Republicans oppose U.S. cooperation with Russia on NATO missile defense.

By Russ Wellen

In a Reuters blog post titled Why Russia won’t deal on NATO missile defense, Yousaf Butt of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies writes that, to “allay Moscow’s concerns, Washington has invited Russia to participate in [a missile defense] system, helping NATO guard against Iran.”

But, reported the Associated Press in May:

Republicans … trying to block Obama administration overtures to Russia on missile defense [are] proposing a measure that would bar the administration from sharing classified missile defense data with Russia.

That would undercut a path that arms control advocates have urged to restart nuclear talks, which have been set back by a missile defense dispute.

Dr. Butt elaborates.

Representative Michael Turner (R-Ohio), former chairman of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, and other House Republican leaders have said that if the Obama administration hands over to Moscow technical data on the missile defense interceptors — as the White House has proposed — then this could persuade Moscow that the system is not targeting Russian missiles.

So while the administration has insisted it doesn’t intend to target Russia, the House Armed Services Committee leadership appears nostalgic for the Cold War — and wants to use the system against the Russians. Is it any wonder Moscow remains skeptical?

Let’s backtrack. Missile defense systems, such as the NATO system in which the United States is inviting Russia to take part, are, writes Dr. Butt

… known to have serious technological flaws. … Why would Russia want to cooperate on an expensive system that does not work — especially against a threat from Iran and North Korea, which Russia discounts?

Russia may reject two-thirds of the equation – that Iran and North Korea are threats and that missile defense would even be effective against them – but still finds it convenient to act as if missile defense is directed at Russian ICBMs. Never mind that Russia would become privy to the truth of NATO’s motives if it cooperated.

Please don’t misconstrue this as my approval of missile defense in any way, shape or form. The recent news that an East Coast installation was proposed for Fort Drum – 300 miles from where we live in New York State — brought it home to me. But it seems as if we survived a near-miss.

[A] letter from the leader of the Missile Defense Agency to the Senate Armed Services Committee could be a big roadblock. In it, Vice Admiral James D. Syring writes, “There is no validated military requirement to deploy an East Coast missile defense site.”

Dr. Butt then asks:

If Iran or North Korea could so easily circumvent this vaunted missile defense system, why are the Russians (and Chinese) so up in arms against it?

The answer is simple: Russian and Chinese military planners — like those at the Pentagon — are paid to be paranoid. They must assume the worst-case scenario. Which, in this case, means they must treat a missile system as being highly effective —  even when it isn’t.

Or they treat missile defense as if it might be effective in the future.

Russian and Chinese analysts might also be worried about the potential for a major expansion in defensive missile arsenals; technical changes in the systems (such as nuclear-tipped interceptors); and the diversity and scale of sensor systems that are being brought online to support the system.

Republicans seek to turn Russian paranoia to their advantage by shamelessly perpetuating the myth that missile defense is directed against Russian ICBMs. To refresh your memories, remember, too, that missile defense is notorious for destabilizing nuclear deterrence. (Another disclaimer: optimizing nuclear deterrence is of no concern to me personally.)

By theoretically being able to halt an enemy’s first strike in its tracks, it makes the attacker’s remaining nukes vulnerable to a retaliatory strike by the state that was attacked. In other words, missile defense encourages other nuclear states to build more nuclear weapons and delivery systems. They would compensate for both those that would be shot down by missile defense and those destroyed in a retaliatory attack by the state that was attacked.

Missile defense continues to serve a useful purpose. No, not protecting the United States and Europe. But as the gift that never stops giving to keep the Cold War alive and money flowing into a white elephant as destructive to the economy as it is to our national defense.

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