Interview with Dr. Nicholas Gvozdev, Professor of National Security Studies at the US Naval War College.
I think that there was a sense that the Obama administration was going to back away from the missile defense in a way that the Bush administration was really moving forward. There were expectations that the Obama administration was not really going to presume missile defense with the same degree of interest; there was the whole back and forth over preamble to the new START Treaty. I think now in Russia the sense is that the US administration, the Obama administration, is moving ahead with missile defense plans under the different guys. Instead of being a sense that the US was going to move away from it, there is that kind of the Bush plan which has just been redrafted and redesigned. So, all of the unresolved issues that were there two or three years ago have come right back out under the table.
Are the parties to negotiations trying to resolve those issues? Are the negotiations constructive?
They can be, but the problem is not in negotiations, the negations are ongoing, but you are running up against two issues. The first is that the United States is not going to delay implementation of its missile defense plans until differences with Moscow are resolved. So, you have the first issue being that the Unites States is going to continue moving ahead with plans and preparations for deployment even in the absence of an agreement with Moscow. The second issue is that Washington and Moscow still have a great deal of distance between them over what they have agreed would be the parameters for Russian cooperation in defense system. Everyone accepts the idea that Russia should play a role, but when you start to get into details of what that actually means, you run up into problems. And really one of the biggest concerns from the Russian side is that Moscow wants to have a veto over the use of the system – when it can be used, how it can be used; and the United States is going to be very uncomfortable having a missile defense system and then, if Russia does not agree to use it, then it cannot be used. So, I think that we are running up against the sense how Russia’s participation is going to be in the system. The talks are going, as you have suggested, we do have talks, we are looking at these questions, but there is no immediate easy answer to that question.
Yes, of course, but obviously we are not talking about the deadlock yet, are we?
Not yet. There is not deadlock yet, but, as I have said before, there is a sense that over time as the US continues with its efforts, there will be a point that these issues are not resolved, the US will move on without Russian participation. So, it is that sense that there is no deadlock now, but we do not have unlimited amounts of time to resolve these questions.
Do I get it right that still there are some compromise scenarios which have not been looked at yet?
There are always compromise scenarios: the outgoing Secretary Gates proposed several during his time as defense secretary. But even compromise scenarios in the end have the same control issues of who in the end has the right to use this system, when it can be used, does it require all parties to agree, does it simply require all parties to be notified. So, obviously the compromises are there, they all come down in the end of this question of command and control. The fundamental question is Russia is not a part of NATO, therefore what veto power should Russia have over US-NATO system for it to be used? Even all the compromise plans cannot get around that fundamental problem of assuming what role Russia has and how this system would be operating?
In fact, Mr. Rasmussen sounds a little bit irritated, if you have read his comments; that was quite emotional and actually gives an impression that patience is running out, not as much as time is running out but patience is.
I think that people want to have a sense that this issue could be quickly resolved within the parameters of the reset, but that is the question which does not have an easy, immediate answer to it. In the end it boils down to the fact that we still have a good relationship between the Medvedev and Obama administrations, but we still do not have trust really emerging there between both national security establishments, and in the end for this to move forward either the United States has to be prepared to trust that Russian involvement in the system would be beneficial, or the Russian side has to trust US intentions. It is hard to have a joint cooperation in missile system between two states when they fundamentally do not quite trust each other. You cannot make that work effectively in the absence of trust, and we are seeing this lack of patience as a matter for station of that.
Do you think that it is largely something like an emotional residue of the Cold War thinking, because if you look at that issue from the rational point of view, is there any reason why our nations should regard themselves as potential enemies?
No, they shouldn’t, and there is no rational basis for that at the present time. The problem is that neither side wants to preclude any future that could arise where you might have a situation with both countries antagonistic against each other. So, from the Russian side the relations are great with the United States today, but if they are not so great tomorrow Russia does not want to see one of its few advantages in the international system, its nuclear deterrent be undermined. And from the US side: relations are good with Russia today, but can you really be sure that five or ten years down the road relations might not worsen at some point? So, if that both sides today look at each other and say: we have a good relationship, we do not have in a core a sense that this good relationship is destined to last, and because neither side feels that it is destined to last, both sides are hedging against each other, and that is part of what drives this emotional reaction to missile defense.
And that is actually a very sad reality.