Putin’s missile defense proposal: will the Americans turn it down?
After President Putin presented an expanded version of his missile defense proposal, the ball was in President Bush’s court again. He tried to respond to Putin’s ideas with vague phrases – but sooner or later, the Americans will have to make an open choice.
Russia and the United States will soon sign a cooperation agreement in civilian nuclear energy: this outcome of the Kennebunkport meeting was announced yesterday by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Another announcement, with full presidential approval, concerned strategic offensive weapons reductions. These documents are important in their own way, but they don’t conceal the main point here. After President Vladimir Putin presented an expanded version of his missile defense proposal, the ball was in President George W. Bush’s court again. He tried to respond to Putin’s ideas with vague phrases – but sooner or later, the Americans will have to make an open choice. As yet, the Bush Administration may not have enough political will to do so.
During the talks at the Bush family estate in Kennebunkport, Putin baffled his American counterpart with a proposal which essentially represents a new model of international security. Moscow has proposed to Washington that the missile threat problem in Europe should be solved by involving European countries and using the Russia-NATO Council as a platform; Moscow also indicated that it is prepared to share all necessary data from its two radar stations in the south. If this idea is implemented, the deployment of US missile defense elements in Poland and the Czech Republic would become pointless – but only if this deployment is not directed against Russia, of course. In short, Putin has brought the moment of truth closer.
Thus, the new initiative has significantly expanded and updated the proposals Russia made last month (including the use of Gabala). Now Russia is proposing that monitoring and countering missile threats should involve the collective efforts of several states, not just Russia and the USA. Bush described this initiative as “sincere,” “innovative,” and “strategic,” but immediately emphasized that “as I told Vladimir, I think that the Czech Republic and Poland need to be an integral part of the system.”
So the Americans are trying to sit on the fence: they intend to go ahead with their plans to deploy missile defense elements in Eastern Europe, but they aren’t venturing to reject Putin’s initiative entirely – since such a rejection would make it absolutely clear that the American missile defense is directed against Russia.
Russia’s position is that it’s an either-or choice: implementation of the proposals made at Kennebunkport, or deployment of the US missile defense elements in Eastern Europe. One or the other; they are mutually exclusive. The Americans are well aware of this. Therefore, according to a member of the Russian delegation, they are “not showing flexibility” in saying that the new system should include facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic. And if the United States chooses to build a unilateral missile defense system, not taking Moscow’s wishes into account, the Russian leadership would have no other option but to resort to an asymmetric response – including new European targets for our missiles, and building new weapons.