|Moscow and Its Missiles|
|Written by Chris Walczyszyn|
|Monday, March 16, 2009 11:59 PM|
Those of us who thought the fall of the Soviet Union would usher in a new age of U.S.-Russian relations have watched with disappointment as a brief period of goodwill between the once mortal enemies has slowly faded. Tensions between Moscow and Washington are once again on the rise following an agreement signed by Poland and the United States to establish a U.S. missile defense system in the former Soviet satellite. Previous animosity between the two nations stemmed from Washington’s active support of Georgian membership in NATO, American opposition to Russia’s invasion of this former Soviet Republic, and a similar missile defense agreement brokered with the Czech Republic in early July. Now, tensions have been dangerously exacerbated by Washington’s continual failure to heed Moscow’s legitimate security concerns about the missile defense system.
According to the State Department, the U.S. seeks to protect itself and its NATO allies “from the growing threat posed by the proliferation of ballistic missiles of increasingly greater ranges, lethality, and sophistication, and potentially armed with weapons of mass destruction”. Specifically, the goal is to protect NATO members from missiles from belligerent nations in the Middle East. While the United States has every right, and every obligation, to prevent attacks on itself and its allies, the close proximity of Poland and the Czech Republic to Russia raises several key issues. Perhaps the most important of them is U.S. intrusion into what Russia views as its sphere of influence.
Before the United States signed any treaties cementing the details of the missile defense system, Russia cautioned that it would take retaliatory action if the implementation of such a system took place in Eastern Europe. The Pentagon, however, according to Reuters, has written off Moscow’s warnings as merely “bellicose rhetoric designed to make Europeans nervous,” clearly ignoring the potential gravity of Russia’s response to the construction of a missile defense system. When asked how his nation would respond to missiles being placed in Eastern Europe during an interview with De Spiegel earlier this year, Russian Ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, stated that if the United States and Russia could come to no agreement regarding missile placement, “[Russia] will have to point our missiles at Poland and the Czech Republic.”
Ambassador Rogozin also stated during his interview that “[the Americans] place weapons right under our nose and they maintain that they are not pointed at us. That is a lie and a hostile act.” While less inflammatory, Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev also appears to share the view that the U.S. intends to aim its missiles at Russia, saying during an interview with CNN that though negotiations are continuing, “Our perception is that all these weapon systems are being created around our borders to put further pressure on Russia.” Russia has indeed attempted to compromise with the United States and has suggested a Russian base in Azerbaijan and an area in southern Russia as alternative locations for the missile defense system. The United States, while feigning a perpetual commitment to work with the Russians on the system’s construction, maintains that it must be located in Eastern Europe to guarantee effective protection against potential threats to NATO’s security.
It is imperative that the United States attempt to assuage Moscow’s concerns before constructing the missile defense system. Russia has made it plainly clear that it will not take the placement of missiles at its borders lightly and will respond appropriately by pointing its missiles at America’s Eastern European allies. The fact of the matter is that Washington has completely ignored the very valid concerns of Russia and has dubbed them mere threats. To disregard the statements of such a key player on the world scene, and specifically in Eastern Europe, is both foolish and irresponsible. The consequences could be dire. According to Russia’s ambassador to NATO, a second arms race is a very real possibility. Washington has an obligation to its citizens and to its allies in NATO to maintain non-hostile diplomatic ties with the Russian Federation to avoid a standoff reminiscent of the Cold War. The placement of missiles at its borders despite Moscow’s opposition is not the way to do it.