April 21, 2009
The first meeting (on 1 April in London) between Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev went very well. Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev have pledged to agree cuts in their countries’ nuclear arsenals by December of this year, as part of a “fresh start” in US-Russian relations and a step towards “a nuclear free world”. Obama has ‘pressed the reset button’, as promised. The atmosphere of the meeting was good and the two men seemed to get on well.
President Obama accepted an invitation to visit Moscow in July, by which time both sides hope negotiators from both countries will have worked out an arms control deal to replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) which expires on 5 December. The negotiators were told to begin work at once.
The joint statement stated that, “We committed our two countries to achieving a nuclear-free world, while recognising that this long-term goal will require a new emphasis on arms control and conflict resolution measures, and their full implementation by all concerned nations.”
With Barack Obama replacing George W Bush, hopefully western understanding of Russian sensitivities will increase. Russia’s invasion of Georgia and its reaction to the South Ossetia state of affairs are indefensible and reflect an aggressive attitude which some claim is a return to traditional thinking. Little thought, however, has been addressed to the effect of western attitudes on Russian behaviour.
From a Russian standpoint, the anti-missile shield based in the Czech Republic and Poland, and the admission of Georgia and Ukraine to NATO, constitute aggressive acts. And so they are, whatever their true intentions. While it is not yet possible publicly to abandon the two policies (the defence shield and NATO expansion), the signs were favourable when President Obama took office.
However, Obama has subsequently firmly, and it seems unnecessarily, supported the anti-missile system. This was probably either for tactical reasons vis-à-vis Russia and/or Iran, or due to pressure from the Israeli, Czech and Polish lobbies. He can make a concession to Russia in return for, say, support in dealing with Iran.
The two policies also provoke potentially dangerous nationalist sentiments in Russia. The defence shield project provoked the Kalingrad plan, by which President Medvedev aims to “neutralize – if necessary – the [American] anti-missile system”. Medvedev also announced in early December 2008 a comprehensive upgrade of Russia’s missile programme, including RS-24 missiles, specifically designed to counter space-based missile attacks as well as penetrate any missile shield.
Russia’s reactions are easily understood. Washington’s increasingly intimate relationship with Poland and the Czech Republic is regarded as an intrusion into Russia’s ‘near-abroad’ and traditional sphere of influence. Despite Iran recently claiming that it produced and tested missiles capable of hitting southern Europe, there is little evidence of this. The shield specifically targets space-based military weaponry: Russia is the only country able technologically to develop this weaponry.
During the presidential campaign, Obama expressed a deep worry about nuclear terrorist attacks and nuclear weapons proliferation by rogue states. He remains opposed to installing the missile shield before its capability has been proven. He recognizes its adverse implications, both domestically as to cost and internationally as to security reactions.
The Rand Corporation sees the future outlook in the following terms:
Should President Obama move forward with the Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) project:
- The current international structure would become dangerously destabilized. This would antagonize Russia, a crucial participant in global non-proliferation and disarmament, and retard two decades of moderate cooperation on nuclear issues.
- Continued proliferation of nuclear weapons and missile defence would spur a new Cold War arms race with more sophisticated weaponry with the devastating possibility of a nuclear launch. This would prompt other countries to continue or start their own nuclear programs with nuclear weapons becoming strategic instruments of political leverage in international relations.
- American unilateral security engagement would undermine European security. Instead of deterring, Washington’s active engagement with Eastern Europe would trigger a new arms race with Russia and others. Continental Europe could become a new target for attack by the United States’ adversaries.
If President Obama stops the project:
- Much-needed resources could be diverted towards more strategic security measures to safeguard American and global security.
- It would reinforce American leadership and commitment to international security and non-proliferation through multilateral institutions such as the UN and EU.
- President Obama could gain full support from Secretary of Defence Robert Gates, who has actively pushed for more funding for the State Department to substantially expand its diplomatic corps, cautious NATO expansion and engagement in the former Soviet satellites, and limited reliance on military defence.
Rand concludes that the project has consistently exacerbated the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and pushed the international community to the brink of a dangerous arms race. The new presidency presents America a unique opportunity to reassess the missile defense plan. Russia’s top political and military leadership, Medvedev, Putin, and General Nikolai Marakov, have already extended their offer of engagement. President Obama has immense power to pursue wise, pragmatic, and strategic global leadership; these are some recommended strategies that he could take:
- Initiate regular, high-level dialogue to foster mutual understanding and cooperation with Russia.
- Revisit arms control treaties to make necessary changes to address newly emerging dangers of nuclear weaponry. This includes placing a limitation on nuclear stockpiles and the development and production of particularly dangerous weapons of mass destruction. To ensure their effectiveness, the U.S. and Russia would need to engage other nuclear powers, particularly Pakistan, India, and China.
- The U.S. could pursue a more multilateral strategy and engage with Moscow through the NATO-Russia Council. This would level the playing field and provide a more transparent forum for the engagement of all 26 members of NATO, in particular Poland and the Czech Republic.
- Collaborate with Secretary Gates to develop more strategic, pragmatic, capable, and cost-effective defence strategies which emphasize diplomacy and are detached from the military-industrial complex
It is hard to understand, from a western standpoint, the advisability of expanding NATO to Georgia and Ukraine. Happily,expansion to embrace Georgia and Ukraine were not on the Strasbourg-Kehl summit’s agenda.
The EU needs to clarify its policy towards Moscow. It has rightly emphasized that the Eastern Partnership is not directed against Russia. The Partnership will be launched On 7 May in Prague, and is the result of lengthy efforts by Sweden, Poland, the Czech Republic and the Commission to give greater impetus to European neighbourhood policy and strengthen its regional component. However, Russia is unhappy with the possibility that the EU will become more active in former Soviet countries. It needs to understand that Russia as well as the EU will benefit from greater political stability and prosperity in those countries.
The EU-Russia Summit of 2 May is awaited with interest.
Author : Stanley Crossick