Sunday, July 12, 2009

A step ahead in the missile-defense-maze

The meeting of the two presidents in Moscow was not only about counting warheads and delivery systems – the issue of missile defense was also discussed. It is time to catch up with the developments:

While visiting Russia, U.S. President Barack Obama and his counterpart, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, have signed a joint statement on missile defense. It reads in between:

“Russia and the United States plan to continue the discussion concerning the establishment of cooperation in responding to the challenge of ballistic missile proliferation. […] We have instructed our experts to work together to analyze the ballistic missile challenges of the 21st century and to prepare appropriate recommendations, giving priority to the use of political and diplomatic methods.”
At a speech at a Moscow university President Obama elaborated further on this and highlighted the purpose of the missile shield and the condition under which the program could be scrapped:
"I want us to work together on a missile defense architecture that makes us all safer. But if the threat from Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programs is eliminated, the driving force for missile defense in Europe will be eliminated. That is in our mutual interest."
However, some Russian actors are reluctant to make a linkage between the two issues of missile defense and Iran. These topics should be considered separately from each other, believes the head of the international affairs committee of the State Duma lower house of Russia’s parliament Konstantin Kosachev. “The missile defense issue and Iran should not be mixed, no matter how the Americans insist on this,” the lawmaker said on the Echo of Moscow radio station commenting on President Obama’s speech.

Also in the Washington the question is deliberated whether this linkage can be made and if the presumptions on which it is based are watertight. Already back in January a review of the proposed European missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic was announced in order to see if this is the best solution to defend Europe and the United States from long-range ballistic missile threats of third sources. The United States expects to finish the review by the end of the summer.

Moscow hopes that at the end of this review Washington will realize the counter-productivity of its plan to deploy elements of U.S. missile shield in central Europe. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said earlier this week.
"I hope that the revision [of the missile shield plans] in Washington... will result in an understanding that unilateral steps in this sphere are counterproductive."
This viewpoint is shared by Russia’s Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov. He told Ekho Moskvy radio that he has reasons to believe that “ultimately, this thoughtless and very dangerous step will not be made - there will be neither radar nor missiles”.

Naturally, Russia cannot assume that Washington will follow its line of thought and it keeps all options open: on the one hand it has already expressed its willingness to collaborate with the United States on missile defense if Washington first dropped the Europe proposal, Interfax reported. On the other hand Russian President Dmitry Medvedev reaffirmed on July 10 Moscow's threat to deploy short-range missiles near Poland if Washington moved to field the European defense system. Russia is also cautious to put off Iran. It has therefore broadened the scope of the missile shield’s purpose. Vladimir Yevseyev, senior research associate with the renowned Institute for World Economy and International Relations, said that:
"Iran is not the only missile threat because there are many countries in the vast Middle East area which have developed missile programs and arms. Some of them would like to create a nuclear infrastructure.”
Yevseyev proposed to deploy missile defense systems in other places than sites proposed by the United States and use, for instance, Russia's S-400 air defense system and the U.S. Patriot system, which are both capable of intercepting missiles from the Middle East.

Some people were less creative – rather a bit off – and recycled an idea from the 1980’s: Space systems designer Boris Chertok recommended building a U.S.-Russian missile defense system in outer space, Interfax reported. Chertok should take a look at the draft PPWT, the “Treaty on Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space and of the Threat or Use of Force against Outer Space Objects” proposed by his own government and China. The draft’s article II starts off with the sentence:
“The States Parties undertake not to place in orbit around the Earth any objects carrying any kinds of weapons.”
Russia is not the only player waiting for the outcome of the review. Also Poland wants a clear answer from Washington on its plans to deploy the interceptors on Polish soil under a 2008 deal, the government spokesman Pawel Gras said on July 12.
"We're still lacking an essential, clear response as to whether the U.S. will go ahead with the shield plan. It's a fundamental question to which we need a definite answer."
Gras underlined furthermore that Warsaw was still waiting for the "U.S. to make good on the promise by the new administration, independently of the shield plan, to deploy a battery of Patriot missiles."

In summary: all options are on the table – and we will have to wait for the outcome of the review to see if the options narrow down.

© picture: Xinhua

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