Tag: BMD

Washington “Cancels” Fourth Stage of European Phased Adaptive Approach

blockii-2022Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel de facto announced on Friday that the US will scrap deployment of ground-based ballistic-missile interceptors in Poland and Romania.

At a Pentagon press conference today, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced that the planned deployment of the high-speed SM-3 Block IIB interceptor to Poland (and the corresponding 4th phase of European Phased Adaptive Approach) has been cancelled. The transcript of Hagel’s prepared statement only states that the Block IIB programmed was being restructured, but the discussion in the following press conference makes it clear that the deployment plan has been cancelled:

In response to a question at the press conference, James Miller, the Undersecretary of Defense of Policy said (my transcription from C-SPAN video):

“The prior plan had four phases. The third phase involved the deployment of interceptors in Poland. And we will continue phases one through three. In the fourth phase in the previous plan we would have added some additional — an additional type of interceptors –the so called SM-3 IIB would have been added to the mix in Poland. We no longer intend to add them to the mix but will have the same number of deployed interceptors in Poland that will provide coverage for all of NATO Europe.”

In the prior plan, Block IIA interceptors would have been deployed in Poland as part of Phase III of the EPAA and then in Phase IV some or all of these would have been replaced by Block IIB interceptors. Whether the Block IIB development program is completely dead is unclear. This is a very significant development given that the Block IIB was the single greatest source of Russian objections to U.S. missile defense activities. Although there are certainly also good technical and economic reasons for cancelling the Block IIB, it will thus inevitably be portrayed as to be a major concession to Russia. Whether it will be actually be enough to satisfy the Russians remains to be seen, as many Russian statements have also objected to the unlimited deployment of the high-speed (although not as fast) Block IIA interceptor.

As was clearly the goal of the press conference, most media attention focused on the comparatively minor announcement that the number of deployed GBI interceptors in the U.S Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system covering the United States would be increased to 44 from the current 30. This involves deploying 14 additional GBI interceptors into 14 already existing silos (although in some cases, these silos need extensive refurbishing – see my post of March 28, 2012 for details) by the end of 2017. The planned number of interceptors was already at 44 when Obama took office, but his administration quickly cut this back to 30, citing a lack of a threat. Since then the possibility of restoring the number of interceptors to 44 has frequently been portrayed by the Administration as a possible hedge against future changes in the threat.

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Romney’s Poland Obsession

Associated Press

Although he doesn’t get the European Phased Adapted Approach (EPAA) quite right, Mark Adomanis at Forbes makes the right point about the BMD portion of the Romney foreign-policy memo:

I don’t think I’m being uncharitable, but if you read this paragraph and didn’t have any background knowledge about US missile defense in Eastern Europe you would come away with at least two very clear conclusions 

1) Obama canceled a missile defense system planned for Poland and the Czech Republic
2) Obama did not replace this planned missile defense system with anything else

Conclusion 1) is accurate, Obama really did kibosh the Czech/Polish system that had been planned by George W. Bush. Conclusion 2), however, is absolutely, categorically false. Obama , you see, replaced the system planned for Poland and the Czech Republic with a system in Romania. The United States is, right this second, continuing with a play to deploy land-based interceptors in Romania by 2015. Even the Heritage Foundation, hardly an Obama fan club, has recognized this

You can criticize Obama for pulling the system out of Poland and the Czech Republic, you can criticize him for needling the always sensitive Poles, you can criticize him for not moving quickly enough with the system in Romania, you can criticize him for being overly accommodative of the Russians, you can, truthfully if not compellingly, criticize him for an awful lot of things regarding foreign policy in general and missile defense in particular. But what you absolutely cannot criticize Obama for is “canceling” or “abandoning” ballistic missile defense in Europe. By any minimally honest reckoning, Obama has not done that.

This provides an excuse for me to peddle my current theory of the “you betrayed Poland on BMD” argument: former Bush administration officials are just really and truly pissed off that the Obama team undid their hard work on the third-site negotiations with Warsaw.

Recall that Polish public opinion was against the BMD agreement. The negotiations were difficult and took an enormous amount of work. The Bush administration scrambled to complete the agreement before leaving office. The fact that Obama’s people botched the announcement and upset the Polish government just rubbed salt in the wound.

Of course, Romney’s advisors also don’t like the Russians, arms control, and all that. Clearly “abandoning allies” is one of the few lines of attack the Romney campaign considers potentially potent against Obama when it comes to foreign affairs. But I suspect a lot of this comes down to a much more mundane emotion: frustration as seeing difficult work tossed into the proverbial garbage can.


An Analysis of the Foreign-Policy Content of Romney’s Convention Speech

Here is a word cloud of the speech’s foreign-policy content:

In this case, the cloud adds virtually nothing to our understanding, as the entire section is only 202 words long.

Below is the section itself. It appears that the speechwriters pulled random posts off of PJ Media, stuck them in a blender, and were satisfied with the results.

I will begin my presidency with a jobs tour. President Obama began with an apology tour. America, he said, had dictated to other nations. No Mr. President, America has freed other nations from dictators. 

Every American was relieved the day President Obama gave the order, and Seal Team Six took out Osama bin Laden. But on another front, every American is less secure today because he has failed to slow Iran’s nuclear threat. 

In his first TV interview as president, he said we should talk to Iran. We’re still talking, and Iran’s centrifuges are still spinning. 

President Obama has thrown allies like Israel under the bus, even as he has relaxed sanctions on Castro’s Cuba. He abandoned our friends in Poland by walking away from our missile defense commitments, but is eager to give Russia’s President Putin the flexibility he desires, after the election. Under my administration, our friends will see more loyalty, and Mr. Putin will see a little less flexibility and more backbone. 

We will honor America’s democratic ideals because a free world is a more peaceful world. This is the bipartisan foreign policy legacy of Truman and Reagan. And under my presidency we will return to it once again.

As some have noted, the section is particularly notable for the absence of Afghanistan. That’s correct. The US is currently fighting a war and it rated not a single mention in the speech of the GOP nominee for President. We are through the looking glass, people.

Despite my snide comments, I think there’s an important debate to be had over how the Washington calibrates its relationship with Moscow. But what worries me about Romney is that the only setting seems to be ‘major geo-political threat,‘ which overestimates both Russian strength and US weakness while foreclosing opportunities for cooperation based on mutual interest. Such an approach won’t lead Russia to change any of the policies that nettle US policymakers, and may make Moscow even more difficult to deal with. We’ve been there and done that in the second Bush term, and it didn’t work out well for anyone.

The Romney team also have a point about Poland. The administration botched the rollout of PHAAD and the cancellation of the “third site” BMD program. Warsaw was, in fact, pretty upset. But that was three years ago; I’m not sure why “No-Apologies Mitt” feels compelled to keep on apologizing for it. Still, I am not entirely clear on why the administration continues to negotiate with Moscow on BMD beyond the theory that it is better to keep them talking even as the program goes forward.

Romney’s inadequate genuflections toward foreign-policy issues reflect their marginal place in this campaign. What little we’ve learned suggests a factually-challenged view of the Obama Administration’s foreign-policy rhetoric. It also appears to signal a commitment to the views that captured Bush foreign policy after September 11, 2001.

Neither of these are good things, but they don’t necessarily tell us much about how Romney will lead the United States in the world. As PTJ and I recently discussed, this is more about value articulation and commitment than substantive policy… which pretty much sums up not only Romney’s speech but also the general idiom of a campaign loathe to focus on programatic details.

In some ways, the most momentous foreign-policy line was Romney’s applause-line on climate change.

President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans. And to heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family.

At one level, this was a pretty good dig at Obama: it nicely crystalized the idea that Obama promised the moon but delivered a eight-percent unemployment rate. But it also signposts one of the most consequential ways that we’ve failed our children — and the important role played by the modern Republican party in that failure. Perhaps, if elected, Romney will be able to move his party to where he stood but a few years ago. If so, that will outweigh a great deal.


Explaining Russian Opposition to European BMD

Moscow is once again expressing displeasure with US and NATO missile defense plans.

Russia says it is prepared to use “destructive force pre-emptively” if the US goes ahead with controversial plans for a missile defence system based in Central Europe. 

The warning came after the Russian defence minister said talks on missile defence were nearing a dead end. 

Moscow fears that missile interceptors would be a threat to Russia’s security.
But the US and Nato say they are intended to protect against attacks from Iran or North Korea. 

“A decision to use destructive force pre-emptively will be taken if the situation worsens,” chief of the Russian defence staff Gen Nikolai Makarov said. 

Two days of talks opened on Thursday in Moscow between Russia, the US and Nato.
Russian Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said the talks were “close to a dead end”, but Nato said it remained hopeful of reaching a deal. 

Nato Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow told the BBC that Russia’s fears of a European missile defence shield were “based on some flawed assumptions” and did not weaken Russia’s nuclear deterrent.

Vershbow is correct: US-NATO ballistic-missile defense (BMD) plans, now called (apparently) the “European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) cannot undermine Russian retaliatory capability. It cannot, without significant upgrade, take out Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), let alone sea-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). It cannot possibly intercept a sufficient number of Russian warheads to give the United States first-strike capability.

The Russians know all this.

Indeed, Russian concerns are rooted in a number of factors, almost none of which have anything to do with the impact of even a greatly upgraded EPAA on the strategic balance.

  1. The optics of the US stationing elements of a BMD system in a former Warsaw Pact country are extremely uncomfortable for Moscow. The Russians don’t like the idea of any permanent NATO military presence in former Warsaw Pact countries, let alone one that borders Russian territory. The (erroneous) neo-conservative narrative that the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) played a role in bringing down the Soviet Union also has surprising purchase in Russian policy circles.
  2. It isn’t clear how much these concerns really matter to the small cabal that runs Russian foreign policy, but they certainly have domestic resonance in the Russian Federation. Given Moscow’s continuing reliance on stoking nationalist sentiment to discredit anti-regime reform pressures and staving off challenges from the right, such domestic political considerations matter a great deal.
  3. Many in Moscow overestimate the ability of the United States to rapidly overcome technical challenges, particularly in the defense sector. The flexible character of EPAA, which is designed to match the shifting threat profile of middle-tier countries (for now, this means Iran) only reinforces their concerns of some kind of US breakout from limited to comprehensive BMD.

All three of these considerations give Moscow incentives not only to demagogue BMD, but to do whatever it can to strangle EPAA in the proverbial crib. Indeed, a number of important NATO members, not to mention some US officials, place a premium on getting some kind of cooperation from Moscow on missile defense. This state of affairs gives Moscow hope that a combination of intransigence, poison-pill proposals, and a healthy does of strum und drang will satisfy domestic-political needs, delay deployment, get them a better deal, or even cause the most ambivalent NATO members (such as the Germans) to get cold feet.


BMD and NATO not quite BFD, but a step in the right direction

NATO agrees to missile-defense mission. Somewhat paradoxically, this is true even if you’re lukewarm on ballistic missile defenses (BMD) in general, or the Phased Adaptive Approach in particular. Why? The more NATO presents a united front, the more likely the Russians are to cooperate on BMD and BMD-related issues, which not only reduces an irritant in relations but mitigates against some of the potentially destabilizing implications of BMD deployment.

Afterthought: might also help with New START ratification. Harder to argue that Obama is selling out BMD when he’s accomplished something no Republican ever did: convince NATO to make it part of its mission.


No such thing as a little bit nuked?

Rob Farley argues, contra Ed Morrissey, against deploying a partially effective>ballistic missile defense (BMD) system:

Ed, let me explain something to you, slowly and carefully. Missile defense, at least when conceived as a response to the threat of nuclear attack on the United States, needs to be “complete and perfect.” Otherwise it’s useless. There are virtually no foreign policy goals that a President will consider worthwhile if there’s a 5% risk that the destruction of American cities will result. 80% doesn’t cut it; 95% doesn’t, and probably not even 99%. This is not a new objection to missile defense; analysts have understood that defense against nuclear armed ballistic missiles needs to be 100% for quite some time, which is why so many intelligent people have rejected the possibility that a missile defense shield could provide useful protection for the United States. Now, it’s fair to say that the same logic does not apply to conventional ballistic missile attacks on either cities or military targets; in those cases, an 85% effective missile shield is useful. But for preventing Minneapolis from disappearing under a nuclear mushroom cloud, not so much.

Rob’s wrong. There are a number of arguments in favor of a less-than-perfect BMD system.

Accidental Launch. If a small number of nuclear missiles launch as a result of malfunction or malfeasance, then I can imagine wanting a partially effective defense system. A small number of incoming nukes present the “best case” scenario for such a system providing adequate protection–we wouldn’t be dealing with an enormous number of warheads and decoys. And even one less hit might amount to millions of fewer casualties.

Ensuring First-Strike Dominance. Why do the Russians and Chinese dislike BMD despite the likelihood that they would be able to get enough missiles through to make war very difficult for the US to contemplate? Because they worry about a US preventive or preemptive strike. While a partially effective system would almost certainly be useless against a Russian first strike, it might prove sufficient to deal with whatever the Russians had left after a US counterforce strike. While Russia and China might be able to take effective countermeasures, such as further enhancing the survivability of their arsenals and deploying more missiles, consider a “new” nuclear power, like Iran, Pakistan, or India. The US already enjoys overwhelming nuclear superiority against such states, so even a mediocre BMD system might be just enough of a safety net to allow the US to contemplate a first strike in the event of a crisis or conventional hostilities.

Enhancing Force Projection. Even if the US isn’t contemplating a first strike against a new nuclear power, US policymakers would certainly prefer to minimize the ability of such states to deter US coercive diplomacy, or even US intervention, by threatening to use nuclear weapons against the US homeland or against US troops. Even if a new nuclear power could make a reasonable bet that a few of their warheads might get through a BMD or THAAD system, the combination of a such systems and US retaliatory capability might reduce the credibility of their threat to cross the nuclear threshold.

Some even make a more cynical argument: given that a country like Iran knows that, in return for the loss of a division or a city, the US could turn it to glass, it follows that they cannot make a credible nuclear threat against the US. But such a threat might be enough to preclude the public from supporting, for instance, a US intervention in the Middle East. In this case, a President might find it useful to invoke the protection of a BMD system–even knowing it probably wouldn’t stop everything–in order to reassure key constituencies and “allow” the threat of US nuclear retaliation to prevent a conventional war from escalating.

Of course, deploying a BMD system isn’t costless. It might trigger a nuclear arms race with the Chinese and the Russians, enhance crisis instability and the risks of preemptive strikes, and so forth. Even if we accept these arguments in favor of a partially effective system, therefore, we could–and probably should–oppose its deployment.

But I still think Rob’s wrong to conclude that “it’s nonsense all the way down.”


Speaking of signals, mixed and otherwise – updated (yet again)

… Big news just came down the pike.

Courtesy of a friend, I learn that Poland has agreed to host US ballistic-missile defenses.

As geopolitical lines harden, the question becomes if Russia’s actions will drive a wedge between NATO members that embrace a harder or a softer line towards Russia. Or will balance-of-threat dynamics lead to renewed NATO cohesion? I suspect the answer is far from preordained: a great deal depends on how US and European diplomacy plays out.

Oh, and forget the G8/G7. This is the kind of thing the Russians might actually see as a significant negative consequence of the Georgia conflict.

Oops. I forgot to mention the Patriots the US is giving Poland. I guess the US decided to “pay” what Poland wanted. Still, the Russians might be more upset about the Patriots than the BMD ….

Via a different friend, two excerpts from news reports. The first from Reuters:

President George W. Bush’s pledge to send aid to Georgia means that theU.S. military will take control of the ex-Soviet state’s ports andairports, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said on Wednesday.

But the Pentagon denied it planned any such action to proceed with deliveries of humanitarian aid.

“You have heard the statement by the U.S. president that the United States is starting a military-humanitarian operation in Georgia,” Saakashvili said in a television address.

“It means that Georgian ports and airports will be taken under the control of the U.S. defence ministry in order to conduct humanitarian and other missions. This is a very important statement for easing

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said: “We are not looking to, not do we need to, take control of any air or seaports to conduct this mission.

In his White House remarks, Bush said he had ordered the U.S. military to deliver humanitarian aid. A C-17 aircraft with supplies was on its way to Georgia and in the days to come Washington would use military aircraft and naval forces to make deliveries.

And, from the Washington Post:

Lavrov, in remarks broadcast on Russian radio, sounded unconcerned about White House threats that Russia could suffer a chill in relations with the West because of its incursion into Georgia.

“I don’t know how they are going to isolate us,” Lavrov said during an interview on radio station Echo Moskvy. “I have heard threats that we are not going to be admitted to the [World Trade Organization], but we see clearly that nobody is going to admit us there anyway,” he said. His remarks were translated by the Interfax news service. “Excuse my language, but they’re just stringing us along.”

I have a paper to finish, so analysis from me will be sparse for a bit. Maybe some of our readers can provide their own in comments?

… Itar-Tass reports that the South Ossetian and Abkhazian “foreign ministers” will soon be traveling to Moscow to discuss recognition of their independence (or, perhaps, their status as “republics” within Russia?).


Con–Sonar: Crazy Ivan!

Yesterday I was running a short simulation exercise on the Cuban Missile Crisis for students in my summer program, and lo and behold, what appeared in the paper, but:

Russian bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons could be deployed to Cuba in response to U.S. plans to install a missile defense system in Eastern Europe, a Russian newspaper reported Monday, citing an unnamed senior Russian air force official.

The report in Izvestia, which could not be confirmed, prompted memories of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, when the United States and the Soviet Union came to the brink of nuclear war after Nikita Khrushchev put nuclear missiles on the Caribbean island. The weapons were eventually withdrawn in an apparent Soviet climb-down, but President John F. Kennedy also secretly agreed to remove U.S. missiles from Turkey.

Joke? One wishes:

Some Russian experts dismissed the possibility of a new Cuban crisis. “It’s very silly psychological warfare,” said Alexander Golts, an independent military analyst, in a telephone interview. “Putin and Medvedev are very militant in words but very cautious in practical issues. They have not taken any step that can be seen as a real threat to the West, and I cannot see any reason to raise this threat against the U.S.”

But “if it’s true, it looks like a repetition of the Caribbean crisis” he said, using the common Russian term for the Cuban missile crisis.

Interesting here, I think, is the return to the commonplace of the Crisis as a turning point in superpower relations. Russia, in invoking the crisis seems to be signaling that they are, shall we say, upset, with the Bush missile defense project.

Putin has in the past invoked the Cuban missile crisis to register opposition to the missile defense project, saying it could touch off brinksmanship as dangerous as in 1962.

Now, it would take a great deal to bring the world anywhere near as close as it was to nuclear Armageddon in 1962 (and, as the recent studies of the crisis show, we were a hell of a lot closer to nuclear war than most actually appreciate, and that should rightly be scary). But, I think one lesson of the crisis is worth remembering.

At the time of the crisis, the USSR had something on the order of 4 working ICBMs (the actual missile gap), and despite a substantial manpower advantage in the European theater it had a decided disadvantage strategically (in nuclear weapons) vs. the USA. The decided not to face the US from a position of weakness again, and sought strategic parity. Thus began the Soviet military build-up that would eventually bankrupt the country. However, it was successful. By the early 1970’s the US and USSR essentially reached nuclear parity (leading to ABM and SALT and the like).

Today, under the Wolfowitz defense guidance (now called the national security strategy of the USA), the US uses its position of global preeminence to achieve policy victories. However, in good realist fashion, such stark and humiliating demonstrations and assertions of power lead to balancing (no!– yes, it is true).

So, while it reeks of historical symbolism that is borderline laughable in its actual implementation given today’s Russian military, it is perhaps a signal that merits a bit more attention.

(or maybe the Russians are just bitter, who knows these days…)

PS: speaking of the Cold War— the Soviets is everywhere these days. I’m watching the Hunt for Red October on AMC as I type this. I love this movie… Also, that should explain the post title, if you’ve made it this far.)


Russia and BMD: The BFD

Even the most causal observers of US-Russian relations must have realized by now that the Kremlin is apoplectic over the prospect of US ballistic missile defenses (BMD) in Eastern Europe. How has the Kremlin responded to news of the US-Czech radar deal? They’re not happy.


Russia warned after the signing on Tuesday it would react with unspecified military-technical means if the shield is deployed.

“The Czech side… voiced concerns over continued excessive rhetoric of the Russian Federation towards the Czech Republic and threats by some Russian official representatives in this sense,” the Czech defense ministry said in a statement after a visit by Russia’s defense ministry official Yevgenyi Buzhinsky.

“Some of the statements and the form of their presentation are perceived in the Czech Republic as an interference with internal political affairs,” the statement said.

Although, to his credit, President Medvedev says that Russia won’t get “hysterical” over the matter:

Russia will respond to U.S. missile shield plans in Central Europe, President Dmitry Medvedev said on Wednesday, pledging at the same time that Moscow would not resort to ‘hysterics’ over the issue.

“I repeat once again, we are not satisfied with it, and I have said this to my counterparts. Of course, we will not get hysterical over the issue, but we will consider what steps to take in response,” Medvedev told journalists after the G8 summit in Japan.

Medvedev also said Russia was dismayed by the Czech Republic signing on Tuesday a missile shield treaty with the U.S., but added that Russia was ready for further talks.

Whether this is more of the new Medvedev-Putin good cop-bad cop routine we’ll have to wait and see; Russia’s NATO envoy made a rather less measured statement:

Dmitry Rogozin… said the U.S.-Czech deal undermines Euro­pean security and pushes the world toward a new arms race.

“Missile defense systems in the Czech Republic and Po­land are a totally destabilizing element between the East and the West. The Czech authorities have surrendered their people to nuclear slaughter in favor of the interests of military and industrial groups,” he said.

The United States insists, of course, that the BMD deployments are meant to deal with rogue states, like Iran. The Russian’s don’t see it that way:

Russia, for example, sees the installations in Eastern Europe as containment aimed at them, not Iran..

It isn’t hard to understand why the Russian’s think this way. Just look at the maximum-ranged missile among those Iran has been (selectively) showing off lately:

A reasonable person might point out that the US cares about future threats; Iranian missile technology is unlikely to stand still.

But consider the Russian perspective. Their nuclear arsenal is in terrible shape. Their ballistic missile subs (the most survival platform for second-strike retaliation) barely ever leave port. While Putin has made plenty of noise about modernizing and repairing Russia’s nuclear deterrent–a development that the Pentagon has flogged a bit lately–there’s also significant evidence that this won’t amount to much for quite some time.

In other words, the US is expanding its BMD program–and seeking to place BMD installations in Europe–during a period in which it has significant advantages in nuclear weapons and reliable delivery capability. It isn’t hard to understand why the Kremlin might see the BMD proposals as amounting to a bid for first-strike dominance: even a limited BMD might be able to seriously undermine the deterrent value of a Russian second strike.

To get a taste of what a big deal this all is in Russia, one only need to peruse Russian news sources. Consider this report in RIA Novosti: “U.S. may secretly deploy ballistic missiles in Poland – expert“.

The U.S. may station intermediary and shorter-range ballistic missiles in Poland under the guise of interceptors, a Russian expert said Thursday.

Moscow has strongly opposed the possible deployment by the United States of 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic as a threat to its security and nuclear deterrent. Washington says the defenses are needed to deter possible strikes from “rogue states.”

Alexander Pikayev, head of the disarmament and conflict resolution department at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations, said there is no way of verifying that the U.S. will really deploy interceptor missiles with conventional warheads.

“These missiles look very much like intermediary and shorter-range ballistic missiles,” he said.

He said that if Russian military officers were not given access to U.S. missile-defense facilities in Central Europe, Russia would be unable to verity what types of missiles were located in silos on Polish soil.

“Therefore, we should make a worst-scenario assumption that ballistic missiles with a very short target approach time will be deployed,” he said, adding it would be naive to believe that U.S. missile-defense elements will not be included in the list of Russia’s legitimate targets.

“This is inevitable, and both the Czech Republic and Poland must know it,” the expert said.

Seem absurd? Well, the Russians have a lot of reasons to distrust the United States: from the US decision–despite promises made at the end of the Cold War–to expand NATO up to the Russian border, to the Orange Revolution, to US support for Georgia, the US has done little to inspire warm and fuzzy feelings in Russia. And a lot of Russians still feel betrayed by what they consider a failure by the US to provide promised assistance in the 1990s.

But there’s also a simpler explanation. The Russians probably ask themselves what they would do if they were in America’s shoes. And you can damn well bet that, if the situation were reversed, the Russians would be seeking first-strike dominance… and working on the best way to hide them some nuclear missiles in BMD sites.

UPDATE: Does the Russian Foreign Ministry read the Duck? I doubt it, but they clearly looked at some maps:

The results of recent Iranian missile tests prove that US plans for a defence shield in Europe are unnecessary, says Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

He said the tests confirmed Tehran had missiles with a limited range of up to 2,000km (1,240 miles).

And what conclusion does Lavrov draw? Not a particularly surprising one:

“We continue to be convinced of the invented nature of discussions about the Iranian rocket threat as a motive for the deployment of the missile shield in Europe,” Lavrov said after talks with Jordanian Foreign Minister Salaheddin Al-Bashir.


Base bargaining in the shadow of the 2008 election

Social-choice theory (or, in this context, public-choice theory) suggests that leaders sign international agreements as a way of “locking in” their preferred policies. Once a state signs such an agreement, the logic goes, future leaders will face greater costs if they want to change their predecessors’ policies.

It doesn’t take a fancy degree to recognize that’s what the Bush Administration has been up to in a number of arenas. Iraq is one of the most important, which is why they can’t be pleased that Maliki has, apparently, demanded a timetable for a US withdrawal from Iraq.

Iraq will not accept any security agreement with the United States unless it includes dates for the withdrawal of foreign forces, the government’s national security adviser said on Tuesday.

The comments by Mowaffaq al-Rubaie underscore the U.S.-backed government’s hardening stance toward a deal with Washington that will provide a legal basis for U.S. troops to operate when a U.N. mandate expires at the end of the year.

On Monday, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki appeared to catch Washington off-guard by suggesting for the first time that a timetable be set for the departure of U.S. forces under the deal being negotiated, which he called a memorandum of understanding.

Rubaie said Iraq was waiting “impatiently for the day when the last foreign soldier leaves Iraq”.

“We can’t have a memorandum of understanding with foreign forces unless it has dates and clear horizons determining the departure of foreign forces. We’re unambiguously talking about their departure,” Rubaie said in the holy Shi’ite city of Najaf.

Dr. iRack argues that:

This reflects Maliki’s newfound (over)confidence in the ISF as well as the growing Iraqi public sentiment against a long-term U.S.-Iraqi pact occurring outside the context of a time horizon for withdrawal.

Another possibility, of course, is that Maliki is (also) playing a signaling game of one kind or another.

1. Given how contentious the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) negotiations have been, this seems like a pretty good way to increase the pressure on the Bush Administration. Both sides know that the Administration may be running out of time to get the kind of deal they’d like to see between the US and Iraq, as the odds right now favor an Obama victory in November. Maliki’s statement also has political ramifications in the United States, and he may very well know it.

2. Any agreement will likely stoke nationalist sentiment in Iraq, as even a favorable SOFA will involve concessions of Iraqi sovereignty to the United States. Iraqi officials might be hoping that strong rhetoric on their part, and floating a parallel agreement for US “troop withdrawals” (whatever that means in practice), will provide them with some political insulation if and when the SOFA is finalized.

3. The Iraqi government almost certainly doesn’t want a total withdrawal of US forces. They are increasingly overconfident in their own forces; the US presence now most strongly serves Sunni interests. But the Iraqis also probably recognize that (a) they can’t defend the territorial integrity of Iraq on their own and (b) the US presence reduces the revenue and resources they need to divert towards defense and security. It is possible (albeit unlikely–or not so unlikely), therefore, that this is a very public signal towards the Obama camp, and the American electorate, at a point when Iraq policy has dominated the election news cycle for the last week or so.

Meanwhile, the US just secured a deal with the Czechs for BMD deployment:

The United States and the Czech Republic signed a treaty on Tuesday allowing Washington to build part of a missile defense shield in the central European state despite opposition from its former Cold War master Russia.

The deal to create a radar station southwest of Prague was marred by a failure to seal a corresponding pact with Poland, where Washington wants to put 10 interceptor rockets that would be guided by the Czech site (the Russians, predictably enough, aren’t happy either).

The deal is wildly unpopular in the Czech Republic:

he shield still faces hurdles, including heavy opposition in the Czech Republic, a country of 10.4 million that the Soviets occupied for two decades after invading in 1968.

It also faces obstacles to ratification in the Czech parliament, where the government has just 100 seats in the 200-seat chamber. Some deputies say they will oppose it along with the Social-Democrat opposition in a vote that could come after a new U.S. administration takes over in January.

An opinion poll last month showed 68 percent of Czechs were against the shield, while only 24 percent supported it.

Negotiations with the Poles, meanwhile, have stalled over the amount the US is willing to pay in rent (the US doesn’t officially pay “rent” as part of its basing and access agreements, but that line doesn’t fool anyone).

The Bush administration is trying to arrange deals with the young democratic governments in the host nations before President Bush leaves office in January.

The proposed U.S. missile defense system calls for a tracking radar in the Czech Republic and 10 interceptor missiles in Poland.

Talks with Poland had bogged down recently over Polish demands for billions of dollars worth of U.S. military aid, in part to deter a possible strike from a peeved Russia.

Moscow has threatened to aim its own missiles at any eventual base in Poland or the Czech Republic.

Flying to Prague, Rice said she had laid out the U.S. position at a hastily called meeting in Washington with Poland’s foreign minister. She would not go into details, but Poland is trying to sweeten or shore up U.S. pledges for millions in additional U.S. military aid. Rice said she explained what the United States can do and that the matter now rests with others for further discussion.

The immediate question is whether the deal with the Czechs will put pressure on the Poles to accept whatever is on the table.

On a final note, the politics of US basing remains one of the least-developed research agendas in contemporary security studies. Alex Cooley and I have a piece in peer-review limbo on the subject, but readers should check out his excellent bookon US bases and democratization in host countries.



After months of threats, Russia announced this morning that it is officially suspending its obligations under the Cold War-era Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty. From a military point of view, this probably isn’t all that significant: I haven’t seen any one making a serious claim that the Russian Army has the genuine capacity to present a conventional threat NATO and the US.

From a diplomatic point of view, though, it represents a new low in the relationship between the US and Russia. Although you wouldn’t know it from the NY Times story, this decision seems to have been precipitated by an amendment added to the defense authorization bill currently wending its way through the Senate, which makes the missile defense system official US policy. The Kommersant article jumps the gun a bit–the vote on the amendment does not yet make it US law (it could get dropped in conference, though it seems unlikely)–but it is not a Good Thing.

I’m also very disappointed in the NYT’s coverage, which fails to make clear the mutual responsibility for the current state of affairs. I am not a Putin booster, but the relationship has also been grossly mishandled from the US side.

Update: A good discussion of the issues involved here.


Speedboat diplomacy

Update below the fold.

After months of diplomatic sniping between the US and Russia, Presidents Vladimir Putin and George Bush are meeting today at the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. Bush has generally invited foreign leaders to his own ranch in Texas, rather than to the Maine compound, which belongs to his father. I have yet to read a compelling explanation as to why he chose Maine over Texas other than the more pleasant summertime weather, but that’s never stopped him in the past.

There really isn’t a whole lot to say about this visit, at least so far. Both the American and the Russian press seem to expect little from the meetings between the two leaders, noting the wide differences in policy toward Iran and missile defense.

Putin arrived yesterday in time for a spin about the bay in a speedboat driven by Bush Père, followed by a fancy lobster dinner. This morning, they went fishing; Putin was the only one who caught anything. Putin will continue on to Guatemala to a meeting of the Olympic committee, in support of the Black Sea resort city of Sochi’s bid for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Can personal diplomacy between world leaders really make a big difference? Certainly, but I don’t think Putin is going to be swayed from his positions by a little Bush “charm”. Instead, he’s continued to try to put Bush off-balance–this time, according to the New York Times, offering yet another proposal for a jointly developed missile defense plan located in former Soviet space, in exchange for Bush abandoning plans to deploy the system in the new NATO members of eastern Europe. Unfortunately, the NYT article lacks details of what Putin actually proposed. The BBC has only slightly more, mentioning, in addition to the Gabala radar, a “site in Southern Russia”.

Update: Izvestia has more information about Putin’s specific proposals. First, he proposed the creation of an information exchange center in Moscow and an early warning station in southern Russia (still no specific location). Second, he proposed widening the discussion of missile defense to include other European countries, while noting that these countries will have to conduct elections on whether to participate in the system. This last bit is a reminder to the Bush Administration that missile defense is not actually all that popular in eastern Europe–at the beginning of April, one opinion poll showed that 57% of Poles were opposed to participating in the program. Bush, in his turn, responded to the latest proposal by calling it a “bold, interesting, new idea.”* ‘Interesting’, of course, should be translated as ‘I haven’t figured out how to politely say ‘no’ yet.’

* This is translated from the Izvestia article, so I can’t guarantee Bush’s exact English words–I haven’t been able to find a detailed English-language account yet.


War of the words

Did you know that there’s a new Cold War? Well, not really. It makes for good media headlines, but it’s largely exaggerated hype.

Nevertheless, tensions between the US and Russia have been on the rise over the last year. At the heart of the matter is Russia’s desire to be taken seriously as a player in the world political scene. The economy is booming and government coffers are overflowing. Russia sees itself as undergoing a resurgence and they want to be treated accordingly.

Instead, they’ve been receiving the standard Bush administration treatment, which seems to be applied equally to all our allies: here’s our plan for X…no, we don’t need your input.

Although the US and Russia have been wrangling over a number of issues, including the disposition of Kosovo and the progression of the Iranian nuclear program, the biggest bone of contention has been American plans to place anti-ballistic missile installations in Central Europe, in Poland and the Czech Republic (talk about ABM installations in Ukraine is, for now, just talk).

While the negotiations for deployment of these ABM components has been largely under the radar of the US press, it’s been a Big Deal in the Russian-language press since last fall. It’s a hot story…and it’s not merely nationalist drum-beating by the domestic Russian press–even the Russian-language BBC has been giving it a lot of coverage.

If you haven’t been following it, here’s the basics: the US wants to site radar installations and missile launchers in Poland and the Czech Republic, with the idea that this system would protect against missile attacks by rogue states (i.e., Iran and North Korea). Russia has reacted strongly against the proposed system, arguing that in placing BMD practically “at Russia’s borders” (this is the phrase used in the Russian press), the US can only have one purpose: to undermine the Russian nuclear deterrent. This has led to some absurdist rhetoric, where Russian officials have claimed that new missile systems under development will be fully able to penetrate the missile shield, while in the next breath they repeat the claim about undermining the deterrent. (If their missiles are truly unstoppable, then an ABM shield shouldn’t really concern them, should it?) As negotiations have proceeded with our NATO allies on BMD deployment, the pitch of the rhetoric has turned up: among other things, Russia has threatened to withdraw from the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty and to retarget missiles toward Europe.

If you read closely, though, you will find that the key issue for the Russians is not the BMD system, but rather American unilateralism. The Russians want to be our partners, not our pushovers. From the NYT back in March:

NATO diplomats have also expressed frustration at Russia’s words of shock over proposals for basing missile interceptors in Poland and radar in the Czech Republic, and they produced lists of sessions in which officials from Moscow were briefed on the antimissile effort in NATO-Russia Council sessions and in bilateral talks.

Russian officials complain that those meetings were not two-way consultations about American plans but one-way notifications at which their concerns were not weighed.

Russia wants to be treated with the respect it feels it deserves as nuclear superpower–and it’s willing to throw its weight around to get it.

So here’s where we get to the juicy part: the recent G-8 summit in Germany.

After months of pumping up the rhetorical volume on the BMD controversy, Putin suddenly shifted gears. In a brilliant bit of political theater (or, perhaps, political judo), he offered a Russian radar installation in Azerbaijan as a site for a jointly managed ABM radar site.

The Bush administration could only splutter in response. The Gabala site is considerably closer to Iran and to North Korea. Of course, it’s not without drawbacks. For one thing, many Azeris are furious about the offer, claiming that the Russia’s lease on the facility does not permit them to hand it over to a third party.

On the other hand, they don’t have much to worry about. Putin placed a number of conditions on the deal, including a requirement for full Russian access to the joint facility (and presumably, to US technology). And some analysts have claimed that the site is both too close to Iran and too far from the proposed missile launcher sites to be effective. And at a NATO defense ministers’ meeting on June 15, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced that the Russian offer will not affect US plans to site facilities in Central Europe, though he didn’t rule out the possibility of using the Gabala radar as an additional site.

SOP, for the Bush admin: all take and no give. Of course, Putin’s offer grabbed all the headlines, while Gates’ quiet “thanks, but no thanks” has made no splash at all. But I don’t think anyone really thought it was a genuine offer in the first place, so the headlines are the real field of battle.


Enabling proliferation

What do other states think of America’s nuclear arsenal and strategic posture?

Defense analyst Lewis Dunn, with coauthors Gregory Giles, Jeffrey Larsen, and Thomas Skypek, recently completed a project sponsored by the Advanced Systems and Concepts Office (ASCO) of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency that looked at this and related questions. Their report is available on the web: Foreign Perspectives on U.S. Nuclear Policy and Posture (warning: long pdf).

On March 20, Dunn presented the findings at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Through his interviews with foreign individuals, he found that many saw the U.S. shifting from a policy of nuclear deterrence towards a policy of nuclear use or preemption. Foreign perceptions following the U.S. articulation in 2001 of the “new nuclear triad” are that the U.S. is lowering its nuclear threshold.

Dunn characterized this as a foreign “misperception” of the US posture.

Is it?

Apparently, foreigners gathered this impression based on US development of “bunker buster” bombs and renewed emphasis on ballistic missile defenses. Oh, and they are not crazy about American development of “low-yield” weapons. Altogether, some respondents apparently told Dunn that US policy was undermining the Nonproliferation Treaty — and generally undercutting arms control.

Dunn notes that no senior US official has made a policy statement on nuclear weapons since 2002, which means that it would be a good time for the US to clarify its nuclear posture. Put differently, Dunn wants a clearer declaratory policy, which I would emphasize can be quite distinct from an operational deployment (and employment) policy.

Russia and China are particularly leary of BMD, which is sold as a US reaction to nuclear proliferation. Other states are apparently becoming more accepting of US missile defense plans. Dunn made a point about the Chinese and Russian reactions that should be obvious to anyone who has thought about nuclear deterrence — and knows anything about the security dilemma: “these countries’ strategic modernization plans are influenced by U.S. policy decisions.”

Dunn concluded by calling for greater efforts at dialogue with China and Russia, as well as with the rest of the world:

[T]he U.S. needs to expand its nuclear debate and agenda and engage in international dialogue to discuss issues such as the relevance of nuclear disarmament and how to define an environment that is needed for the elimination of nuclear weapons to occur.

Do you think he really means “irrelevance“?


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