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Outside View: BMD base fears

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by Nikita Petrov
Moscow (UPI) Nov 9, 2007
In some respects, the current crisis in Russian-U.S. relations is reminiscent of the October 1962 Cuban missile crisis, when the Soviet Union had deployed nuclear-tipped missiles in the immediate proximity of U.S. borders.

However, U.S. President John F. Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev managed to reach a compromise at the last moment, preventing an all-out nuclear war.

This time Washington has decided to deploy 10 Ground-Based Interceptor missiles near Warsaw, the capital of Poland, and a 360-degree X-band radar not far from Prague in the Czech Republic -- in direct proximity of Russian borders.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates visited Moscow and negotiated with President Vladimir Putin, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov in the two-by-two format. But, as analysts had predicted, the talks did not produce any substantial results. It is obvious that the Bush administration will not renounce the missile defense program aimed at shielding the United States and Europe from so-called rogue states.

Moscow argues that Iran will not develop ballistic missiles capable of hitting North America and most European countries in the next 20 to 30 years. Washington is unconvinced.

At a recent summit with U.S. President George W. Bush, Putin proposed that the United States use Russia's Daryal early-warning radar in Gabala, Azerbaijan, and the Voronezh-M facility, now being constructed near Armavir in the North Caucasus, in place of the Czech radar.

U.S. experts who have assessed the Gabala radar's potential know that it completely scans Iran and several other regional countries and are ready to use this facility, but they insist that it be included in the European missile-defense system.

Moscow cannot agree to this because it is convinced that the interceptor missiles and the Czech radar are intended to impair the Russian nuclear deterrent by shielding Europe from the Topol, Topol-M and RS-18 -- SS-19 Stiletto -- intercontinental ballistic missiles deployed in the Tver, Ivanovo, Kaluga and Saratov regions of Central Russia.

It is clear that 10 GBI missiles would not stop a retaliatory strike in case of war. But the United States cannot guarantee that it will not deploy additional missile interceptors and early-warning radars.

Moreover, Washington is hinting that it will expand, beef up and overhaul the European missile-defense system. This would directly threaten Russia's security and defense capability.

The Russian leadership has repeatedly warned the United States and its allies that it would be forced to respond to the deployment of U.S. missile-defense elements in Europe and that it would re-target ICBMs against installations it identifies as potential threats. Moscow could also deploy Iskander-M theater-level missiles near the Polish border.

Putin told Rice and Gates that he was quite worried about the future of the 1987 Soviet-U.S. Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which must assume a global nature.

The Russian leader said this objective must be accomplished because Moscow would otherwise find it difficult to abide by the INF Treaty's provisions at a time when other countries, including those in direct proximity to Russian borders, were actively developing similar weapons systems.

Military experts understand that Russia may withdraw from the INF Treaty banning nuclear-tipped missiles with a range between 500 and 5,500 km if the United States goes ahead with its plans. Consequently, Washington and the European Union are facing the prospect of another era of nuclear confrontation.

The 38-day Cuban missile crisis was a critical moment in the nuclear arms race and the Cold War. At the time, the world was tottering on the verge of an abyss. Soviet and U.S. diplomats, politicians and generals realized that it was pointless to hold each other hostage, and that both sides would have to negotiate on all pressing issues and avoid using military force.

The events of October 1962 paved the way for detente and convinced both countries that they were mutually vulnerable and must therefore reduce strategic offensive arms. In the long run, Moscow and Washington signed a number of arms-control agreements, including the history-making Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 1972.

Unfortunately, the present-day conflict was triggered by the Bush administration's unilateral decision to withdraw from the ABM Treaty.

However, any confrontation similar to the Cuban missile crisis would lead both countries down a blind alley. Mutual security interests simply cannot be disregarded. The White House would make a mistake if it tried to engage Russia in a new arms race in order to undermine its economy. Moscow now has enough weapons for a cheap and asymmetrical response to current challenges.

No one would profit in the event of such confrontation, and Europe would be the main loser if Russia withdrew from the INF Treaty and retargeted its nuclear-tipped missiles at U.S. missile defense elements in Europe.

(Nikita Petrov is a military commentator. This article is reprinted by permission of RIA Novosti. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.)

(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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