The U.S. missile defense program, which contributed to the
deterioration of U.S.-Russian relations that helped generate the Russian-Georgian
conflict, has benefited from that conflict and may cause a further downward
spiral in the relationship between these two great powers.
Along with the recognition of Kosovo�s independence from
Serbia and repeated rounds of an expanding NATO -- a Cold War alliance the
Russians perceive as hostile -- to Russia�s doorstep, the unilateral U.S.
abrogation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty to pursue missile defense
humiliated a weakened Russia. But with oil prices high, economic growth robust,
and new bold leadership, a much stronger and grumpier Russian bear has emerged
from hibernation, as predicted by U.S. doves as early as the mid-1990s. Now to
take advantage of Russian �aggression� against Georgia (even though Georgia
started the conflict rolling) and to demonstrate that the seemingly impotent
United States has at least one retaliatory option, the Bush administration has
provocatively reached an agreement with Poland to install 10 missile defense
interceptors on its territory. This unnecessary deployment will merely dump
gasoline on the fire and will probably cause Russia to take more anti-Western
actions in response. Russia has already said that by agreeing to house the
system, Poland has opened itself to targeting by Russia.
Although U.S. officials insist that the system is meant to
counter Iranian, not Russian, nuclear-tipped missiles, the Russians aren�t
buying this argument and are also humiliated by such a defense being erected in
a former Warsaw Pact ally only 115 miles from their territory. The
administration claims that only 10 interceptors would not threaten a Russian
nuclear deterrent force of thousands of warheads. The Russians fear, however,
that the missile defense radar, which will be erected in the Czech Republic,
could look into Russia and that the system is only a precursor to a much larger
system that could threaten the Russian nuclear deterrent. The Russians are
especially nervous about the survival of their nuclear force in the wake of its
post-Cold War deterioration in reliability. Also, the Russians note that there
is no current Iranian nuclear threat to Europe and that such a danger via
missile is a long way off.
The American taxpayer might wonder why the U.S. government
is paying the Europeans to let the U.S. defend them from future Iranian
missiles. The price for Poland�s agreement to deploy U.S. missile defense
interceptors includes the provision of Patriot missiles, U.S. modernization of
Poland�s armed forces, and a strengthened U.S. commitment to defend Poland. The
Czechs got similar goodies for their agreement to house the system�s radar.
Of course, the long-standing Republican obsession with
missile defense -- the Bush administration�s preoccupation prior to 9/11 and
after is only the most recent installment -- is more political than strategic.
Missile defenses are very technologically challenging and expensive and can be
countered relatively cheaply by building more nuclear-tipped missiles, putting
more than one warhead on each missile, or using decoys to fool the system.
Besides, the combination of U.S. detection systems that can pinpoint the origin
of a nuclear missile launch and the U.S. nuclear arsenal, the most powerful on
earth, can deter any new nuclear-armed powers, such as Iran and North Korea,
without the need to build an exorbitantly-priced missile defense system. Even
the current U.S. missile defense system -- a vastly scaled down version of the
pie-in-the-sky �Star Wars� system proposed decades ago during the Reagan
administration -- was deployed in California and Alaska and is now likely to be
deployed in Europe before it has been sufficiently proved technologically -- a
potential nightmare for taxpayers.
That�s where the politics comes in. Republicans, allegedly
the party of small government, haven�t minded wasting buckets of money over the
years to bring to fruition the vision of their �conservative� hero Ronald
Reagan. The vision thing seems to be especially important after George W. Bush
has wrecked the conservative brand name -- perhaps for decades.
In sum, instead of trying to integrate Russia into the West
after the Cold War, the United States alienated it. U.S. abrogation of the ABM
Treaty played a part in bringing about this estrangement. Now in the wake of
U.S.-Russian tensions over Georgia, the unnecessary U.S. deployment of missile
defense in Europe risks a downward spiral in U.S.-Russian relations into active
Eland is Director of the Center
on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute and Assistant
Editor of The
Independent Review. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa
State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in
national security policy from George Washington University. He has been
Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, Principal Defense Analyst
at the Congressional Budget Office, Evaluator-in-Charge (national security and
intelligence) for the U.S. General Accounting Office, and Investigator for the
House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the
Congressional Budget Office. He is author of the books, The Empire
Has No Clothes: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed, and Putting
�Defense� Back into U.S. Defense Policy.