By: Simon Miles
Russia will deploy its own missiles, with enhanced missile defence penetration technology, if the US and NATO do not halt in their project for a pan-European missile defence network, President Dimitri Medvedev warned. Furthermore, the western enclave of Kaliningrad will be host to a new arsenal of tactical weapons. With obvious relish, a spokesman for the Western Military District declared that the newly-released Iskander missile (replacing the Tochka weapons in service since the mid-1970s) “outperforms its predecessor in all characteristics, including its flight range, target accuracy, warhead weight, ammunition quantity and its speed of movement on paved roads, as well as the cross-country terrain,” and possesses the “ability to overpower the existing and future missile defence shields of foreign states.”
At issue is a plan, originally proposed by the Bush administration but now considerably watered-down by President Barack Obama, to defend against a potential missile attack by rogue states such as Iran and North Korea. An agreement has been reached to station 24 interceptor missiles in Romania and Poland and sophisticated radar arrays in the Czech Republic and Turkey, all NATO allies. Russia, however, believes that that system could be used against its intercontinental ballistic missiles and has demanded assurance in writing that this would not be the case. American negotiators refuse to agree to any such restrictions.
This is in stark contrast to the hopes espoused at the 2010 Lisbon Summit that Russia might be a partner in such a missile shield. Why have the two sides not been able to come to an agreement on the question of a missile shield? The Russian side’s argument is quite simple: NATO’s “old-fashioned logic” hampers an agreement, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Grushko opined. NATO’s assurances (chiefly emanating from the US) that the missile shield is not anti-Russian in nature have fallen on deaf ears in the Kremlin.
“Russia’s political leadership has repeatedly said that unless we resolve the situation, Russia will be forced to adopt a military-technical response,” Dmitry Rogozin, the country’s outspoken ambassador to NATO, told reporters in Moscow. “We can’t afford to barter away our citizens’ security.”
In the midst of an election in Russia, it is highly improbable that the topic will be dropped by Putin or Medvedev. Anti-American and anti-NATO sentiment is generally well-received amongst the Russian public, and over so tense an issue Putin is likely to find considerable support for his and Medvedev’s position. Furthermore, the military posturing which the Russian government is currently embracing plays well in the press there. This is, after all, compounding upon the extremely negative Russian reaction to NATO’s admittedly broad interpretation of the UN Security Council resolution on Libya.
In conclusion, the outlook for a breakthrough on this highly-contentious issue is bleak. The core issue is an absence of trust. Russian leaders simply refuse to believe that the planned defence shield is not in some way designed to negate their own nuclear weapons and place them in a position of weakness. In this situation, public diplomacy is an absolute must for the Alliance to make a case for cooperation to Russian civil society. It is clear that there is not a great volition for cooperation within the Russian government, a mindset that will likely remain entrenched so long as the political scene continues to be dominated by Vladimir Putin. However, as states such as Iran grow increasingly belligerent, it is possible that that the Russian populace will see the value of putting security and cooperation ahead of petty rivalries.
Further Reading: Russian plans capability to strike US shield, Medvedev says; Russia takes Cold War tone with US on European missile defence; Russia and NATO: An absence of trust; In nod to European missile defense, Russia rolls out Iskander missiles; Russian response to NATO missile defense to be ‘reasonable’ – Medvedev
Disclaimer: Any views or opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the NATO Council of Canada.