10 February 2012, 01:10

U.S. missile shield in Europe hampers other disarmament efforts

U.S. missile shield in Europe hampers other disarmament efforts

It’s been a year since Moscow and Washington sealed a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START-3). The agreement, largely celebrated as the main achievement of the US-Russia ‘reset’, was also expected to pave the way for future arms reduction talks, especially in the nuclear sphere.

It’s been a year since Moscow and Washington sealed a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START-3). The agreement, largely celebrated as the main achievement of the US-Russia ‘reset’, was also expected to pave the way for future arms reduction talks, especially in the nuclear sphere. However, not only did those expectations fail to materialize, on the contrary, many Russian diplomats and military officials are now warning of a new spiral of arms race.

America’s plans to deploy a European missile shield by 2020 have proven to be a major stumbling block in the way of US-Russia negotiations as the US failed to assure Moscow that the system wasn’t aimed at Russia.

Moscow believes that “the deployment of the US missile defense system in Europe is an attempt to tip the balance of power in the region. Ever since the end of the Cold War, the US has been moving its strategic weapons closer to Russian borders,” Russian Deputy Defence Minister Anatoly Antonov said.

The rift could be bridged through diplomatic and expert talks, but Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov believes the ongoing talks have failed to result in any progress. “Although consultations are continuing, I see no light at the end of the tunnel,” he said at the Munich Security Conference last week and stressed that the once fully-fledge talks have now descended into mere consultations.

But the alternative would be even worse. “Our concerns are not being heard.  The missile shield is being deployed despite our concerns, so we are being forced to take retaliatory steps,” Gen. Nikolai Makarov said after the NATO-Russia Council meeting which took place in December 2011.

In the meantime, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has outlined the retaliatory measures Russia could be forced to take in response to the deployment of the US missile shield in Europe.  These measures envisage a deployment of Iskander missiles in Russia's westernmost Kaliningrad region, as well as other defence systems capable of countering any threats posed by NATO.

In effect, Medvedev’s statement signaled that, in its drive to build up its missile defence capabilities, the US could soon reach the point of no return, which will render all arms talks completely useless. “The measures outlined by President Medvedev are well thought-out, well-grounded and backed up by appropriate resources,” Anatoly Antonov said.

The US missile defense programme is not only triggering a new spiral of the arms race, it’s also ruling out any opportunities for disarmament which START-3 seemed to have offered.

According to US Assistant Secretary Rose Gottemoeller, the START treaty laid a good foundation for further disarmament efforts. She recalled that when signing the treaty, US President Barack Obama noted that, as soon as the treaty comes into force, the US would seek further reductions of strategic and tactical weapons, including non-deployed weapons.

At the same meeting, Russia’s position was put forward by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, who stressed that after the signing of the treaty, a holistic approach and consideration of additional factors, including the missile defense issue, would be of vital importance.

“A deadlock in talks on missile defence is hampering the entire process of nuclear disarmament. Essentially, negotiations on further reductions of nuclear weapons cannot be confined to strategic weapons alone. Another three issues which need to be resolved are missile defense, non-strategic nuclear weapons, and non-nuclear military facilities,” Yevgeny Myasnikov, Director of the Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies argues.

“The issue of missile defence is central to any talks on nuclear disarmament. Finding common ground on the issue of missile defence would help solve the other two problems mentioned above, while any deadlock in negotiations on this point would stall any talks on tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) and non-nuclear military facilities, or any further reduction of strategic nuclear weapons,” the expert believes.

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