries such as North Korea who had developed a nuclear capability as well as missile technology capable of reaching targets in the United States. The Russians were afraid that a system designed against rogue states could be employed to limit the effectiveness of their missiles. Bush compounded the Russian sense of unease by planning to deploy the system in Eastern Europe.
When the Obama administration came to power, one of its objectives was to “reset” American Russian relations and it quietly scrapped the Eastern European deployment. Obama also signed the START treaty with the Russians which gave Russia the feeling that it was again on a footing of equality with the United States.
It appeared that the climate had improved and Vladimir Voronkov, head of the Russian Foreign Ministry European Cooperation Department, spoke a week and a half ago of a “profound thaw” that had occurred in NATO-Russian relations. “NATO has reached the limits of expansion,” he said and therefore he expressed the hope that NATO would regard Russia as a strategic partner rather than as an adversary.
For his part, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen expressed a hope for increased cooperation in Afghanistan that went beyond Russia’s facilitating a transit route across Russia.
However, the tone was less optimistic this week and again it was the issue of the anti-missile system that was the irritant. Although the Obama administration has emphasized its differences with the Bush administration, it cannot ignore the fact that North Korea may soon be joined by Iran and therefore it requires an antimissile defense system to deal with the threats.
Russia still feels vulnerable and its sense of vulnerability may have been intensified as a result of a Wikileaks documents, where NATO officers expressed their disparagement of the Russian Armed Forces and their “aging and obsolete equipment” coupled with a manpower shortage.
The Russians have again raised the issue of missile defense and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said that if an agreement is not reached, Russia would have to deploy new offensive weapons to restore its deterrence. Another Russian spokesperson claimed that if Russia’s demand for a “joint system” would not be agreed to, Russia could even withdraw from the START treaty that was emblematic of the new reset.
Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, told an American audience “We want to be reassured that whatever you do there doesn’t undermine the stability of deterrence, because deterrence is still with us,”
Russia wants a joint system where it would be in charge of intercepting missiles crossing its territory to Europe while NATO would reciprocate for missiles headed across its territory towards Russia. Just as Russia is unwilling to give up deterrence, the Americans are unwilling to have Russia responsible for defending their European allies. NATO is willing to have 2 separate systems, one NATO and the other Russian, with a high degree of coordination between them.
Some believe that this is a Russian bargaining tactic. Noted Russian defense analyst, Alexander Goltz, told the Washington Times that the Russian fallback position is probably in an agreement by the United States not to deploy ship-based missile interceptors in the Arctic region.
Support for Goltz’ view came from Russia’s ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, who has just been appointed Russia’s special representative in missile defense talks. Rogozin made the following comment: “Either Russia should be inside this system and have real guarantees that it won’t be directed against Russia, or, if this system is fully controlled by NATO and Russia is not integrated into it, then it should have certain numerical, technical and geographic restrictions. In short, we should either be inside or be sure that this system will never be used against our national interests.”
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