Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson
#29 - JRL 2009-45 - JRL Home
RIA Novosti
March 5, 2009
Iran cannot be swapped for missile defense

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti military commentator Ilya Kramnik) - The Obama administration made no attempt to offer Russia a deal: to make concessions over the deployment of a missile defense system in Europe in exchange for Russia's cooperation on the "Iran issue."

President Obama himself drew a line under the issue at a press conference held on Wednesday following his meeting with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

What could this deal, or "tradeoff," have looked like? The media supposed that the United States would "forget" about deploying interceptor missiles in Eastern Europe on condition that Russia "formed a common front with the U.S." in the negotiations on the Iranian nuclear and missile problem.

The proposal looked meaningless and crudely simplistic from the very start. Russia's security interests call for a comprehensive discussion of a vast region comprising Iran, the Caspian, Central Asia, Afghanistan and Iraq. In all these situations, many of which affect Moscow's interests, Iran plays the key role.

For the U.S., Russian support on the Iran issue is very important, because as it loses leverage over the situation America needs the support of a country that commands authority in the Middle East to preserve its levers of influence. At the same time it hardly makes sense for Russia to give up its authority: by directly supporting the U.S., Russia risks to lose much of its political clout built up in recent years in the relations with the Middle East and Central Asian countries. Granted, these issues can and must be discussed, but not in terms of "supporting" the U.S., but in terms of a new American policy in the region.

The missile defense problem has nothing to do with Iran, but it cannot be separated from Russia's relations with NATO countries. It is impossible to pluck the issue of missile defense out of the whole range of security issues in Europe.

The U.S. promise not to deploy a missile defense system in Eastern Europe is not an adequate replacement of talks on the security system in Europe. At the end of the day the possible deployment of American bases with strike weapons in the new NATO member countries is no less of a threat than the deployment of a missile defense system or the possible accession of Georgia and Ukraine to NATO.

Finally, the problem of missile defense is closely linked with the issue of preserving the nuclear and missile parity between the two countries, which has been the subject of a lively discussion in connection with reports about the U.S. initiative on drastic cuts of nuclear arsenals. The agreement between Russia and the U.S. on further nuclear arms cuts must include limitations on the development of missile defense systems, and not only in Eastern Europe but throughout the world. Ideally it should impose a total ban on the development of strategic missile defense systems and allow only the creation of theatre missile defense.

One should also bear in mind that in the current situation the "price" of the missile defense system as a bargaining chip has diminished significantly. In the pre-crisis times such expenditure for the U.S., though significant, was not unmanageable, and the prospects of creating a massive missile defense deployed in key points in the world looked quite realistic. But tomorrow it may very well happen that the U.S. will have to scrap its plans of a missile defense system without any negotiations disguising the fact with fine words about "additional tests" and "development of a more sophisticated system." The real reason would be simply that there will be no wherewithal to pay for such a huge project. That is a circumstance to be borne in mind too.

On balance, an Iran-missile defense deal plucks both problems out of the political and economic context without solving either.

To repeat, the two issues can and must be discussed between Russia and the U.S., but each in the framework of its range of problems. Iran, as part of the overall range of issues in the Middle East and Central Asia, and missile defense as part of the issues of European and world security. The current situation objectively favors an agreement between the two countries as both the Russian and American administrations have shown a readiness to negotiate, including on key issues.