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. Why Russia Fears Ballistic Missile Defense

"Mikhail Barabanov, editor of Arms Export magazine, appeared to argue that Russia should rely much more on its strategic clout as the world's greatest energy exporter of oil and gas combined than on its traditional strategic nuclear arsenal to retain a leading role in the world."
by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) Feb 15, 2007
Why does Russia oppose so fiercely the deployment of U.S. ballistic missile defenses in Central Europe to protect NATO allies from any Iranian threat? A lengthy article published Tuesday in the Moscow newspaper Kommersant by Mikhail Barabanov, editor of Arms Export magazine, gives an important insight into Russian thinking.

First, Barabanov expressed skepticism that the Iranian threat is the real reason the new BMD system is going to be deployed with frontline radar bases in Poland and the Czech Republic. Like the late Henry Ford, Barabanov argued that people have two reasons for doing what they do: a good reason and the real reason. In the case of BMD, a determination to fence Russia in is, he argued, the real reason.

"It is highly likely that the missile threat from 'problem' states is not the genuine reason for the creation of the missile defense system by the Americans," Barabanov wrote. "The real motivation of the multibillion-dollar undertaking is the desire to expand U.S. military and strategic capacities and constrict those of other states that have nuclear missiles, Russia and China most of all."

As we have repeatedly noted in these columns, the U.S. anti-ballistic missile defense system currently being developed at enormous cost is not designed to defend the Untied States against a full-scale launch of ICBMs by Russia's Strategic Missile Forces with their multiple independently targeted re-entry vehicle, or MIRV, warheads. And it could not do so.

Nevertheless, Barabanov argued that "even a limited missile defense system injects a high degree of indeterminacy into the strategic plans of other countries and undermines the principle of mutual nuclear deterrence. With Russia continuing to reduce its nuclear arsenal significantly and China maintaining a low missile potential, the Americans' ability to down even a few dozen warheads could deprive the other side of guaranteed ability to cause the U.S. unacceptable damage in a nuclear war."

Although Russian President Vladimir Putin is pouring unprecedented funds from a treasury bursting with energy-export profits into modernizing Russia's strategic nuclear arsenal, Barabanov struck an uncharacteristically pessimistic, or frank, note about Russia's long-term strategic prospects.

"If current tendencies continue, Russia will be unlikely to have the capacity to maintain more than 400-500 nuclear warheads by 2020. Russian experts have estimated that the U.S. could down half of that quantity with its missile defense system. That would be an especially heavy blow if the Americans delivered a disarming nuclear missile first-strike and the remaining Russian missiles could be eliminated almost completely.

"The first 10 U.S. interceptor missiles in Poland will not make a serious dent in Russian nuclear potential for the first few years," Barabanov acknowledged. But, he continued, "The Russian Army is buying six or seven Topol-M ballistic missiles per year. The destruction of just one of two of them by the American missile defense system would have a high price for Russia. And the placement of a strategic weapons system in Poland, even a defensive one, is a challenge to Moscow by Washington.

"Practically the only way to prevent a slow growth of the American strategic advantage is a significant increase in the purchase of new ballistic missiles by Russia. But the current Russian leadership is not prepared for that, mainly for political reasons," Barabanov said. And that is why, he continued, "Russia's reaction to the news of the possible placement of American interceptor missiles by the Russian border was loud and disorderly, both in political circles and in the press."

In line with his other frank comments, Barabanov was also remarkably outspoken in his criticisms of the Russian diplomatic reaction to the proposed BMD deployments. Russian officials, "as usual, made a number of contradictory statements that amounted to the usual vague threats to 'take adequate measures,' boasting an unconvincing justification for their helplessness," he wrote.

"The Russian leadership had the same initial reaction to the expansion of NATO and the U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Everything possible has been done to convince the West that there is no need to pay attention to Russia and Moscow's loud objections."

Finally, Barabanov appeared to argue that Russia should rely much more on its strategic clout as the world's greatest energy exporter of oil and gas combined than on its traditional strategic nuclear arsenal to retain a leading role in the world.

"For an 'energy superpower,' it is more important to be able to pump its energy resources westward than to maintain any strategic balances," he concluded.

Most western analysts would disagree with most of Barabanov's analysis. But it is of great value in explaining the background to the Russian alarm over the BMD program's extension to Europe and President Putin's broadsides against U.S. policies this past week in Munich and Amman. The United States remains on a collision course with Russia on this issue.

Source: United Press International

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US Missile Plans For Europe
Washington (UPI) Feb 14, 2007
The United States has irritated Russia with its plan to place an anti-missile system in Eastern Europe, and even within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the move is controversial. In his by now infamous speech at the 43d Munich Conference on Security Policy, Russian President Vladimir Putin last weekend accused Washington of provoking a Cold War-like arms race with its plan to place ground-to-air missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic.

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