Vladimir Putin is a world-class master at getting what he wants. Now he seems poised to return to the presidency of Russia for another term in a few years and he seems to have convinced many, by deception, that missile defenses in Europe are a threat to Russia.
Conceived way back during the Ronald Reagan presidency and often derisively called “Star Wars” or the missile shield, U.S. missile defense is no threat to Russia or anyone else. Like a defensive basketball or football player, missile defense is designed and used to block destructive attacking missiles from reaching their goals.
Russia has manipulated the world media for almost two decades to create the illusion that missile defense is some threat to Russians. In fact, no missile defense missile has the capability of harming Russia or Russians: the “kill mechanism” of a missile defense interceptor is the kinetic energy or crashing into the attacking missile. The missile defense missile has no warhead — unlike intercontinental ballistic missiles that can carry 10 or so nuclear warheads, each capable of annihilating millions of people and entire cities.
The U.S. missile defense effort for Europe has been a long and painstaking discussion going back two decades. Along with thousands of others, I participated myself in these discussions, forums and conferences, in the early 1990s, on two levels: first as co-chairman of a NATO study (one of several) to determine the efficacy and implications of a European missile defense to stop missiles like those being developed by Iran targeted on Europe; and then on U.S. government missions to Moscow to show with credible evidence that a U.S. missile defense was no threat to Russia — or anybody.
By the middle 1990s, the Russians seemed to agree that U.S. missile defenses, even in Europe, were no threat to Russia or Russians.
In 2002, the United States, after years of notification to Russia and discussions with Russia, withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty which had been made with the Soviet Union. This action was necessary to permit testing of U.S. missile defenses — which had targets and interceptors that could have posed an international legal discussion vis-a-vis the treaty.
Then an interesting thing happened. Vladimir Putin in Russia decided that he wanted a resurgent Russia with renewed superpower status, like that enjoyed during the Cold War Soviet era. As Russia developed its oil reserves, exports gave him the financial clout he needed despite an aging and creaky military machine. But an expert at media and public manipulation, Putin went to work to achieve his goals and to stifle U.S. objectives on many fronts.
Above: Vladimir Putin speaks with his presidential successor, Dmitry Medvedev, in parliament May 8, 2008. Putin brought Medvedev from the post of Charman of Gazprom, Russia’s oil giant, to become his chief of staff and later preident. Now Medvedev has proposed a longer term for Russia’s president and it is no secret that Putin wants to come back as President of Russia. Photo: Sergei Chirikov AFP/Getty Images
The suave, handsome and articulate Mr. Putin and Mr. Medvedev are also quick to reveal clumsy bluster and intimidation — which is what the recent threat to move Iskander missiles closer to Poland seems to have been.
Russia also attacked neighbors in Georgia and South Ossetia — quickly turning ignored intimidation into acts of war.
Russia continues a very aggressive trade relationship with Iran, which continues to develop more capable ballistic missiles, nuclear technology (with Russian help) and sends verbal assaults at least weekly at Israel and the U.S. (“Israel should be wiped from the map,” said Iran’s President Ahmadinejad).
Efforts to slow or stop Iran’s nuclear development in the United Nations are routinely thwarted by Russia and China.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility.(AFP/File/Atta Kenare)
Now a global media tired of George W. Bush and enamored by Barack Obama has absolutely no time for the truth of the missile defense situation. This weekend Agence France-Presse (AFP) wrote a photograph caption on a picture of French President Sarkozy and Russian President Medvedev which read, “Sarkozy urged Russia and the United States to stop threatening each other with missiles and missile shields.” (see below)
The fact is that U.S. missile defense threatens nobody — with missiles incabale of landing on Russian targets and without warheads. The U.S. has even offered Russia the opportunity to place Russian inspectors at U.S. missile defense sites, 24 hours a day and 365 days a year to ensure no sneaky bad guys alter these defensive systems for attack. The difficulty of converting a missile defense system for attack is, well, like secretly and quickly rerouting the Space Shuttle from a mission to the International Space Station and then attempting a manned landing on Mars. Russia knows this is a crazy notion — but many in the media and others have swallowed this brainless Russian borscht.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy (L) speaks with President of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev, before the Europe-Russia finance reform summit in Nice southern France. Sarkozy urged Russia and the United States to stop threatening each other with missiles and missile shields Friday and called for talks on Europe’s future security. (AFP/Valery Hache)
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer called the Russian remarks on moving missiles in Europe unsolicited, unnecessary and unhelpful.
Russia has also said that a missile defense system in Europe will “negate” its thousands of nuclear armed missiles. But the European missile defense system is only intended to have 10 interceptors — which would be easily and quickly overwhelmed by a Russian attack.
Russia’s “Iskander” missile system on display at a military exhibition in the Siberian town of Nizhny Tagil in 2005. President Dmitry Medvedev has said Russia will place short-range missile systems on the EU’s eastern border to counter planned US missile defence installations in Eastern Europe.(AFP/VEDOMOSTI/File/Evgeny Stetsko)
Threating people in Europe with nuclear destruction is a gossly over the top Russian act of instigation and intimidation — and it makes no sense in the post-Cold War world.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Ribert Gates said the threat from Russia, made just after the U.S. election of President-elect Barack Obama, was “hardly the welcome a new American administration deserves. Such provocative remarks are unnecessary and misguided.”
“Quite frankly I’m not clear what the missiles would be for in Kaliningrad, after all the only real emerging threat on Russia’s periphery is in Iran and I don’t think the Iskander missile has the range to get there from Kaliningrad,” Gates added. “Why they would threaten to point missiles at European nations seems quite puzzling to me.”
Medevev and supposedly Putin have now backed away from their threat to move Iskander missiles but they have created an incredible fog of lies in the air — which many in the international media and elsewhere have swollowed.
U.S. missile defense, and the European effort with Poland and the Czech Republic, is no threat to Russia or anybody else. It is a system to bat down incoming nuclear warheads from long-range missiles, like those Iran continues to test.
By John E. Carey
Wakefield Chapel, Virginia
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An Iranian surface-to-surface missile lifts off from a launch platform during a test firing at an undisclosed location in the Iranian desert in this image released to Fars News by the military November 12, 2008. Iran says these missiles can now reach Israel and into Europe.REUTERS/FARS NEWS