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Outside View: No Hamlets on BMD

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Andrei Kislyakov
Moscow (UPI) Sept. 4, 2007
A mere mention of missile defense can today provoke truly Shakespearean passions.

However, the famous question of the Prince of Denmark no longer applies to missile defense.

Following the logic of scientific and technological progress, the defense programs will go ahead despite the seemingly unbeatable arguments of their opponents. The American plans to deploy 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar base in the Czech Republic are unlikely to be derailed.

No doubt the Russian military and political leadership have always realized the inevitability of the third missile defense positioning area on the European continent. That being so, it presupposed working out a consistent missile defense policy in military-technical and political terms.

Even a year ago it all seemed crystal clear. The Russian military and politicians did not show much concern about the American plans. Many Russian experts claimed, and justly so, that 10 interceptor missiles could not seriously hamper Russia's ground-based strategic nuclear forces. Yet the stepped-up activities to implement the program as a whole were frowned upon.

In this connection, Moscow's official stand, providing for a more active buildup of offensive strategic weapons as an adequate reply to the American challenge, seemed quite logical. At any rate, everybody could understand the reasoning of the powers that be: Our ways are parting, but we do not fear you, and we respond the best we can, taking advantage of our strong points, they said.

But in mid-February this year, Russian Chief of Staff Yury Baluyevsky said Russia might unilaterally withdraw from the 1987 treaty on shorter- and medium-range missiles.

Such a step was directly linked to plans for and implementation of the American missile defense program in European countries. In his view, the positioning areas of American anti-missiles could now be the prospective targets. The idea of pounding on the recent East European allies is becoming a real obsession with the Russian General Staff.

Upgrading the existing inventory of nuclear missiles when global anti-missile systems make their appearance is an understandable asymmetrical response. But to add to them medium-range, ballistic and cruise missiles in the future, moreover those targeted at Europe, is not a happy choice.

At the G8 summit in Germany in May, Russian president Vladimir Putin made a strong move by proposing that the Americans could use the Gabala radar in Azerbaijan as part of their defense system. If realized, the scheme could benefit Russia in many ways -- while finding a technologically feasible answer to the third positioning missile-defense area.

Moscow also gained a political lever to influence the future missile defense programs. In other words, Russia was within an ace of applying in practice a very wise principle -- "if you can't fight it, embrace it."

But cooperation with the Americans, which opens new horizons and is not fully formalized yet, somehow got linked with the demand that they give up their European missile-defense plans.

Naturally enough, the first round of Russian-American expert talks in Washington on July 30-31 yielded modest results. Although, according to Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak, the discussion was serious, Gonzalo Gallegos, a State Department spokesman, stressed on Aug. 21 that the American position remained the same regarding the deployment of elements of an American missile defense shield in Eastern Europe.

In all probability, the Americans will also remain firm during the October meeting of foreign and defense ministers of the two countries. If anything, Russia's General Staff has gone out of its way to make it so. On Aug. 21, in a conversation with Czech Deputy Defense Minister Martin Bartak, Baluyevsky described the Czech Republic's likely decision to deploy missile defense units on its territory as a huge blunder. To leave no doubt about the seriousness of Russia's intentions, the general warned that some "military" measures might be used against it if it went ahead with it.

The Foreign Ministry readily echoed the military in strengthening Russian-American cooperation on missile defenses. Speaking about the October meeting, its deputy spokesman Boris Malakhov added to the string of warnings to prospective partners one of his own: "We would like to remind you that the fundamental condition for the implementation of our proposals is the refusal by the United States to deploy a missile defense base in Europe and to station strike anti-missile elements in space."

This statement leaves no room for Hamlet-like doubts even for missile defense program skeptics. As regards Russian-American-European dialogue on the subject concerned, doubts are steadily replacing certainties here.

(Andrei Kislyakov is a political commentator for RIA Novosti. 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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