Reverting to old illusions


MOSCOW. (Berliner Zeitung commentator Frank Herold for RIA Novosti) -  The situation is becoming serious. It seems that the government of the Czech Republic will not be dissuaded from agreeing to deploy elements of the U.S. National Missile Defense (NMD) System on Czech territory.

The day after the Czech-U.S. agreement was signed, much less Russian crude oil started flowing to the country. The exporting company said the decrease was not politically motivated, citing "technical problems."

However, the Czechs are looking in the direction of Lithuania, where oil supplies were unexpectedly stopped three years ago, although repairs were to have lasted just 60 days.

Poland is still negotiating its contribution to the NMD system. Unlike Prague, Warsaw is trying to play it safe, and does not want missile defense plans to become history along with the ill-fated U.S. President George W. Bush.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk recently said the NMD system would enhance U.S. security, rather than that of Poland. At the same time, Warsaw is casting a worried glance at Moscow, and not Tehran, which Washington insists is the greater threat.

Russia has hinted that it will take military counter-measures if U.S. missile interceptors are deployed in Poland. It would be a mistake not to take this seriously.

The NMD system has aroused much greater controversy than any other military-strategic project of the last few years. Each aspect, including the project's feasibility, military significance and its impact on security policies, has been meticulously and repeatedly assessed.

On the one hand, Washington still cannot offer convincing evidence that its missile interceptors will help the world cope with international terrorism, supposedly the main threat to global security.

Is there any obvious major threat justifying such a project? There are no missiles in the Middle East or South-West Asia with sufficient range to hit the United States.

Washington claims that this is a long-term rather than immediate threat, arising from the combination of nuclear weapons and religious fanaticism. Iran will inevitably be mentioned in this connection.

Although it would undoubtedly be a good thing to prevent Iran from going nuclear, it may not be possible. Consequently, we may witness a reversion to the cynical cold war-era logic of intimidation.

The cold war proved that nuclear weapons had a limited offensive potential but could effectively intimidate an enemy and deter aggression. There is no reason to believe that Iran is motivated by any other considerations in its desire to develop nuclear weapons. The same goes for all the current members of the Nuclear Club.

Washington dismisses suggestions that Tehran's motives are purely deterrent, though its case is weakened by the Bush administration's record of juggling the facts to justify the war in Iraq.

On the other hand, current plans are for just ten conventional missiles and one radar station, rather than thousands of nuclear warheads or hundreds of Pershing and SS-20 missiles.

"Much ado about a couple of missiles," the former German Foreign Minister wrote in an article some time ago. The Russian response has been emotional to the point of hysteria, despite U.S. reassurances that there is nothing to be afraid of.

That, at least, is the impression one gets from reading statements by some members of the Russian military leadership. The projected missile defense system actually poses no direct threat to Russian security; Russia's available military potential could easily breach it.

But the dispute does not revolve simply around one radar, ten missiles, several hundred million dollars and Moscow's ability to thwart such plans. To really understand the controversy, we must consider a number of crucial aspects of security policy.

In the 1980s and the 1990s, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., later Russia, reached a consensus that disarmament, or at the very least arms control, was the only way to make the world a safer place.

President Bush's decision to set up the NMD system, made at the beginning of his term, represents a reversion to the illusory concepts of the 1960s, when analysts believed that expanded preparations for war were the only way to achieve security. But the NMD system serves as a fresh refutation of that flawed theory. For it will be very effective at launching a new arms race, but completely incapable of coping with political and military-strategic challenges.

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

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