Impact of US missile defence on Russia: Geneva University Head

Politics Materials 4 July 2008 17:40 (UTC +04:00)

Azerbaijan, Baku, 4 July / By Jean-Marc Rickli, the President of the Geneva University Strategic Studies Group

Berrow Scholar, especially for Trend

With the recent change of attitude of North Korea regarding nuclear proliferation, the US missile defence will be primarily targeted at Iran. Thus, the site of the 10 missile interceptors should be located on the flight path from Iran to the US East Coast. A site near Koszalin in Poland has often been mentioned. Theoretically, from this site the US interceptors could also reach the trajectory of missiles launched from bases in Russia. This has prompted Moscow to oppose this system because it is viewed as undermining Russia's nuclear deterrence. This has also prompted some Russian generals to issue threats of retaliation.

In February 2007, the former Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, Yuri Baluyevksi threatened to pull out of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty if the system was to be built. The then commander of the Strategic Rocket Forces went even further by bluntly stating that Russian missiles could target US missile sites in Poland and the Czech Republic. The missile defence technology has not proven its reliability so far, however, even after having spent more than $100 billion during decades of development. The real issue therefore is more diplomatic than military. By establishing missile defence sites in Poland and the Czech Republic, the US present Russia with another fait accompli that follows others such as the enlargement of NATO to former Soviet satellites or the unilateral US withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002. These are perceived by Moscow as hegemonic moves from the US that undermine Russia's great power status in international relations. Forthcoming meetings with Russia and the USA such as the G8 summit in Japan next week will be important to convince the Russians about the non-aggressive nature of the missile defence system and if possible to bring them on board. But more importantly it will be crucial to give Moscow a bigger diplomatic role to play so as to alleviate Russia's frustrations.

The Poles had different requests regarding the establishment of the interceptors on its soils. They asked the USA to reach out to Russia so as to bring Moscow on board. Washington has made several offers of cooperation - on US terms - which obviously got cold reception in Moscow. Also, the USA have positively answered the Polish demand to work more with NATO. NATO has decided to support missile defence at the Bucharest summit last April. The last request of the Tusk Government has been to get financial support for the modernisation of Poland's armed forces, especially its air defence system. The Poles argued that by welcoming interceptors on their territory they would be more exposed to an attack and therefore needed better air defences including Patriot ground-to-air missiles. To this purpose, the current Polish government has requested billions of US financial support. This is very unlikely to happen since the Bush administration responded with a $20 million request, which has now been passed to Congress. In the end, by simultaneously negotiating with Poland and Lithuania on the location of its interceptors, it is very likely that the USA have managed to reduce the scope of Poland's financial request.