Missile deadlock: ‘arm-arm’ replaces ‘jaw-jaw’

Both Moscow and Washington officially admit that talks on America’s anti-missile shield in Europe have stalled. In the absence of progress, Russia has put in motion a military response to the shield, which it believes threatens its national security.

The military and diplomatic deadlock puts in question the “reset of relations” between Russia and America, which was praised as one of the major achievements of Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev.

Despite years of talks, Washington will not provide a legal guarantee that its antimissile system in Europe will not hamper Russia’s strategic potential. Michael McFaul, one of the architects of the “reset”, who is slated to become next US ambassador to Moscow, was the first American official to state this clearly at Senate hearings on Wednesday.

Due to the failure to find a diplomatic solution, Russia will seek technological means to face the challenge. In an article in Friday’s Kommersant daily, a Kremlin source was quoted as saying the counter to the American ABM will be “cheap yet extremely effective.”

“America’s intensions are increasingly clear. They will build the AMD system and will not take our opinion into account. Even if a miracle happens and they provide some legal guarantees, they would not be suitable. They will cover five years tops, and the next president will easily dismiss them,” the source said, outlining  Moscow’s perception of the issue.

Earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called the US approach “deceptive.”

“They tell us that all this is not against us, but on the other hand they refuse to fix it as a taken obligation. And we want at least some legally-binding guarantees that the system will not be aimed against us. Now they do not want to give us such guarantees. And without this we will have to look for other ways to ensure our own security,” the minister said in an interview.

­Bush’s favorite security plan

­US deployment of an anti-ballistic missile shield (ABM) in Europe has been one of the major points of conflict between Moscow and Washington for a decade. In 2001, the Bush administration withdrew from the ABM Treaty, a cornerstone Cold War agreement which limited the superpowers’ ambitions to beef up their nuclear arsenals by guaranteeing that neither would develop means to defend against a missile attack.

A year later, Washington launched negotiations with former Soviet states in Eastern Europe. The US was looking for future hosts for elements of the antimissile shield they had started developing. The stated goal was to protect America and its European allies from missile threats from rogue states, namely Iran and North Korea. However, Russia saw the move as a threat to its own nuclear deterrent.

Over the years, Moscow’s discontent with the enlargement of NATO in general, and the development of the European ABM in particular, grew.

Hillary Clinton and Sergey Lavrov hold a “reset” device with a red knob in March 2009. Back then, the prospect of improved relations thrilled both countries.
Hillary Clinton and Sergey Lavrov hold a “reset” device with a red knob in March 2009. Back then, the prospect of improved relations thrilled both countries.

In February 2007, then-President Vladimir Putin warned that Russia might withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty because it no longer served Russia’s interests. The treaty banned nuclear and conventional missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. Such weapons deployed in Europe were a major threat during the Cold War, and the superpowers eventually agreed that they posed too great a risk of an accidental war. Russian General Stuff officially linked Putin’s words with the European ABM.

In April 2007, Putin announced the suspension of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, which limited Russia’s ability to deploy non-nuclear troops in its European region. The ABM plans were not among the reasons given for the move, but security experts agreed that they must have been among the considerations.

In November 2008, President Dmitry Medvedev said Russia might deploy short-range Iskander ballistic missiles in the Kaliningrad region. From the Russian enclave in Eastern Europe, the missiles would be able to attack ABM sites in Poland and the Czech Republic.

­Obama’s pseudo-reset

­The tension was defused after the newly elected President Barack Obama announced in September 2009 that Bush’s antimissile plans for Europe were being scrapped. They were to be replaced with a so-called phased adaptive approach, which Moscow hoped would address its concerns.

The move greatly contributed to a major diplomatic thaw and the consequent signing of the New START strategic arms reduction treaty. Medvedev suggested creating a joint Russian-NATO system as part of new pan-European security architecture. Russia’s hopes, however, proved to be futile.

Since 2010, the Bush-era rhetoric has made a comeback in relations between Moscow and Washington. The Kremlin did not believe in the White House’s apparent chivalry and would not accept its promise not to use the AMD against Russia. Russian skepticism may have been a response to an earlier broken promise, when Washington reneged on a promise not to enlarge NATO eastwards.

Russia’s top brass say they have new strategic missiles in development, with the American antimissile shield in mind. The ground- and submarine-launched missiles will have additional counter-measures to penetrate any AMD system the US might deploy in decades to come, the generals promise.

Russia is also modernizing the control system for its nuclear ICBMs. The goal apparently is to have improved “dead man’s hand” communication lines, which would survive a pre-emptive strike and be able to correct missiles’ flight plans towards new targets in case of a global war.