25 March 2013, 21:47

Russia’s and China’s increasing security concerns over American plans to build global missile defense system are very real and justified

Mark Sleboda expert

Both the US and the Russian government have openly and categorically denied that the Obama regime’s announced minor deployment changes to the fourth phase of their planned Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) systems from Eastern Europe to the Asia Pacific have anything to do with US-Russian relations. They also insist that those changes have nothing to do with the supposed “flexibility” on missile defense that Obama, speaking in private to Medvedev last year, may or may not have hinted was possible.

This article is part of Voice of Russia Weekly Experts’ Panel discussion

“The missile defense decisions Secretary Hagel announced were in no way about Russia,” George Little, a Pentagon spokesman said in Washington. The cited reasons for the planned changes were redeployment of some more advanced interceptors to Alaska to counter a supposedly more recently belligerent North Korea as well as “technological difficulties and budget considerations”.

Meanwhile in Russia, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was more blunt. “That is not a concession to Russia, nor do we regard it as such. All aspects of strategic uncertainty related to the creation of a US and NATO missile defense system remain. Therefore, our objections also remain.”

So why have journalists and commentators in the West, and even some in Russia, continued to blow this out of proportion and consistently misrepresent it as something it is not, thereby ignoring pronouncements from the two governments involved? Because they desperately want it to be a US concession to Russia, despite all factual evidence to the contrary. 

In the US, the bizarre arcane rituals of petty domestic partisan politics have Republican critics frothing at the mouth over the opportunity to paint Obama as “weak” on “Putin’s Russia” and defense in general. 

Meanwhile, naïve holdouts on either side hang on to the fading possibility of “détente” between Russia and the US, in stubborn denial of geopolitical, security, and ideological realities. 

Even more far-fetched are Russian proponents of Medvedev’s pie-in-the-sky fantasies of a new “Joint European Security Architecture” stretching from “Lisbon to Vladivostok”, which would see Russia lovingly embraced into the bosom folds of a “Greater Europe”. No one in the West is even remotely interested in such a prospect, and its mere suggestion must be a continual source of ribald behind-the-back jokes and hilarity. 

The Americans continue to disingenuously insist that their backstabbing unilateral withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2003 and their mounting BMD are directed not at Russia’s or China’s strategic deterrent but at non-existent bogey-man threats from Iran – which does not even have a nuclear weapons program, much less a nuclear weapon. And then there are their hysterical cries about the negligible threat from the backward North Korea. 

Russian and Chinese leaders are not anyone’s fool, however. Recently they reaffirmed that they will coordinate their reactions to US plans to boost their countries’ missile defense in the Asia-Pacific region. The Chinese Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Cheng Guoping said, “The matter of missile defense has to do with global strategic balance, and China and Russia have similar views on it. Russia and the People’s Republic of China have been cooperating on the matter for years, and we will only be strengthening collaboration in this direction.” Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev has concurred: “We are concerned about the US plans to build a global missile defense system, including in the Asia-Pacific region. Our Chinese partners share our concerns and we have agreed to coordinate our actions in that respect.” 

Both Russia’s and China’s increasing security concerns over American plans are very real and justified, especially in light of Washington’s unbridled penchant for illegal and aggressive wars, occupations, and covert actions over the last two decades. The United State’s BMD plans present several overlapping security threats to Russia.

First, while it is very true that the US’s very trouble-prone BMD defense systems currently present no threat to Russian and Chinese strategic deterrents, the key caveat here is “currently”. The plans call for a “Phased Adaptive Approach”, which is meant to evolve and upgrade over time. While this is currently sketched out for only four phases, it will undoubtedly continue to evolve far into the future. The real concern is about what this may become – and indeed what it is intended to become – in the medium term and about the new arms race and cold war that will ensue and threaten the future global strategic balance. The ultimate logic of such a system is to provide for Nuclear Primacy, which would allow “first strike capability” with acceptable losses and an end of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), the nightmarish scenario immortalized in the classic Kubrick film Dr. Strangelove or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb

Second, there is a more conventional strategic military threat. The BMD plans establish a permanent US military presence and bases in Eastern Europe, right on Russia’s very doorstep. This would continue to tighten the NATO noose of containment of Russia, despite a supposed end to the Cold War and hostilities. Certainly the permanent deployment of the US military to Poland is the reason why the Polish government was so very enthusiastic to be part of the BMD system. They, at least, have been very open and direct about the fact that Washington’s plans were never about Iran and always about the permanent deployment of US troops on Polish soil to counter the alleged threat from Russia. The lack of any Polish criticism of the Obama regime’s revamped BMD plans only highlights this. The Poles already have what they want. Furthermore, the BMD plans involve the deployment of new and powerful radar screens in Romania and Turkey, which would provide total coverage of the western and southern Russian theater up to the Urals.

Third, the security threat that the American plans present to both Russia and China is part of US long-term plans for the military domination of space. The current public and journalistic debate on BMD never includes this aspect and is therefore extremely short-sighted. 

BMD is about far more than just nuclear missiles or even US military bases in Eastern Europe. It is about the development of the technology and operational deployment necessary for the US to militarily dominate space. As the BMD systems evolve and upgrade they will provide the ability to shoot down any anti-satellite weapon and to deny the use of space to adversaries like Russia and China by acting as anti-satellite weapons themselves. It will be far easier for these systems to shoot down satellites in space than intercept ballistic missiles. Thus BMD “defense” in effect becomes a powerful weapon of control, extending US military hegemony into space. 

Therefore any perceived or even real concessions that may be granted by the US on BMD are completely irrelevant in the bigger geo-strategic picture. With BMD defense, the US, in contravention of international treaties prohibiting the militarization of space, is forging resolutely ahead with the technological development, technical capacity and operational deployment that will be necessary for it to take control of this new battleground of the 21st century. The Russian and Chinese governments know this, which is why they will and must continue to be staunchly opposed to and seek to counter US plans. Their security and independence, as well as the security of the whole world, depend on it.


Mark Sleboda, Senior Lecturer and Researcher, Department of International Relations and Centre for Conservative Studies, Sociology Faculty, Moscow State University

The topic for the Discussion Panel is provided by Vlad Sobell,

Editor, Expert Discussion Panel

Professor, New York University, Prague  

Editor, Consensus East-West Europe

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