Missile Defense Deadlock: What Will It Lead To?

Moscow does not intend to propose any initiatives on missile defense, which the U.S. could interpret as concessions. This was stated by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, speaking on Ekho Moskvy radio station. He emphasized the negotiations on this subject proceed with difficulty, but they are not at an impasse. “A political decision is feasible, if there is a will to seek compromise,” – said the official. We cannot simply adopt the American position. This would amount to action in detriment of one’s own interests,” – added Ryabkov. Moscow believes that deployment of American missile defense system elements in close proximity to Russian borders is directed against this country’s strategic nuclear forces. Negotiations have stalled due to U.S. refusal to provide legal guarantees the deployed system does not target Russia’s deterrent force.

January 18 this year Russia and Nato approved the 2012 military cooperation plan during the Russian Chief of General Staff general Makarov’s visit to Brussels. So 2012 started with high level contacts and some progress. That’s a good sign. But talking about the visit’s results the general said NATO categorically refused to provide a written guarantee that its planned missile shield for Europe posed no threat to Russia. The same way they did during December 2011 Russia and Nato foreign ministers Brussels meeting. As Russian foreign minister S. Lavrov put it back then “Our friends in NATO categorically refuse to put on paper in legal form what they say verbally, namely that this missile defense project in Europe is not creating risks for Russia, is not directed against Russia.” November 23, 2011 Russian President Medvedev made a statement outlining the measures to counter the NATO (or the US in reality) missile defense in Europe. The Western “experts” rushed to say Russian position is aimed at Russian electors rather than NATO interlocutors. But real assessment presupposes going to the bottom of the problem.


Why this issue has become a stumbling block in Russia-USA, Russia-Nato relations? Neither Washington nor Brussels are able to produce any convincing evidence the missile shield is targeted solely at rogue states and not at Russian strategic nuclear forces. It is true the elements to be deployed in Spain, Romania and Turkey pose no threat to Russian potential today. But the plans envisage SM-3 class interceptors to be upgraded to intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBN) kill capability in 2020. In this case its Baltic sea, Arctic, Poland and Norway sea and ground deployments pose direct threat to Russian strategic arsenal. Supersonic and hypervelocity long range cruise high precision buster banker cruise missiles and Minotaur IV suborbital launch vehicle, X-37B space plane etc. – all these US programs in works are aimed at or are a component of first strike conventional capability to knock out the major part of Russian strategic nuclear potential leaving the missile defense to counter whatever is left to ensure no reciprocity. The national missile defense is in long term an attempt to bring to naught the Russian strategic nuclear potential, the basis of its national security. Actually that’s what behind the Russia’s apprehensions. Clear the Russian concern is not a bogey spook but a very much justified and substantiated position. It’s the achievement of complete security of the continental USA that is behind the unstoppable efforts by the US government to boost missile defense capability. This is a unique program exempt from military budget cuts even in rough times of economic stagnation and financial woes. Indeed, the mission is impossible to accomplish with today’s technologies, but still, the national missile defense concept is an important and comparatively tangible start. The first step of a long way. Henry Kissinger said “absolute security for one country means insecurity for all others”. But today the missile defense concept support is strong in the USA due to constant efforts of government, media and think tank populist propaganda. The attempts to make a deal on the part of Russia seem to be futile and doomed.


Actually dealing with the USA Russia faces two choices: to go on with fruitless efforts trying to come to accord or dot the i’s and cross the t’s defining the position so that the consequences would be clear to the other side. That’s exactly what Russian President did on November 23.

The measures outlined have not come off the cuff. It’s a long time they have been being elaborated. Today the warheads modernization efforts are already on the way for a long time, the mass production of new RS-24 Yars ICBNs has already been started. A new liquid fuel silo based ICBM with multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicle (MIRV) warhead is in works. A new radar of the fourth Voronezh class will be put into operation near the Siberian city of Irkutsk by the end of this year as part of Russia’s early warning system. Three other Voronezh class radars are already operating in Lekhtusi near St. Petersburg, in Armavir in the Black Sea area and in Pionersky near Kaliningrad. The Voronezh class radars are a serious breakthrough compared to the previous generation radars. For instance , the radar in Pionersky has a range of 6,000 km and can simultaneously track about 500 objects. Under the national defense program until 2020, the Defense Ministry is to replace all Soviet long-range radars and close all gaps in radar coverage on Russia’s borders. The work on the air borne A-60 laser system to kill US missile defense satellites is on the way. New Iskander mobile theater ballistic missile system is being adopted by Russian Armed Forces. Besides nuclear capability it has several different conventional warheads, including a cluster munitions warhead, a fuel – air explosive enhanced-blast warhead, an earth penetrator for bunker busting and an electro-magnetic pulse device for anti-radar missions. The missile is to be deployed in Kaliningrad in case European missile defense plans are in force. Russia is not affected by economic crisis to the extent the USA and its Nato allies are, so its military potential is to significantly increase as stated by the present Armed Forces rearmament program till 2020. As one can see the Russian President’s words have a solid basis, especially taking into account the plan is asymmetric allowing to counter the threat with much lesser resources the USA plans to spend on the national missile defense even in times of financial difficulties unseen in the country’s history.


The discrepancies of the US position are obvious. It has been stated many times no way Washington will let Iran come into possession of nuclear weapons. Then how great expenditure of wide scale missile defense program in Europe can by justified? To defend allies from a conventional threat? Or the USA doubts its air capability to stop Iran and, once the ground operation is hardly conceivable under the circumstances, they really prepare for countering the threat? That means the statements not to allow Iranian program come into fruition are empty words?

What about nuclear Pakistan that is no more a US ally? I understand there are things the US State Department officials cannot discuss openly, but still the questions pop up in a natural way when one gets introduced to the US position on missile defense and definition of potential threats.

Of course, the US concern about the global proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is understood. But is it not wiser to counter it together with Russia and by strengthening the non-proliferation regime (joining the Comprehensive Nuclear Tests Ban Treaty or Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty – the global treaties the USA not a member of) acting strictly along international law lines? This policy could bring positive results, but that’s exactly what the US policy since 2000 is a far cry from. Now the global disarmament process is in a deadlock, the proliferation is gaining momentum, the strategic relationship with Russia is at stalemate.

Is the cooperation with Moscow in facing new global challenges less important than some technical characteristics of future missile shield that could be easily be agreed on if there is a will? Is it so impossible to come up with a unilateral initiative to guarantee the missile defense capable systems will not be deployed in Northern Europe and the Arctic areas along the trajectory of Russian ICBNs, for a start? It is well known Russia is ready for cooperation with Nato in all spheres provided the it is based on the principle of equality.


Frankly, looking at the US pre-election campaign, I can hardly imagine the US president softening his position on the issue at least this year. That’s what Republicans, especially tea party ‘intellectuals” will use to their advantage saying turgid words with turbid meaning about “betrayal” of US interest. European Nato members see the missile shield as a program that unites the Alliance in the times its very existence is hard to justify with the “Soviet threat” gone, and the USA’s interests switching from Europe to Asia-Pacific (as the new military strategy announced on January 5 2012 by President Obama states). Besides joining in means getting access to cutting edge technology used in many sectors of economy. It’s a chance for new Alliance members to boost their political weight and challenge Russia.

The situation in the contemporary world clear shows the need for Russia – Nato , Russia-USA cooperation to fight weapons of mass destruction proliferation and international terrorism. But the USA and its Nato allies fail to stand up to new challenges together with Russia in favor of the program that weakens their own security.


The missile defense advocate say the missile defense meets vital interest of the USA and its allies. But what are these interests according to the Americans who played the most prominent roles in the history of Russia (the Soviet Union – USA arms control agenda). It was late US Defense Secretary Robert McNamara who forty years ago made a conclusion the missile defense concept was a destabilizing factor. His assessment was based on the works of Rand corporation, one of the most conservative US think tanks. He said a missile defense engenders an illusion of immunity from reciprocal action from an enemy’s weakened potential after the first strike was delivered. It makes the idea enticing for war mongers. At the same time missile defense instigated the other side’s efforts to counter the threat giving an impetus to arms race. He said doing one thing you provoke the other side’s response and the chain reaction follows. That was the missile defense is about. That’s what made the 1972 ABM Treaty between the Soviet Union and the USA a reality. Wish the US missile defense advocates knew the recent history of their own country better. The McNamara’s ideas match the Russian stance on missile defense today in many aspects. It goes to show the Russian stance has solid justification even from point of view of those who played pivotal role in shaping US nuclear strategy unlike that of the USA ignoring the lessons of its own not so distant past.


The missile defense saps funds from other defense programs in times of budget cuts. It evokes concern among other nuclear states, perhaps not Russia only. Russia has no choice but take appropriate measures to guarantee its security in future. One thing leads to another. It starts chain reaction of arms race. It brings us to stand off instead of uniting us in front of numerous global challenges. And it actually undermines the US security. Having refused Russia’s proposals like ‘sectoral defense” or a legally binding agreement, the USA and Nato have not come up with any proposal of their own. It’s all a matter of choice. If The USA and Nato allies find it expedient to continue with the missile shied ignoring Russia’s concern – that’s the choice. But talking bout consequences – you reap what you sow.

Source: Strategic Culture Foundation

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