Missile Defense and Hot Air from the Russian Foreign Ministry

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Defense expert Aleksandr Golts analyzes the US-Russian conflict over missile defense bases in Eastern Europe, and examines the latest vocal protest by Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry. The article originally ran in the Yezhednevny Zhurnal online newspaper on July 9th.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs Authorized to Frighten
Aleksandr Golts
Yezhednevny Zhurnal
July 9, 2008

An anticipated and downright unpleasant event has taken place. At the very moment when Dmitry Medvedev, a “smart guy” (according to George Bush), acknowledged that certain disagreements remained between Russia and the USA, the US Secretary of State signed an agreement in Prague on the placement of radar for the American strategic missile defense system in the Czech Republic. Our own Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) immediately reacted with an extremely callous announcement [rus][eng].

First of all, the MFA asserts “that the setting of elements of the US strategic arsenal in place close to the Russian territory could be used to weaken the potential of our deterrent.” And secondly, it threatens, that “if a U.S. strategic anti-missile shield is deployed near our borders, we will be forced to react not in a diplomatic fashion but with military methods… It is understandable that the Russian side will take adequate measures in such circumstances to compensate for the emerging potential of threats to its national security.”

I have to acknowledge, that both assertions in no way correspond with reality. American anti-ballistic missile defense (ABM) cannot weaken Russia’s deterrent potential. For that simple reason, that the ten interceptor missiles, which could be deployed in Poland (if Washington comes to an agreement with Warsaw), in the best case scenario would be able to intercept a single one of the 1700-2200 nuclear warheads, which Moscow will command in 2012 (at present, there are around three thousand warheads). I will refer those who doubt the technical competency of yours truly to a text (RUS) by Vladimir Zinovyevich Dvorkin, a retired major-general, former commander of the 4th Research and Development Establishment in the Ministry of Defense, and one of the few real military experts in our country.

Even more curious is the promise to respond with “military methods.” Strictly speaking, there could be two such responses. The first – updating the means of overcoming the ABM. An exercise that is completely pointless and at the same time sure-fire, since the Americans are clearly not preparing their system to stand up to Russia. In addition, our domestic commanders have stated many times that we already have miraculous warheads at our disposal, capable of surmounting any ABM system. One can pay no attention to such trivial matters, that, according to media reports, these warheads begin to maneuver during the final stage of their flight (which seems to make their interception impossible), and as they approach their target, while the Americans plan to perform the interception in space. The Kremlin propagandists will tell the people about asymmetrical but effective measures, and the Americans will prudently say nothing. Anything to keep things quiet.

It’s a completely different story, if Moscow decides to respond by creating an additional threat to the USA or those countries where elements of the American ABM system will be positioned. “Dealing with” the Americans themselves will be rather difficult. In the last six years, Moscow has fiercely strived for renewed talks on nuclear armament with Washington. And now, after the speech by John McCain in Denver, which his Democratic rival Barack Obama is fated to respond to, hope has emerged that such talks can begin during the next administration. Trying to gain a military-strategic advantage over the USA in this situation (among all the illusiveness of success) – amounts to destroying every foundation for the negotiations.

A threat remains, which Russia’s generals have repeatedly put forward. Step out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, increase the range of the Iskander rockets, site them in the Kaliningrad oblast and aim them at the Czech Republic, where interceptors will also be stationed. I am certain, that such gibberish will never become reality.

It is appropriate to remember, that in the 1970s, the USSR tried to gain an advantage over NATO, by aiming intermediate-range missiles at Western Europe. However, when the Americans unveiled their “Pershings” and the “Tomahawks,” those in the Kremlin understood that Soviet rockets could destroy Brussels and London, but not Washington. But the American “Tomahawks” would reach Moscow in five minutes. As result it became necessary to sign the INF Treaty, whereby the USSR destroyed far more rockets that the USA. Then, the Soviet Union spent from 40 to 80 percent of GDP on military expenses. Now, Russia officially spends 2.7 percent of GDP on defense (some experts believe the spending reaches 4 percent). One way or another, this means that Russia is absolutely not ready for a new arms race. Besides, up to now only one division of “Iskanders” has been put into commission, and that with difficulty.

All this means that our Ministry of Foreign Affairs is blowing hot air. And nothing more. Furthermore, I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s curious what the person writing “Russia’s stances” feels, understanding that what he’s writing is, how to put this mildly, downright rubbish.

translated by theotherrussia.org