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It seems that US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's statement on the abandonment of plans to place upgraded missile interceptors in Poland and Romania and the deployment of 14 new interceptors on America's West Coast instead did not impress Moscow too much, although the doors to negotiations remain open.
The way I see it, for Russia this issue is more about psychology than security. The obdurate refusal by Washington to grant Moscow legal guarantees that the system will not be aimed against Russia's strategic nuclear deterrent is proof enough.
Those with intimate knowledge of the technological aspects of current BMD systems claim that it would be practically impossible to distinguish during an incoming missile's very short flight time between a dummy and a real weapon. This means that Russia can easily, and at minimal cost, retaliate against a nuclear strike by firing a mix of real missiles and a lot of dummies. On top of this, it is highly doubtful that a 100% effective BMD system can be built in the foreseeable future.
For this reason, the real issue is why the US is still pursuing this costly project. I think that Jack Matlock, former US Ambassador to Moscow and head of the Russian desk at NSC in Reagan's time, is right when he says that among the driving forces are the military-industrial complex, which makes billions out of this project, and the almost religious belief – mainly among conservatives but among others as well – that America needs the BMD system at all costs.
In fact, Russia does not apparently object to the whole BMD idea – it just wants to be a part of the family at the development and deployment stages. The US and NATO firmly say "no” to this, which is what hurts the Kremlin the most. It has been stated many times on this Expert Panel and elsewhere that the West's continued rejection of Russian appeals for closer security cooperation is a colossal, geo-strategic mistake.
The main reason given for this unceremonious rebuff – that there is too great a difference between the West’s and Russia’s "values” – is laughable at best and cynical at worst. In matters of national security, values are about the last thing that governments worry about. America has proved this point again and again by partnering with regimes of the most obscurantist nature. In comparison with some of them, Russia appears a beacon of democracy.
These days both the Right and the Left lavish praise on Ronald Reagan, depicting him as one of the best presidents we have ever had. Well, it was Reagan who proposed even to the communist USSR that both sides work together on SDI and share US technology. Some people dismiss this as Reagan’s clever propaganda gimmick rather than a serious offer. However, Jack Matlock, mentioned above, believes that the President was dead serious – and Matlock was closer to Reagan than any of the doubters.
All talk about values now appears even more hypocritical in light of the consequences of America's ten-year war in Iraq: the huge damage to the United States and Iraq in terms of human losses sustained, at least a trillion dollars or probably a lot more wasted, the US image in the world irreversibly tarnished, and – last but not least – the terrorist threat greatly increased rather than eliminated.
At a recent conference on US-Russia relations at George Washington University, Andranik Migranyan, a member of this Expert Panel, mentioned two major problems affecting these relations: missile defense and US meddling in Russia's internal affairs. I would add a third one on the economic front: America’s active pursuance of its "pipeline" policy urging Europeans to reduce their imports of Russian energy and increase those from the former Soviet republics through newly built pipelines bypassing Russia. This policy is yet more proof, if such were needed, that all talk of "values" is sheer humbug: the former Soviet republics encouraged by the United States are run by autocratic regimes along medieval lines. What price "democratic values” in this case, might one ask?
It is highly unlikely that these three irritants (and of course there are more) will disappear during Obama's remaining term. Russia, therefore, has no choice but to dig in and wait for 2016, while developing closer economic and security ties to its east and south-east. Cheng Guoping, China's deputy minister of foreign affairs, recently stated to the effect that "the matter of missile defense has to do with global strategic balance, and China and Russia have similar views on it." Some food for thought for US strategy planners right there.
To add at least an ounce of optimism one should mention that top American, Russian, and European negotiators have agreed to talk at a security conference in Moscow on 23-24 May. US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, leading European security officials and the heads of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization and NATO are expected to attend. We can only wish them good luck.
Voice of Russia