Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Arms race: Bush postures against Putin

Bush is scheduled to meet with Vladimir Putin this week at the G-8 summit in Heliegendamm, Germany. He prepared for it by giving a speech defending the stationing of the Star Wars "missile defense" system in Poland and the Czech Republic: President Bush Visits Prague, Czech Republic, Discusses Freedom 06/05/07.

Speaking in the Czernin Palace in Prague, Bush welcomed three of his guests as "three of the great advocates for freedom in our time". One was Vaclav Havel, former democracy activist in Cold War Czechslovakia and former president of the Czech Republic; no real argument about his role as an advocate for democracy and human right. José María Aznar, the former Spanish prime minister and former head of the conservative People's Party (Partido Populár, PP), who backed Bush's invastion of Iraq; Aznar was widely credited with bringing the PP (which is the "postfascist" descendent of dictator Francisco Franco's party) into the mainstream of European conservatism. The third was Natan Sharansky, who Bush sees as an advocate for Bush's self-claimed mission to spread democracy by force in the Middle East.

Giving a litany of various states that Bush considers hostile in some way to the US, he expressed his warm support for "freedom" in those countries. Including Putin's Russia:

In Russia, reforms that were once promised to empower citizens have been derailed, with troubling implications for democratic development. Part of a good relationship is the ability to talk openly about our disagreements. So the United States will continue to build our relationships with these countries - and we will do it without abandoning our principles or our values.
Not surprisingly, Russian positions and responses on this sort of thing are not given very thorough coverage by our Potemkin press corps. But Putin laid out the broad outlines of his current, more confrontive approach, at the Munich Security Conference this past February (Putin's Prepared Remarks at 43rd Munich Conference on Security Policy, Delivered Feb. 10, 2007 Washington Post 02/12/07). Putin also indicated his willingness to talk openly, as Bush put it:

This conference's structure allows me to avoid excessive politeness and the need to speak in roundabout, pleasant but empty diplomatic terms. This conference's format will allow me to say what I really think about international security problems. And if my comments seem unduly polemical, pointed or inexact to our colleagues, then I would ask you not to get angry with me. After all, this is only a conference. And I hope that after the first two or three minutes of my speech Mr Teltschik will not turn on the red light over there.
In other words, sure, Mr. Tough Guy From Texas, if you want to have these frank and uninhibited talks, as the diplomats say, and if you want to carry them on in public, well, shoot, I can talk tough, too.

He proceded to address the "anti-missile" issue:

Plans to expand certain elements of the anti-missile defence system to Europe cannot help but disturb us. Who needs the next step of what would be, in this case, an inevitable arms race? I deeply doubt that Europeans themselves do.

Missile weapons with a range of about five to eight thousand kilometres that really pose a threat to Europe do not exist in any of the so-called problem countries. And in the near future and prospects, this will not happen and is not even foreseeable. And any hypothetical launch of, for example, a North Korean rocket to American territory through western Europe obviously contradicts the laws of ballistics. As we say in Russia, it would be like using the right hand to reach the left ear.
Today, Wednesday, Bush claimed that those defenses are not aimed at Russia (Bush reiterates: Russia not an enemy by Terence Hunt AP 06/06/07):

"Russia is not an enemy," Bush said, seeking not to inflame a heated exchange of rhetoric between Washington and Moscow. "There needs to be no military response because we're not at war with Russia. ... Russia is not a threat. Nor is the missile defense we're proposing a threat to Russia."
Apparently, he did not say against what other threat they were directed, though the official line is that they are meant to protect against Iran (see below)..

With no small bit of irony, Putin in his February speech declared his country to be non-threatening to the West because of Russian democracy; democracies in the Bush/ Sharansky ideology don't go to war against other democracies. Putin said:

It is sufficient to look at recent history. Did not our country have a peaceful transition to democracy? Indeed, we witnessed a peaceful transformation of the Soviet regime - a peaceful transformation! And what a regime! With what a number of weapons, including nuclear weapons! Why should we start bombing and shooting now at every available opportunity? Is it the case when without the threat of mutual destruction we do not have enough political culture, respect for democratic values and for the law?
And as the Cheney-Bush administration complains about the "democratic deficit" in today's Russia, Putin has also begun pointing at alleged deficits in the democratic practice of Western democracies. And part of that, in his February speech, is the role of international law and the unilateralism of the Bush administration:

We are seeing a greater and greater disdain for the basic principles of international law. And independent legal norms are, as a matter of fact, coming increasingly closer to one state's legal system. One state and, of course, first and foremost the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way. This is visible in the economic, political, cultural and educational policies it imposes on other nations. Well, who likes this? Who is happy about this?

In international relations we increasingly see the desire to resolve a given question according to so-called issues of political expediency, based on the current political climate.

And of course this is extremely dangerous. It results in the fact that no one feels safe. I want to emphasise this - no one feels safe! Because no one can feel that international law is like a stone wall that will protect them. Of course such a policy stimulates an arms race. (my emphasis)
And, as Terence Hunt of the AP reports:

Asked if he anticipated a tense encounter, Bush replied "Could be. I don't think so ... I'll work to see that it's not a tense meeting."

Putin has accused the U.S. of starting a new arms race and said if the U.S. pressed ahead with its plan, Russia would revert to targeting its missiles on Europe as it did during the Cold War. China joined Russia in saying the missile defense plan could touch off a new escalation in nuclear weapons.

The move to put the missile defense shield in former Warsaw Pact nations — purportedly as a defense against a future missile launch from Iran — clearly fanned Putin's anger.
William Arkin looked at the current budding arms race and observes (Live by the Cold War, Die by the Cold War Washington Post 06/05/07):

... the missile strategy arises from the kind of Cold War thinking that we should have left behind with, well, the Cold War. Not only does it complicate relations with our allies in Europe, it's also unlikely to be effective in the new kind of war the Bush administration says we are fighting. ...

Technically, of course, the puny system planned for Poland and the Czech Republic doesn't threaten anything in Russia. ...

I'm arguing instead that missile defenses are so old-think. First, Iran's ballistic missile force is hardly the most significant or pressing threat, especially when stacked up against terrorism, a Persian Gulf war, even potential WMD. Second, by the time a workable system is up and running in Europe, even if that is possible, technologies will have changed. Third, "missile defenses" connotes the very kind of passivity that the Bush administration usually decries. We are going to wait for Iran to develop an arsenal of threatening ballistic missiles to threaten Europe? The United States has a policy of preemption, supported by both parties, and it has the means of attack that makes it clear to Iran that if it wanted to lash out with conventional military force, it will be destroyed. ...

We have fanned the flames in Russia, complicated life for NATO members Poland and the Czech Republic, and rewarded Iran. An improvement in our defenses indeed.
It's also worth remembering the basic flaw in the missile defense system, even if it ever starts working on any kind of reliable basis. For the system to really be a missile shield, it has to be very close to 100% effective in shooting down all incoming missiles. If even a few nuclear warheads get through, it could still impose unacceptable losses on the target country.

But the "missile defense systems" are very expensive to build. And the systems to evade them, like the mobile missiles Russia recently tested, are much cheaper to construct. That may make American missile manufacturers and suppliers happy. But it's not the optimal way to spend defense dollars.

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