Russia’s response to missile defense elements in Eastern Europe

The issue of deploying US missile defense elements in Poland and the Czech Republic has moved far beyond the purely military aspects of Washington’s agreements with Warsaw and Prague. We are not rejecting dialogue – but we are entitled to expect some changes in NATO’s stance on European security.

The issue of deploying US missile defense elements in Poland and the Czech Republic has moved far beyond the purely military aspects of Washington’s agreements with Warsaw and Prague. Attempts to portray this situation as some sort of “natural” process, or a fact of little importance to Russia, have failed. Moscow’s sharp reaction and clear signs of tension in the European Union confirm that this problem can’t be solved on the quiet.

The deployment of missile defense elements in EU and NATO new member states will fundamentally change the structure and philosophy of continental and global security, and the entire bloc of international treaties. This is not just a matter of Russia expresing concern. In the wake of the scandal over the CIA’s secret prisons, this is another slap in the face for Brussels, undermining its authority and ability to control what happens in Europe. Some of the EU’s newest members are negotiating with a non-European country and agreeing to host strategically significant military systems – without consulting Brussels, ignoring any talk of European security concepts. After the event, the united Europe is attempting to make it look as if it has been involved in discussing the decisions made on its behalf. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has proposed involving NATO in missile defense deployment consultations between the USA and its allies, on the one hand, and Russia, on the other. At the Munich security conference in February, I asked a question about NATO’s ability to respond to the challenges of our era. Merkel replied to the effect that although NATO isn’t doing enough, the situation would be even worse without NATO. But Russia and a growing number of other non-NATO countries are getting a strong impression that NATO is not only failing to cope with contemporary problems (by inaction), but actually generating problems by its very existence.

Another aspect of the situation was noted by the Russian defense minister: “During the first wave of NATO expansion, we were solemnly assured that the new member states would not host any NATO military infrastructure. They have simply deceived us.” How can we discuss such serious matters with, or within, organizations that demonstrate a lack of basic good faith?

We are not rejecting dialogue – but we are entitled to expect some changes in NATO’s stance on European security. Dialogue based on equal rights and respect for each other’s interests – that’s not just a figure of speech; it’s a matter of specific reciprocal obligations. If Russia complies with these obligations, that doesn’t mean Russia is the weaker side in the dialogue – only the more honest side.

Europe no longer has any significant mechanisms for detailed discussion of continental and global security. Russia has been arguing for years that the OSCE should be revived. The OSCE has become overly focused on humanitarian issues; it should return to its initial mission of being a consultation body for security and cooperation issues, and should be relieved of the unseemly function of ensuring that non-Western countries produce “correct” election results.

The leaders of Poland and the Czech Republic have placed the EU, Russia, and their own citizens in a difficult position by agreeing to host missile defense elements and rashly revealing NATO’s Great Secret: rogue states and terrorists are not the main targets of missile defense. After President Putin delivered his speech in Munich, Czech Foreign Minister Schwarzenberg indicated that this kind of reaction from Moscow is exactly what explains NATO’s active efforts in the eastern direction. Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski has been even more candid, saying that American missile defense elements will help Poland move out of Russia’s sphere of influence. How many more organizations does Warsaw need to join in order to feel like it’s fully part of the West, rather than an object for any claims from Moscow? It has chosen a rather strange method of moving away from Russia’s influence; naturally, Russia has announced that it will have to redirect its missiles at new targets affecting its security.

The Czech Republic’s motives aren’t entirely clear – but Poland is more understandable. Its ruling elites, with the Kaczynski brothers expressing their interests, are not aiming to get rid of the tiresome influence of Poland’s large eastern neighbor; this has happened already, by mutual consent and to everyone’s satisfaction. Paradoxically enough, Poland’s objective now is to make Russia an object of Poland’s influence, serving Poland’s interests. This is the purpose of Warsaw’s efforts to control the EU’s eastern policy, giving it a confrontational tone. This also explains Poland’s efforts to scuttle the North European Gas Pipeline project (which wouldn’t be necessary if Poland were a reliable transit country), while creating an Energy NATO. Poland’s active efforts in Ukraine and Belarus are also understandable: historical conflicts with Ukrainian nationalists are forgotten on the common ground of resisting Moscow. Poland’s attempts to dictate trade terms to Russia, and attempts to involve Greater Europe in resolving bilateral economic problems, are part of the same pattern. Its demonstration of military friendship with the United States, as a punishment for Europe’s insufficient combat-readiness or toughness with regard to Russia, is also revealing: we’ll solve our own security problems, as we see them, while you people in Brussels talk about Iran, North Korea, and terrorists.

Under the circumstances, there is no reason for Russia to discuss the problem with Prague and Warsaw. Since they apparently fail to realize that their own historical fixations and separate games with Washington are undermining Europe’s established security structure, Europe itself needs to sort out this matter.

As for the purely military aspects of the missile defense situation, our ideas about the EU and Russia cooperating to build a security system still remain relevant – as long as this really is about threats from Iran, North Korea, and other potential aggressors. Calculated public comments about how the missile defense arc may be extended to Ukraine and Georgia (or further along Russia’s perimeter, if “an outbreak of freedom and democracy” happens to occur in any other countries suited to hosting missile defense elements) will make the real target of US missile defense in Europe even more obvious. As long as Eurasian and global security efforts attempt to exclude Russia, or are aimed against Russia, they cannot be comprehensive and effective. The Europeans need to decide whether it makes sense for them to follow those who are carrying the mindset and fixations of the past into a new century, with new threats and challenges.