The European component of the US Missile Defense System is one of the major irritants in the US-Russian relations. The American administration insists it is aimed to counter threats coming from Iran and North Korea. The Russians respond that geography, laws of physics and irrefutable facts clearly indicate that the system is targeting Russia, not Iran. Their legitimate concern is quite justified.
The situation has devolved into a long term stalemate. The USA refuses to provide any solid guarantee that the system is not aimed at Russia while assuring their partners of good intentions. The Moscow’s Joint European Missile Defense initiative has fallen on deaf ears. Numerous attempts to find a compromise have been futile, so last fall Moscow announced it was about to take steps to minimize the threat to the Russian nuclear deterrence capability. New radars and strike forces in Kaliningrad are commissioned to counter it, the R&D efforts to create new delivery means and warheads invulnerable to the US defense systems under deployment have been intensified.
Against this background the United States has made a ‘gesture of good will’. Ellen Tauscher, the US Special Envoy for Strategic Stability and Missile Defense at the State Department, has reportedly introduced the Russian side to the secret information on the missile defense components during a recent meeting. The papers allegedly containing characteristics of SM-3 interceptor were to assure Russians that the system is unable to counter Russian missiles.
However this information was considered completely useless by the Russian side. A source in the Russian Ministry of Defense even described its reliability and timeliness “in a coarse language”. Being convinced that the talks lack any constructive approach, the Russian Federation decided to move the process to a new stage. The Russian Ministry of Defense has announced plans to hold an international conference on May 3-4, 2012 “to produce evidence of potential threat to Russian nuclear deterrent capabilities by the US missile shield in Eastern Europe’.
Victoria Nuland, the spokesperson for the US Department of State, refused to comment these claims. Informal sources reported the talks between Ellen Tauscher and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov produced nothing more than a confirmation of intent to seek a compromise, there were no secret data delivered. ‘The United States did not transfer any secret data on tactical and technical characteristics either of missiles or any other elements of the deployable Missile Defense System,’ Sergey Ryabkov emphasized. Actually, even if the data on interceptors were delivered, the fact would hardly change anything. In case missile characteristics are used as security criteria, considerable efforts are required to produce reliable guarantees. The only way to make sure that the missiles pose no threat to Russian deterrence potential is to establish a Russian state commission on spot at the production facility to verify the conformity of the real characteristics to the declared. Otherwise who can guarantee it’s not a bluff?
Besides that a constant monitoring would be required to check if the elements deployed at Morong and Redzikovo air base in Poland really have the declared composition and no changes were made. How to make sure the “incapable” missiles are not substituted with the “capable” ones? Naturally such monitoring being dubiously effective would require more effort and significant steps forward by the United States.
It hardly gives any ground for hope. Washington even refuses to provide Russia with written guarantees that the missile defense is not directed against them, so no way to expect they would provide Russian military experts an access to the whole infrastructure chain from production to commissioning. It would be naïve. But any talks basing on unreliable and unverifiable information resemble empty oratories about ‘missile defense,North Korea and Iran’.
To turn the talks to a more obvious agenda e.g. discussing the reasons to dislocate the missile defense components against Iranian rockets in Poland, a hundred kilometers away from the Russian borders, the United States has seemingly no intent.
The conference announced by the Russian Ministry of Defense on May would be really an important event. Military delegations of a number of states including the USA, China and India are invited to take part in it. The Russian stance on missile defense will be presented in detail. Preliminary computer models show that the US missile defense interceptors in Europe are going to acquire partial detection and destruction capability against Russian ballistic missiles at the third stage of the implementation and full strike capability at the fourth stage.
Despite the inevitable resonance the conference would make in the media, the goal is not to bring the USA to light and make it reject its plans. It’s hardly ever possible.
Too many resources are already invested into the Missile Defense System project to just cancel it now. But a comprehensive explanation why Russia will have to upgrade its nuclear shield, regroup and bolster its armed forces in the next few years will be given at the conference. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said that while the door is still not shut for the dialogue on missile defense, ‘everyone should be ready for changes’. The President stressed Russia may pull out of existing arms control agreements in case the United States keeps upsetting further the balance of nuclear parity. And who knows what might be other Russian ‘asymmetrical answers’.
The original publication has appeared in Russian at WIN.RU