Europe must join missile shield discussion

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Pyotr Goncharov) - U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates failed to convince the Kremlin that the U.S. missile shield in Eastern Europe would be completely innocuous and pose no threat to Russia, despite all the efforts he made during his visit to Moscow.

His statement that the shield was intended to prevent potential aggressors in the Middle East and Asia from using their ballistic missiles to blackmail Europe or the U.S. and cause chaos actually had the opposite effect.

The Russian General Staff believes that the real goal of the missile defense system being deployed in Europe is to protect the United States from the Russian and Chinese threat and to make the United States invulnerable to missile attacks. "If we see that these installations pose a threat to Russia's national security, they will be targeted by our forces," Chief of the General Staff Yury Baluyevsky said. "What measures we are going to take - strategic, nuclear or other - is a technical issue."

However, not all Russian experts share the position of the General Staff. Many of them think that the 10 interceptors to be deployed in Poland according to the U.S. missile defense plan will pose no threat to Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles because their flight routes to the United States cross the Arctic, not Europe. Interceptors hit their targets head-on, they do not chase them. The same obviously holds true for China's missiles, which would naturally choose the eastern route rather than the western one across Russia and Europe to reach the United States.

Moreover, according to Russian expert Alexander Khramchikhin, an interceptor base in Poland and a tracking radar in the Czech Republic are an ideal combination for destroying Iranian missiles, either intermediate-range ones targeted at Europe or intercontinental missiles aimed at the United States.

What is unclear though, is why Iran should threaten Europe. Why should it aim missiles at Europe even if it had them?

It would be more logical to attack the United States and Israel, Tehran's adversaries ever since 1979. Still, even so, and even if it had suitable missiles, Iran would hardly risk a missile confrontation with those nations because it would be suicidal, considering the counter-strike that would immediately follow.

Another interesting question is whether the United States asked Europe's opinion before rushing to build missile defenses to protect it from the hypothetical threat posed by Iran and other "rogue" nations. Did it take into consideration the interests of those European nations which could become the potential targets of Tehran's aggression because they are the best candidates to be U.S. allies in this theater of war? I am referring to Britain, Germany and France, the key European opponents of Iran's nuclear program and key architects of European security. It was they who pressured Washington into signing the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with the Soviet Union, which rid the world of two classes of ballistic and cruise missiles.

At that time Europe was gravely worried by the escalation of nuclear tensions on the continent, which was largely due to the presence of U.S. intermediate-range Pershing-2s and GLCMs (ground launched cruise missiles) with nuclear warheads, and the Soviet Union's possible reaction. After the treaty was signed, Pershings and GLCMs disappeared from Europe, and Soviet short- and intermediate-range missiles were destroyed.

But today, will Europe agree to go 20 years back in time? Hardly. Europe fears that the White House's missile defense initiative could split it into two camps, the plan's supporters and critics.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Gates sounded quite sincere when saying in a recent article that America could not "go it alone." They said their goal was to field systems capable of protecting not only the United States and its forces, but also "friends and allies" and they needed "defenses in place well before a threat fully emerges."

However, Moscow and a number of European capitals have a different view of this problem. Such plans must assume "cooperation from the start, and, as a first step, must include a joint assessment of existing threats and coordination of measures to be taken," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a news conference in Luxembourg. His counterpart from that country, Jean Asselborn, seconded this opinion by saying that the EU should not be part of the game between Russia and the United States.

The conclusion to be drawn from all this is that the missile defense plans should be discussed by three parties - the United States, Russia and Europe - so that the latter would not become an unwilling pawn in the other two's game.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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