Karl Marx used to say that history repeats itself, first
as tragedy, second as farce. In line with this, the entire recent idea
of a missile defense shield that the US has been willing to install in
Eastern Europe is reminiscent of that of the Cold War era, when two
major superpowers were targeting their strategic missiles towards each
other. And although in 1972 both global powers agreed on not using
anti-ballistic missiles, after two decades US had reexamined its
thinking on the issue. The United States has decided to deploy radars
and interceptors in the Czech Republic and Poland as part of a missile
defense shield against possible Iranian or North Korean attacks. From
the very start, Russia has been seeing the shield as directed towards
itself. However, it doesn’t look like the installation of an American
missile defense shield in Europe would lead to a major security crisis
between the US and Russia since there is sufficient evidence of
softening tensions as US-Russian high level negotiations go ahead. This
is perhaps where the farce lies.
missile defense shield, deterrence, Russia, Iran, Anti-ballistic Missile
Treaty, Missile Technology Control Regime, interceptor, radar
The relations between Russia and United States have
undergone different stages of mistrust, frustration, and also
rapprochement throughout the last two decades. Although there has been a
significant leap forward in these relations in various fields, some
attributes of Cold War thinking seems to be still persisting in the
security field. The obvious thing is both sides still see each other as
a threat in one way or another. Russians have always been preoccupied by
American actions, which “engulf” Russia and constrain its foreign policy
behavior. Americans are more worried about Russia’s cooperation with
so-called “rogue” states, particularly in the field of arms sales. The
US has also been expressing constantly its concern with insecurity at
Russian nuclear facilities and the possibility of nuclear weapons
leaking into hands of terrorist organizations as well as rogue states.
This particular concern was not shared by Russian authorities and it has
even become a matter of tension between two states after Soviet
collapse, as Russians believed they have always had adequate security
and safety at the nuclear, biological, and chemical facilities.
The recent events around the proposed US defense missile
system in Eastern Europe are quite illustrative in the light of the
issues mentioned above. Moreover, the timing of the negotiations around
missile proliferation and the installation of missile defense systems
coincides with US political, diplomatic and economic pressure on Iran, a
country Russia enjoys good relations with. Everything happens amid
alleged American preparations for possible military action against this
This paper will try to analyze recent US-Russian missile
defense negotiations. The aim is to discover underlining factors of
disagreements between the Russian and American position on the so-called
“rogue states” threat of missile attack. The paper aims to analyze
whether those different perceptions of Iranian nuclear and missile
threat are bound by different political approaches and the different
nature of the respective countries’ relations with Iran and North Korea.
We will start with tracing back US policies regarding
missile defense and will try to understand the shift from the policy of
deterrence to deploying a ballistic missile defense system.
US View On Missile Defense And Changing Threats After
First Iraq War
In order to understand US ambitions of installing a
missile defense shield in Eastern Europe it is important to trace back
the history of the ABM initiative and the reasons why later on the
American Congress decided to alter the policy the United States had been
pursuing for almost twenty years (from 1972 when the US signed the
Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty) and demanded the deployment of a limited
ballistic missile defense system in November 1991. For a long time, the
conventional wisdom dominated Washington, which favored deterrence over
missile defense. Deterrence meant containing aggression at all levels
with the threat of nuclear retaliation, or “massive retaliation” as
American strategists termed it once. President Eisenhower’s famous
intemperate quote explains candidly the essence of the deterrence
through retaliation: “If they start anything we will blow the hell out
of them in a hurry”
This wisdom resulted in the US and USSR signing the
Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which had prohibited the signatories from
deploying anti-missile systems.
Although President Ronald Reagan returned to the issue of
installing a missile defense system for the first time in 1983, it was
the first US-Iraqi war which brought the system critically onto the
security agenda. The first Gulf War made a shift in US foreign policy
and security thinking, giving more credit to those who were claiming
that America is, in fact, unprotected in the face of a large-scale
missile attack. Besides invading Kuwait on August 2, 1990 and having
been very well positioned to attack Saudi Arabia (a key US ally in the
Middle East) any time, Saddam Hussein did also possess a frightening
missile arsenal. At the same time, as a result of limitations set by ABM
treaty by 1990 the entire stockpile of US anti-tactical ballistic
missile (ATBM) interceptors consisted of only three experimental Patriot
rockets. Allegedly, Iraq had developed several systems with the range
from 70 to 900 km with the possibility of some of them being armed with
chemical weapons. Moreover, in 1989 Iraq had test-launched 48-ton,
ICBM-class rocket and had also developed two types of missiles: the
Al-Hussein (600 km range) and the Al-Abbas (900 km range), both of them
being modified versions of Scud with increased propellant tank
capacities and reduced payloads.
Obviously, the lessons learned from Desert Storm for the
US was that the missile danger should be met with “multiple and
redundant countermeasures”. These countermeasures include: international
non-proliferation regime, deterrence and diplomacy, intelligence
gathering, counterforce operations and active and passive defenses. With
regard to active defenses, they have not played a vigorous role in US
international security policy after signing ABM Treaty, preference being
given to deterrence measures.
However, Saddam’s behavior challenged the concept and
application of the deterrence outside superpower context. The lesson
learned here was that the threat of being punished by force was not
enough to discourage Saddam’s regime as Americans would have expected.
In 2001 President Bush announced that United States would
withdraw from AMB Treaty. On June 13, 2002 the withdrawal formally took
effect. President Bush emphasized that he was “committed to deploy a
missile defense system as soon as possible to protect the American
people and our [US] deployed forces against the growing missile threat”.
He also mentioned that AMB Treaty prohibited the very important task of
defense against this threat. In addition, President Bush brought up the
agreement between himself and President Putin of Russia about their
intention to look for ways of cooperation on missile defenses.
Missile Proliferation Regime
The Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) was
established in 1987 by G-7 governments as an international export
control policy with arrangement to limit the proliferation of nuclear
capable missiles. In 1993 missiles capable of delivering biological and
chemical weapons were added to the regulations. The regime limits the
transfer of missiles able to carry 500 kg to the distance of 300 km or
more. The biggest disadvantage of the regime has been its design as a
voluntary agreement and not a formal treaty. After it has been
established, numerous proposals were made for transforming the regime
from an export control regulation into a universal regime. This foresees
a radical transformation of the agreement leading to a different
arrangement eliminating missiles from national military forces.
After two years of its announcement, having faced criticism about the
failure to attract new governments to the regime, G-7 countries decided
to expand massively.
MTCR has been under criticism for the failure to halt
missile proliferation. Despite the fact that it has had some important
success, North Korea and China have made exports of missiles and missile
technology in the past to India, China, Syria, Libya, and Pakistan.
The role of Russia in MTCR has been particularly
contentious. Russia has joined MTCR as “a major missile power without
the ability, and perhaps without the will, to limit its missile related
exports”. Russia continued its exports after joining MTCR too. Oddly
enough, Russian membership provided Russian companies with safeguard
against US sanctions. Russian exports for Iran’s ballistic missiles
program became a major issue between United States and Russia.
Russian - Iranian Relations And Arms Sales
One of the important aspects of Russian-Iranian relations
is that Russian political and military elite, in contrast to those in
United States, does not see Iran as a threat. Just an opposite – Iran
along with several other “rogue states” like Libya and North Korea (the
concept of “rogue state” being officially rejected by Russian
Federation) used to be clients of Soviet Union. Particularly, in the
issue of deployment of ballistic missiles by Iran, Russia does not
perceive the same threat as US – neither on its territory nor for the
troops stationed abroad. Therefore, it appears that Russian rhetoric of
proliferation being an evil thing is nothing but a lip-service to
politically correct western discourse of non-proliferation.
The US has been trying to discourage Russia from arms
sales to Iran by applying pressure through diplomatic channels as well
as by using sanctions against particular Russian institutions and
enterprises engaged in the arms trade. According to Stockholm Institute
of Peace Research, between 1995 and 2005, 70 % of Iranian arms import
was from Russia. Russian arms sales to Iran started before the Soviet
collapse, between 1989 and 1991, when Soviet Union had agreed to sell
MIG-29 and SU-24 fighter aircraft, aircraft missiles, S-200 air defense
complexes, three diesel submarines and hundreds of tanks and armored
vehicles. Sales and shipments continued from 1992 to 1996. During the
period of 1995-2000 the Russian government, in order to get support from
US in the elections, agreed to suspend its arms trade with Iran.
However, it has been restored with Putin’s coming to power.
Notwithstanding the fact that the Russian elite considers Iran as a
market for weapons and there is a significant amount of arms trade going
on between these two countries, Russians are careful in not approaching
Iran very much, especially right now when the international community
and especially USA are asking the UN for more sanctions against Iran.
Defense Shield In Eastern Europe
officials have recurrently mentioned Iran and North Korea as countries,
which could threaten the US homeland and deployed troops abroad, with
their missile potential. The Missile Defense Program Overview presented
by Lt Gen Trey Obering, Chief of Missile Defense Agency in March, 2007,
mentions only Iran as a source of ballistic missile threat.
United States plans to locate its missile defense shield
in Eastern Europe, which is going to consist of 10 interceptor missile
systems in Poland and a radar in Czech Republic. The motivation behind
choosing Czech Republic
and Poland stems from the estimates by specialists that any possible
Iranian missile targeting the US would be flying over Central Europe.
Therefore, the deployment of interceptors and a radar in Czech Republic
and Poland would be effective from the operational point of view.
Moreover, there seems to be also a political reason for that as,
apparently, the majority of the “Old Europe” nations disagree with
American threat perceptions about Iran. European and Russian specialists
reject the view that there is a ballistic missile threat from “rogue
Therefore, for the Bush administration it has been always easy to
negotiate this with those countries dubbed by Donald Rumsfeld as the
“New Europe”. These Eastern European countries are more aligned with US
foreign policy objectives. Indeed, the President
of Poland Lech Kaczynski loudly expressed his support for a US missile
defense system, emphasizing that this would contribute to European
security vis-à-vis “dangers, which result from the fact that not all the
countries of the contemporary world are responsible”. It is worth
mentioning that Kaczynski added that he did not mean Russia by this.
To American Missile Defense Shield Initiative
have not concealed their fierce opposition to the US proposed shield.
The Russian leadership clearly stated that the shield targeted Russia
and in this case a Russian response would not be late. In June 2007,
President Putin threatened to target Europe with nuclear ballistic or
cruise missiles if the proposed defense system moved ahead. One of the
arguments the Russian government holds against the shield is that
defensive interceptors may be turned into offensive weapons.
Theoretically as well as practically it seems possible.
However, experts agree that Russian leaders use the argument as a
propaganda tool, whereas, in fact, they are more concerned with the
possible increase of the American missile defense shield in the future.
Along with threatening to aim missiles at Europe, the Russian side came
up with another proposal to the US.
At the G-8 Summit in Germany in June 2007 President Putin
has offered Russian-rented radar in Azerbaijan to be jointly used by
Russia and the US. The radar station was a part of an early-warning
system, designed to detect possible missile attack on the Soviet Union.
The government of Azerbaijan has been leasing the radar to Russia after
the dissolution of Soviet Union and in 2002 two governments have agreed
on another 10-year period lease. Vladimir Putin has offered Gabala
Radar Station to be jointly used by the US and Russia. At the same time,
Russian government has also tried to assure the Iranian side that joint
use would be of no harm to Iran. Later, the Iranian ambassador to Baku
expressed his confidence that Russia and Azerbaijan would never use
Gabala against his state. Reportedly, official Iran has had little doubt
that the Americans would accept the Russian initiative.
The US responded to the offer by stating that Gabala RLS
could be used in addition but not instead of a future defense shield in
Europe. President Bush
said the Polish and Czech deployments were "integral" to the system but
he agreed to work with the Russians as well.
After recent talks between Russia and the
US in Moscow Americans seemed to have agreed to halt the installation of
a radar and interceptors in Eastern Europe. A senior US defense
official stated that the US will continue negotiations with Czech
Republic and Poland, but would leave the system switched off until US
and Russia would agree that Iranian ballistic missiles pose a threat.
US Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, has offered an option of not
activating the system until the threat was obvious, meaning until Iran
or any other Middle Eastern state had tested a missile capable of
hitting Europe. According to Gates, Putin referred to the proposal as a
Latest news concerning negotiations came from the NATO
Summit in Bucharest and immediately afterwards from the Bush-Putin
meeting in Sochi, Russia. Obviously, the US traded NATO’s offering on
long expected Membership Action Plans (MAP) to Georgia and Ukraine for
Russia’s softening its posture on deployment of radars and interceptors
in Eastern Europe. At the same time, Russia considered this a political
and diplomatic victory due to the fact that it has managed to achieve
discrepancy within NATO on Georgia’s and Ukraine’s further NATO
aspirations. Admittedly, European addiction to Russian energy has played
its role. However, neither did the US leave the summit with empty
hands. The American achievement was Russia’s noticeable compromise on a
missile defense shield. Although Russia still does not buy US claims
about missile defense directed against threats posed by the “rogue”
states such as Iran, admittedly, there have been some positive movements
recently. As Putin stated, he had “cautious optimism with regard to
final agreement” and that he believed it was possible.
Deeper investigation of the latest tensions between US
and Russia exposes underlying fundamental reasons for this. The United
States realized after the first Gulf War that the deterrence strategy it
had relied upon during the Cold War was no longer effective. Saddam
Hussein’s personality proved that classical understanding of containing
an enemy with the threat of retaliation was insufficient. The threat
perception, thus, shifted from bigger subjects to the multiple small
ones. The US has become more cautious about limited missile attacks from
different “rogue” regimes, which have lately been developing their
missiles. Russia is seen more as a proliferation threat rather than
direct threat. Russian arms sales to Iran have increased this perception
Russia, in turn, has had different perceptions of
security enjoying much better relations with all US adversaries,
particularly Iran and North Korea. Supposedly, it was this disagreement
in perceptions that resulted in recent tensions, since although the US
and Russia have developed better relations after the end of Cold War,
still both have dissimilar visions and views on international relations
We can consider Russian opposition to a missile defense
shield in Eastern Europe from several aspects. First, Russians are in
agreement that American claims of Iranian threat are exaggerated or at
least premature. Second, some Russians suspect that the number of
interceptors and radars could grow with the time and ten interceptors in
Eastern Europe is just a launch of something that could grow bigger
However, notwithstanding harsh opposition from the
Russian side and American assertiveness at the beginning, it appears
that both sides are nearing compromise, as President Putin said that the
last US proposals were constructive.
Indeed the recent NATO Summit in Bucharest brought up the
missile defense shield issue again. Surprisingly enough, against the
background of previous harsh opposition, Russian leadership has been
more lenient and interested in even discussing joint operation of
missile defense shield.
Although at the beginning the jargon reminded that of the
Cold War, further negotiations proved that this prediction was
exaggerated. Perhaps, some additional developments in the field might be
expected after presidential elections in the United States this year
given the fact that Democratic Party has a different stance on the
missile defense issue.