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Reset 2.0: The Recent Russia-NATO Summit Shows that Missile Defense Remains a Contentious Issue, Despite the Russian-American Reset

File Photo of Missile Defense Launch
file photo
The Russia-NATO summit held on July 4 in Sochi indicated that the deployment of an American missile system in Central Europe and the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) are the issues most likely to undermine the achievements of the U.S.-Russian "reset." Disagreements between the Russians and Americans may put the START treaty at risk if Moscow and Washington don't resolve the problem within a year, Russia's Special Representative to NATO Dmitry Rogozin said in an interview with the Kommersant daily newspaper before the summit. While some U.S. experts argue that Russia's threat to leave the treaty won't harm U.S.-Russian relations, their Russian counterparts have not ruled out the possibility of increasing confrontation in "the second round of the reset."

During the Russia-NATO summit held this Monday in Sochi, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and NATO General Secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen failed to resolve their disagreements on the U.S. missile system in Central and Eastern Europe, which Moscow regards as a threat to its national security. Medvedev issued an ultimatum: either NATO and Russia resolve these differences by the next summit in Chicago scheduled for May 2012, or Russia will leave the START treaty, develop its own missile defense system and increase deployment on its western border to protect Russian territory from a missile strike.

Rogozin said in an interview with Kommersant that the development of strategic arms on Russia's western border will be the Kremlin's response to the American missile defense system in Europe. In such a case, Moscow could drop out of the new START treaty, in accordance with both the treaty's stipulations and a State Duma law on START ratification. In the worst case, the situation could devolve into a new arms race, further complicating Russian-American relations.

Moscow and Washington seemed to have agreed on this problem at the G8 summit held last May in the French resort city of Deauville, when Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and U.S. Under Secretary of State Ellen Tauscher prepared a rough draft of a document which should provide judicial guarantees that American warheads in Europe would not pose a threat to Russia. Although this draft presented at the G8 summit wasn't adopted by the Russian and U.S. presidents, it was a positive sign that compromise was possible, Kommersant reported.

As the United States refused to give any legal safeguards that its missiles will not be directed toward Russia, Russia in turn has refused to admit that the START treaty will be beneficial. These suspicions are reflected in an All Russian Public Opinion Center (VTsIOM) poll conducted at the end of June. Only three percent of Russians believe that START is a more important treaty for Russia than the United States, while 15 percent of respondents are sure the treaty is in the United States' interests, with 30 percent thinking it is essential for both countries.

"The VTsIOM data only reflect the opinion of average people who might be biased toward the United States," said Alexei Malashenko from the Moscow-based Carnegie Center. "After all, everything that is related to the United States in Russians' minds is perceived negatively."

Likewise, Russian and American experts are split on the question of who will benefit from the treaty, while some assume that it should be a top priority for both countries to keep reducing nuclear weapons.

"Given Russia's slightly greater economic vulnerability and greater U.S. capacity economically and technologically to develop its forces in the absence of START, the treaty is slightly more beneficial for Russia," said Gordon Hahn, an expert on U.S.-Russian relations at the Monterey Institute for International Studies in California.

Meanwhile, Director of the International Institute for Political Expertise Evgeny Minchenko argues that START is more beneficial for the United States considering ongoing uncertainty over the American missile system in Europe and Russia's enormous nuclear potential. "It's usual that Russia is concerned with its national security and the United States' reluctance to give us guarantees that the American warheads will be not directed to our territory," he said. "In that sense, START is more beneficial for the United States."

Gregory Feifer, an editor and senior correspondent for Radio Liberty and an expert on Russia, sees the treaty as "beneficial for both sides." However, he added that "in strategic terms it's most beneficial for Russia, which has had a hard time maintaining its arsenal and would probably have had to make cuts anyway."

Despite Russia's ultimatum to leave the treaty, experts are doubtful that this threat will come to fruition. Hahn finds the problem solvable "through some creative compromise." "Dealing with Iran, for example, could obviate the need for a Europe-centric missile shield," he said. Feifer also didn't believe that Russia would pull out of the new START treaty easily. "If it did, the reset would be declared dead and relations would sour," he said.

Minchenko echoed this view claiming that Russia's technical inability to upgrade its nuclear weapons will make it difficult for them to leave the treaty. "It's not in Russia's interest to cancel START now, because currently, it doesn't have opportunities to increase its number of warheads significantly," he said.

Although Russia's threat to cancel the treaty has been met with skepticism, it still may slightly hamper the "reset". "The frictions over START are inevitable," said Malashenko. "Yet I believe there will be a breakthrough. The first round of the 'reset' is over but we may now see a second round." He views the Russia-NATO summit in Sochi as pivotal in Russian-American relations, which indicates that it is still possible to find a compromise.

Hahn also agreed that the achievements of the reset overshadowed the countries' differences. "I don't think the disagreements on missile defense will scuttle relations because there is good cooperation in other areas, such as the war against Jihadism and Afghanistan," he said.

But Minchenko doesn't see any reason to believe in the second reset, because the United States "have already got everything they want from Russia," including assistance in Afghanistan, "and they are not going to change their policy." Russia seems hesitant to make any concessions on Iran or North Korea, while "America continues criticizing our political system and human rights record," Minchenko added. "So, there is no reason for a new reset."

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Russia, Nuclear Issues, Missile Defense - Russia News - Russia - Russia - Johnson's Russia List

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