By Robert Joseph and J.D. Crouch II
The Washington Post
Thursday, March 13, 2008; Page A17
Six years ago, President Bush announced the U.S. withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and our intention to deploy defenses against emerging threats from countries such as North Korea and Iran. Contrary to prevailing expectations, the sky did not fall. Moscow’s response, delivered in a statement by President Vladimir Putin, expressed disagreement with the U.S. decision but emphasized that U.S. defenses were not a threat to Russia and that Russia would make major reductions in its strategic offensive forces — a striking rebuke to the myth that ending the ABM Treaty would lead to an arms race.
Today, the United States and Russia find themselves in opposition on the issue of deploying 10 missile interceptors and supporting radar to Europe — an act of much less strategic consequence than abandonment of the ABM Treaty. Bush and his national security team have explained the concept, in considerable detail, to Russia’s national security elite. Moscow objects by citing a threat to its own deterrent (an argument it knows has no merit) and the stationing of American forces near its borders (which reminds it of the painful loss of empire) and denies the existence of an Iranian missile threat.
Russia’s stance reflects its increasing assertiveness as a major player on the international scene, helped by the price of its energy exports. Moscow is eager to regain its great-power status and thinks the path to success requires painting the United States as the threat. The United States, as a prominent former Russian official once told us, is the threat Russians love to hate.
With equal determination, the Bush administration has sought to change Russian perspectives. Over five years, the United States has made proposal after proposal to work with Russia’s military and industry on missile defense. We have both been involved in these initiatives, offering modest cooperative activities, such as activation of a joint early-warning center, and projects that would be more technically, and politically, challenging. Each time cooperation has been deflected or rejected. Russia’s offer of the use of its radar in Azerbaijan, for example, came with a string attached — that the United States forgo building an interceptor site in Europe.