Missile Defence: How Russia is Making it Happen

Discussion in 'Current Affairs, News and Analysis' started by AndyPipkin, Mar 7, 2007.

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  1. Stratfor email:

    The New Logic for Ballistic Missile Defense
    By Peter Zeihan

    The commander of Russia's strategic bomber force, Lt. Gen. Igor Khvorov, said March 5 that his forces could easily disrupt or destroy any missile defense infrastructure in Poland and the Czech Republic -- where the United States is preparing to set up parts of a ballistic missile defense (BMD) system. Khvorov was hardly the first Russian official to make such a threat: On Feb. 19, statements by Strategic Rocket Forces commander Col. Gen. Nikolai Solovtsov left little doubt that Moscow would target U.S. BMD sites with its nuclear arsenal if Washington pushes ahead with its plans.

    Exactly why missile defense -- a technology that has received little publicity since the Cold War -- should be a source of increasingly obvious tension between the United States and Russia is an interesting question. An equally interesting question: Why are the Russians threatening once again to target NATO countries -- a tactic Moscow abandoned 15 years ago?

    The answer is rooted not only in the history of BMD, but in the myriad ways the European theater has changed -- from both the U.S. and European points of view -- since the end of the Cold War.

    BMD and the Cold War

    When Ronald Reagan introduced the Star Wars system in the 1980s, his logic was much more political than military. It was apparent that, even with extremely aggressive funding, the United States was decades away from being able to establish a missile shield capable of deflecting a significant Soviet nuclear strike. Rhetoric aside, the argument for a BMD system was not really about establishing an impregnable bubble around the United States, but rather about shifting the strategic balance away from mutually assured destruction and into a venue that catered to the Americans' economic advantage.

    In the minds of Politburo members, the United States not only was moving into a realm in which the Americans already enjoyed substantial technological and economic advantages, but in which the costs of development also threatened to overturn Soviet military doctrine. As of the early 1980s, the United States was spending only 6 percent of its gross domestic product on defense, whereas the Soviets are thought to have been expending more than one-quarter of theirs. The Soviets recognized that they could not win a space race involving defensive weaponry. Reagan's insistence on keeping the BMD issue on the table, therefore, gave him enormous bargaining power against the Soviets and contributed heavily to the subsequent arms-control and disarmament treaties that ultimately heralded the Cold War's end.

    European leaders, however, viewed BMD issues in much the same light as the Soviets did. Though few Europeans were comfortable with the idea of the Americans and Soviets being locked into a Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) structure that would consume their homelands if anything should go awry, it was impossible to ignore the fact that MAD had brought about 50 years of relatively stable Great Power relations. Reagan's BMD was viewed as an extremely aggressive effort to overturn that system and disrupt the stability that went with it. European states were terrified of BMD at both the political and strategic levels.

    But the arguments and alignments in favor of BMD have changed drastically in the post-Cold War era.

    The New American Logic

    As the Russian missile arsenal has declined in quantity and quality, U.S. desires for a BMD protective net have only strengthened. Though most American strategic planners in the 1980s were well aware that the system being envisioned was merely drawing-board material, strategic and technological realities today are starkly different. U.S. strategic thought now is fixating on two ideas.

    First and most obvious is that, though it would not be foolproof by any stretch, it is possible that within a few years, an American-installed BMD network in certain parts of the world could protect against secondary threats such as Iran and North Korea. Given that the human and financial costs involved in rebuilding a major U.S. city (should one be hit by a nuclear weapon) are well above even the most aggressive price estimates for a global BMD network, the original vision of BMD as an effective defensive weapon now could be within reach.

    The second idea dovetails with long-standing U.S. strategic doctrine -- a philosophy that long predates the Cold War. That doctrine has always aimed to push threats away from the continental United States -- initially by securing U.S. sovereignty over the North American land mass, achieving strategic depth and controlling sea approaches. Ultimately, the doctrine calls for the United States to project power into Eurasia itself, establishing as much stand-off distance as possible. In the early 20th century, naval power allowed the United States to do this just fine. But in the early 21st century, with the proliferation of intercontinental ballistic missile technology, naval power is only one leg of such a strategy.

    Having forward-based BMD facilities not only is becoming important for Washington, but is moving to the core of U.S. defense logic.

    From Washington's perspective, establishing a BMD system is not about taking advantage of Russia's relative military weakness, but instead about adapting to a new strategic reality. The foes and threats facing the United States have changed. No one is pretending that Russia's decline as a global power has not opened the door to a U.S. BMD system in the first place, or that the system could not be expanded and upgraded in the future as a potential counter to Russia's nuclear arsenal. Rather, it means simply that in the current strategic picture, the Russians really are not at the heart of U.S. defense planning -- and certainly not so far as BMD is concerned.

    The technological considerations are not unimportant here. With current technology, any system would be twitchy at best -- so for best results, the United States is seeking a layered network. The first layer of defense -- which most likely would include airborne lasers at some point -- would be sited as close to the launching states as possible, allowing the system to target any missile launches during the boost phase. The second layer would involve missile interceptors or AEGIS systems to strike during the midcourse of the missile's flight, followed by terminal phase engagement with anti-missile systems, such as the PAC-3 (the newest incarnation of the Patriot).

    The polar projection of an ICBM is also key to understanding Washington's logic. Any missile launched from Iran and bound for the continental United States would have to fly over Central Europe -- which is why the United States has pending agreements to set up an interceptor base in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic. Similarly, any North Korean missile would have to fly over Alaska, the other major BMD interceptor locale. A nuclear strike out of Russia, however, would travel over the North Pole. BMD installations in Europe and Alaska would cover only the peripheries of that attack corridor -- and with vastly insufficient numbers of interceptors.

    In short, the U.S. rationale for BMD has evolved. In the 1980s, it was about breaking out of the MAD impasse and wringing concessions out of the Soviets. Today, BMD has the potential to be something that was never seriously considered in the 1980s: a viable defensive weapon. Put another way, BMD once was wielded as a political tool to avoid a future war; now, it is coming to be viewed as a defensive weapon to be used in a future conflict.

    The New European Logic

    The Czech Republic and Poland are not the only European states to have changed their thinking about BMD either. A number of countries not only are responding warmly to U.S. overtures regarding facilities, but in some cases actually are initiating the siting requests.

    For central European states, the benefits of such deals are obvious. Most of the political elites in these states fear a future conflict with the Russians, and anything they can do to solidify a military arrangement with Washington is, to their thinking, a benefit in and of itself. But even in Western Europe, further removed from the Russian periphery, opposition to the United States' BMD programs seems to have relaxed considerably. The United Kingdom has specifically requested inclusion in the system (though Washington so far has declined), and the German government has called for the United States to address the issue of BMD in the context of NATO.

    There are several reasons for this change.

    First and foremost, BMD technology -- while still unproven -- has advanced considerably since the Reagan era, and thus is now far more likely to work. When BMD was only a political tool and could offer no real protection, the Europeans were understandably squeamish about participating in the system. But if the system is actually functional, the calculus shifts.

    Second, a weak BMD system designed to guard against Iran theoretically could evolve into a stronger system that helps to protect Europeans against Russia in the future. Of course, the system is not designed to target Russia at the present time, but if Russia's military capabilities should decay further over time, the technological argument -- that the system might actually work -- weighs heavily in the European mind. And at a time when Moscow is growing more aggressive in economic and political terms, laying the groundwork for a military hedge makes sense.

    Third, it is becoming increasingly difficult for Europeans to define their security interests as separate from Washington's. Moscow's new energy strategy is a tool for exerting influence over Europe, making European states more willing to view Russia through American goggles. Moreover, Iran regularly bites its thumb at the United Nations and its nuclear watchdog, inducing the Europeans (little by little) to morph from being apologists for Tehran to quiet, if still primarily unofficial, enforcers of sanctions. BMD fits into the U.S. strategic doctrine, and that logic, by association, is now taking hold in Europe.

    Fourth, there is a desire to rope the United States into a multilateral defense stratagem. Many Western Europeans begrudge U.S. efforts to dominate the NATO alliance and regularly try to persuade Washington to more seriously consider European points of view. But the United States' ability to make bilateral defense deals cuts the Europeans out completely. For countries like Germany, which considers itself a key driver of European policy, the only way to counter unilateral American moves is to make it worth Washington's while to discuss issues like BMD within the framework of NATO -- which means taking BMD well beyond committee meetings and talk shops. It means actually deploying assets. To do otherwise would only encourage Washington to impose a security policy upon Europe without consulting the Europeans.

    Finally, there is the "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" logic: Bilateral U.S. security agreements with Central European states are forging BMD into reality. If is going to happen anyway, the logic goes, you might as well jump on the bandwagon and reap some of the benefits.

    Russian Repercussions

    The Russians, of course, are not blind to the emergence of a potential threat near their borders -- even recognizing the limitations of the BMD system as currently envisioned.

    The United States certainly does not want to trigger a war with Moscow, but that does not mean that Washington is oozing with warm feelings toward all things Russian. Throughout American history, only three countries have seriously threatened the United States: Britain, which ultimately was forced into the role of ally; Mexico, which was occupied and half its territory annexed; and Russia/Soviet Union -- the only foe still remaining. Traditionally, the United States does not defeat its enemies so much as crush them until either they switch sides or are incapable of posing more than a negligible threat.

    Though the days of Russian-American military parity are long past, the United States is not yet finished with Moscow from a strategic perspective. Washington wants to pressure Russia until its will, as well as its ability, to pose a viable threat completely disintegrates. Therefore, while it is true that Russia is not an explicit target of the BMD system being established in the Czech Republic and Poland, it would be ridiculous to believe that BMD facilities in Europe would not trigger evolutions in Russian policy. Washington realizes that. In fact, the Americans are betting on it.

    Establishing a BMD system on Russia's doorstep would indeed pose a potential long-term threat for Moscow -- but more importantly, it creates a political irritant that will generate a steady stream of bellicose Russian rhetoric. And that serves American purposes. The more aggressive Russia sounds, the more willing Europeans will be to see strategic U.S. policy in general -- and BMD policy specifically -- from Washington's point of view.

    Which brings us back to the recent statements by the men who manage Russia's warheads. Their direct threats against European targets must have thrilled American strategic planners. With but a few words, the Russian generals not only supplied a fresh rationale for the BMD system, but also tilted the debate in Europe over the entire system toward the Americans' logic.
  2. Anyone got a short version? Or does that essay just tell me that im a thick cnut?
  3. The Russians have more to fear from China than the west. Chinese settlers are moving into Siberia in large numbers. I am curious that the Russians dont seem to be too concerned with the potential loss of Russian territory to China. I suspect the reason is that Putin is more interested in bullying the west than China, because its less likely to lead to combat.

    Russian threats against Poland and the Czech Republic are empty. The Russian's are not in a position to go to war against the US. The Russian military is unable to launch sustained ground operations. The system the US is looking to deloy is called THAAD and its a mobile system. Attacking this system would be an act of war by Russia.
  4. China may be a larger threat to Russia but Russia cant increase its power by focusing to the east. That direction is brickwall for Russia where it can only try and hold on to what it already has.

    The West is only direction Russia can move where it can actualy increase its power. Are in Russian view reclaim the rightfull postion of power that was held by soviet Union.
  5. The poor old Russian Generals! By issuing threats, they have only made their own position worse. I'll bet members of the old Politburo are cursing them for a lack of joineed up thinking.
  6. It is quite a difficult task for the Chinese to get Russian citizenship. Mainly the Chinese in Russia are illegal temporary workforce than settlers. There are tens millions of Mexicans in USA but I don't think that Mexico would demand a return of historically Mexican lands soon. Though who knows? Los-Angeles is (from ethnical point of view) rather Mexican city.

    Recently the border agreement was signed and each inch of Russo-Chinese frontier has been marked. Both countries have fast developing economies and their interests on many issues are common.

    The West is not something solid. There is EU that is interesting in close cooperation with Russia and it will go on no matter how USA would try to spoil the relations between Russia and EU.

    Apparently USA is not interesting in Russia from economical or military point of view. Russia will not take part in Iraqi-style adventures. On some points even a confrontation between USA and Russia is possible. By contrast there is no ground for any confrontation between Russia and Europe.

    So summing it up we have two vectors. Russia is interesting in more distant relations between EU and USA and the Americans will try to expose Russia as a threat to Europe (in vain of course), to prevent profitable for both sides economical cooperation. Anybody would agree that EU with its human, scientific, technological potential and backed by Russian resources is able to become more significant economical force than USA.

    EU is a competitor to USA in economics and Euro could replace Dollar worldwide. It is a real threat for vital American interests. And ABM system is no more than a tool in these geo-political games.

    Russia fairly warned that these ABM insatallations would be the first targets during any possible conflict. It is simply a naked truth.

    Suppose that the Russians in Baltic states would be killed in masses by local mobs. Then Russia could use its Army and NATO countries could bomb Russian territory. In return Russia could bomb ABM bases. It is a pure fantasy of course.

    And USA is unable to attack Russia.

    The example of Chechnya shows that it is far from the truth.

    There exist some scenarios where it is possible (in theory of course).
  7. Biped

    Biped LE Book Reviewer

    Russia IS still a threat to European interests. It is large enough and has enough forces to walk all over Eastern Europe if it chooses to do so.

    Eastern European countries have not all joined NATO and despite the US 'playing around the periphery', Russia still sees it as within its sphere of influence and not only this, Eastern Europe is Russias stategic buffer in time of war.

    Most wars in the future will be fought over natural resources, most of which are possessed by Russia on our landmass. Russia has already engaged in economic warfare with its neighbours by cutting the gas supplies, doubling the prices etc.

    What we as Europeans have to concern ourselves with is what games the US plays in our backyard. As the post shows, it is in the interests of the US to have, or generate a bogeyman that frightens Europeans, and with its machiavellian machinations as far as Russia is concerned, they can quite easily do so.

    It is not in the interests of the US to allow Europe to grow as large as it is getting, and nor is it in US interests to see an economically and militarily strong united Europe as this would be a serious threat to its income and global power. That isn't to say that the threat a united Europe poses to the US is not a long way away due to internal bickering and ongoing disagreements. The EU will never be as united as the US due to the many cultural and language barriers in the way, but stll, the US would rather have us in its pocket than the other way around.

    Both Russia and the US have a lot to worry about if the European project bears the fruit of the seeds that its architects planted nearly 100 years ago.

    Currently, and until the EU solidifies, the major trading blocs around the globe are going to be the US, Russia, China and India. A united Europe has more money, more turnover, more people and due to its history, more influence than the US, Russia ever will and certainl more gobal influenc if it projects is power properly.

    The greatest fear of the US is that Russia becomes part of the EU. This would be a state of affairs that they will go to ANY lengths to avoid.

    As for the missile defense screen, why should the EU countries not provide their own?

    Edited to correct glaring errors. ;-)
  8. when I play RISK no one can ever hold asia!! to many places to assault from.

    Austalia, thats where you want to be!

    Anyway I always thought they would of fired them across the north pole, much closer to each other surely
  9. Pan-European defence projects are a nightmare. They never work and very rarely come to fruition in the mode they were originally deigned for e.g. LR TRIGAT. You may as well take the money and burn it.
  10. In this case Russia would use rather (empty) tankers than tanks.

    So what would be a reason for Russia to invade Eastern Europe? There are no significant resources in the countries - former members of Warsaw pact.

    I see, you regard Russian territory as our landmass.

    If the prices are not fair then there is an alternative - buy gas in Norway. But I fear our Norwegian friends would disagree with low prices (significantly below market level).

    Immortal "it's economy, stupid" sounded by pres.Clinton springs in mind. Economical interests, profits are much stronger motivations than machiavellian combinations made in Washington.

    It is I suppose an undesirable prospect for EU to be an American pocket toy. And unlikely it will ever happen.

    I believe that for Russia (unlike USA) economically strong Europe would be rather a positive factor. Moreover, though full integration of Russia into EU is unrealistic, integration processes will take place and it will be for good, it will be in russian interests.

    Unlikely it ever will happen (Russian membership in EU). But it would make USA only #2 in World affairs. It would mean unconditional domination of United Europe and a voice from Washington would not be decisive.

    It is a waste of time and money.
  11. Georgia could be a member of NATO. Why not? But unlikely it will change anything. I doubt that Ukraine will become a NATO memeber soon. The majority in this country strongly oppose it.

    Returning to proposed ABM dases, it is not clear will they ever be created.
  12. As long as Russia desires to have an independant influence on wrld affairs it will be a potential threat to other nations. If one adds to that the relative immaturity of it's current political system and its apparent continuing desire to support nations which are against Western Europe and the USA on principle rather than morality it is not surprising that many see Russia as a threat, especially its recently freed ex military conquests.
    Certainly the experiences of The Great Patriotoc War have encouraged this desire for a buffer between Mother Russia and any potential enemy, but the present Russian leadership still does not see that becoming an ally by choice is the only way this buffer can now be recreated and threats and sabre rattling will only convince all that the Shield of NATO is a necessity

    Only another example of how not to win friends and influence people politicaly

    Whilst it may well be true that the US is 'buying' friends in especially Eastern Europe, the Russians are making it easier for them to do it on the cheap.

    The biggest problem with the EU project is can it reach an effective maturity before the potential for ecconomic dominance from Chian and India is realised. In its present form it spends far to much time navel gazing and not enough time planning for a very different future from today. Yes an EU that does stand together and operates in the world arena with one voice is a great threat to both political and ecconomic dominance from in particular the USA but also Russia. Genuine pan European defence for example could easily rival the scale and cost effectiveness of the US military economy and force, and at the same time dramatically increase Russian vulnerability. Of course internal rivalries, often fanned from outside can and most likely will prevent this, hence the percieved need to obtain missile defence capability from the USA.

  13. Biped

    Biped LE Book Reviewer

    I argree to some extent. Russia need not be the slightly dangerous, undemocratic and corrupt threat it currently is to it's neighbours and Europe. I little more time to mature (like a good whisky) will hopefully see her become a strong, profitable and free place with the same social systems we have in place in the Western Europe. When that day comes, the EU should think about getting a formal invitation in place for Russia to join. Much rather Russia than the Turks.

    There are many who would oppose Russi being part of the EU, including but not limited to the USA, China, Germany, France, the Baltic States and many other countries. I believe it is necessary for the prosperity and security of this landmass (note I didn't say 'our landmass' ;-) )

    I'm not convinced that the US needs to put a missile defense shield in Europe. Let's face it, if the arabs want to start lobbing missiles over to the US, they can pretty much be assured of an armaggedon style response. All the US needs to do is put thei cards on the table well beforehand by stating to everyone - 'If you launch ANY missiles at the US mainland, we will assure you that we will wage ALL OUT war, including the use of nuclear weapons to reduce your country and if necessary, it's neighbours to burnt out husks'.

    This whole proportionate response thingy is pointless. What needs to be said and prepared for is a totally disproportionate response to acts of aggression; ie: If you sink a ship, I will sink your navy, if you knock a plane out of the sky, I will knock your airforce out, if you use missiles in an attack, we will make your sky black with falling missiles'. All the way down to 'if you kill one of our people, we will, just like the Israelis, hunt down and kill not only you, but your nearest and dearest too'. A bit like Saddam and his loverly boys.