Missile tit-for-tat


MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Kislyakov)

It looks as if Russia has long guessed the American moves to create a missile defense system in Europe, and is responding tit-for-tat and even figure-for-figure.

On November 6, the Americans happily rejoiced after achieving their long-cherished ambition of hitting two target drones at the same time. The Russian reaction was not slow in coming. Russia is now poised to pull out of two basic international treaties on arms limitation.

On October 26, in an advance move, Col.-Gen. Nikolai Solovtsov, commander of Russia's Strategic Missile Forces, said that Russia could quickly resume the production of short- and medium-range missiles if it was necessary and if there was a political decision.

"If there is a political decision to make such a class of missile, then it is obvious that they will be made in Russia in the near future because we have everything we need," he said, addressing a news briefing to mark the 15th anniversary of the Association of Missilemen Veterans, an interregional public organization.

As a complementary move, on November 7, Russia's State Duma unanimously voted for a moratorium on Russia's continued participation in the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE).

The theoretical possibility of having a dozen anti-missiles and one radar system deployed in Europe and the extremely rare practice of dummy firing have posed a real threat to the main international national security agreements.

Russia wants to withdraw from both the 1988 treaty on short- and intermediate-range missiles and the CFE treaty, the adapted version of which was signed in 1999, in retaliation for America's intention to establish a missile defense shield on Russia's doorstep.

While the latter agreement deals with conventional armaments, the ballistic missiles of shorter and intermediate range, capable of reaching as far as 5,000 km, belong to the class of strategic nuclear weapons.

American Pershing-2 missiles deployed in Western Europe and Soviet SS-20 Pioneer missiles, stationed in East European countries and the Far East, made up a "critical mass," which could have given rise to a nuclear conflict between the two countries in the mid-1980s.

Will Russia gain from resuming the manufacture of these types of missiles and their possible use? Definitely not. Despite repeated statements, for example, by Yury Salomonov, director of the Moscow Institute of Heat Engineering, that Russia has everything necessary for their production, it is difficult to believe that considerable funds will become available to restore a full manufacturing cycle.

Besides, it is not wise to dust off 40-year-old product equipment, especially since Ukrainian industry had a large role in making it.

But the main aspect is, of course, military. 2007 is not 1985. Russia's operational scope has shrunk, while America's has expanded. It will take some time to find deployment areas in the small European part of Russia.

The U.S. Air Force, on the other hand, will not even need to resume the production of Pershing missiles. It will be enough to restore low-cost ground facilities for conventional and permitted Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missiles, in this case nuclear-tipped.

With America capable of producing up to 500 such missiles annually, one can imagine the potential threat from this system.

As an alternative option, Russia could use non-nuclear warheads on Pioneers or downscaled Topol-M2 mobile intercontinental missiles. We already mentioned the former. As for the latter, it is justifiably feared that the downscaling will take time and effort but produce a mixed result. It is difficult to recognize the wisdom of converting a land-based Topol into a sea-based Bulava.

No one denies that the idea of missile defense needs to be matched by appropriate counter-ideas, symmetrical if possible. Should we oppose the missile defense shield with adequate defensive weapons, which, according to the Strategic Missiles Forces, are available and being successfully tested by Russia? Then the dangerous tendency threatening to erode the negotiated basis of international security will go away by itself.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do no necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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