Sunday, February 15, 2009

US Missile Defense and Russia

There are some statements that I put under the category "weird lies". Things that a party says that clearly are not true even though nobody important believes them. Often it seems to me that the United States foreign policy establishment is advancing weird lies. This may be a result of my having different biases than most members of the US foreign policy establishment.

But there is a weird lie that is often repeated that the US wants to install anti-missile systems and Poland and the Czech Republic as a defense against possible Iranian missiles at some point in the future.

Russia has been clear from the beginning that it perceives a threat not from the small number of interceptors, but from the radar that will be integrated into the US' global missile detection system and thereby provide earlier warning than would otherwise have been available of any Russian launch. Essentially this move is seen as a step to remove the US-Russian mutual first strike capability.

If it is technologically possible for the US to render itself invulnerable to a Russian attack, the US must do so. No US leadership could pass up an opportunity to do so. An equilibrium where the US and Russia both are able to destroy each other but neither does is only a second-best outcome. If the US can remove the threat, it must.

If the US cannot remove the threat, then and only then is it rational for the US and Russia to restrict missile defenses. If there is going to be mutually assured destruction anyway, US leadership is able to compromise with Russian leadership to accomplish that equilibrium less expensively.

It appears that US strategists are reaching the conclusion that the US is now, or will in the plannable future be, able to degrade Russia's first strike potential in a way that Russia will be unable to match. In that case, the US must move in that direction.

So why not say publicly "our assessment of Russia's ability to pace us in an arms race has changed and it is now our responsiblity to go for a unilateral first strike ability"? I'm really not sure what the answer to this is. To say instead, "we're putting missile sensors on the Russian border to defend against Iranian missiles that may someday exist" strikes me as a weird lie. I truly do not understand the motivation.

The current equilibrium in which both the US and Russia have first strike capabilities is the most important foreign policy objective for Russia. There is no single issue that can increase Russian hostility towards US policy than this. On the other hand, if it is possible for US citizens to be impervious to a Russian first strike the US must go in that direction. There really is no choice on either side.

This means that the US will move forward with its missile defense plans, as it must, and Russia will be alarmed and strike back at US interests. It is hard for a bargain to be reached where Russia increases its pressure on Iran in exchange for missile defense because no US administration can credibly commit to forgo missile defense if it is feasible. In exchange for anything.

But if the US is going to attempt to achieve an unmatched first strike capability, Russia does have an interest in the Middle East being as much of a drain on US resources as possible. Israel is a drain on US resources that Russia can make more pronounced by strengthening Iran and Syria. I think we're seeing this trend now and will continue to see it through the end of the Obama administration.


Ziad said...

I don't know anything about the technicalities of missile defense. One thing I've often wondered is why Poland and Czech are so useful for it? In the event of a nuclear exchange, Russian missiles would be launched northward over the North Pole...and Canada, which I understand is integrated into the NORAD system.

If MDS really required Polish-Czech bases, then those nations hopefully understand the risk they are undertaking. They are now a huge target. Indeed, if missile defense made the U.S. invulnerable and they were that crucial, Russia ***WOULD*** strike the system while it is under construction and dare NATO to hit back.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. It seems Russia can counter any system simply by increasing its ICBMs, which will be much cheaper than the MDS the U.S. is constructing. It is entirely possible, given the nature of military procurement in the U.S. that the high cost and lack of any endpoint is the PURPOSE of the system. Many defense contractors will profit for years without any actual change in the balance of power.

I'm not saying that is the case, but only that it is a real possibility. If the country can so casually give several trillion dollars to failed banks, then a few hundred billion to other well placed interests (military industrial complex) is small potatoes.

Arnold Evans said...

My reading of the reactions of Russians is that they perceive the US as moving its missile defenses closer.

A small number of interceptors today ease the way for a larger number later, with the ultimate aim of degrading Russia's first strike threat, (While leaving Russia vulnerable to a US first strike threat.)

This is a bad way to subsidize the military industrial complex though. The US spending money, but not putting bases into old Warsaw pact nations would be just as profitable.

The bases are the key, at least they are what the Russians are sounding upset about, and not for the amount of interceptors or for their capabilities today, but for the threat that with radars on Russia's borders, the US will eventually have the capability of bombing anyone without the reverse threat existing.

What is interesting to me is that Obama cannot credibly say the US will not put bases on Russia's borders in the future, that leads to a structural disconnect between the two countries.