January 29, 2007 | Commentary on National Security and Defense

Bear Growls at U.S. Missile Plan

The Russians are going ballistic over the possibility the United States will deploy a missile-defense system in Central Europe in the coming years.

The United States insists the defense shield is to guard us - and our friends and allies - against the growing North Korean and Iranian threats. But Russia denounces these systems as "destabilizing."

Washingtonwants to put an X-band radar in the Czech Republic and 10 interceptor missile launchers in Poland; these would add to existing U.S. missile-defense sites in California and Alaska.

Last week, Washington moved to open negotiations with Warsaw and Prague; the Czechs agreed, while the Poles are still mulling the offer.

But Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov scoffed at the idea. His thinking: Neither North Korean nor Iranian missiles can reach Europe right now, so "against whom is this missile-defense system being made?"

Ivanov's views count. He's often touted as a possible - even a likely - successor to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is scheduled to step down next year.

Parroting Ivanov, a number of senior Russian defense officials recently said Moscow viewed the missile-defense deployment as a threat to its security. The Kremlin hasn't specified a response.

The Russians are especially peeved about Poland's possible participation. A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said a Polish base would undermine "strategic stability, regional security and relations between Russia and Poland." (Moscow warned Prague, too.)

Yet a State Department spokesman stated the obvious: "It's not aimed at Russia . . . It's aimed at those irresponsible states that may possess technologies that could threaten our friends and allies, that could threaten the United States." We've even offered Moscow consultations on the issue.

Heck, these are defensive systems, not offensive ones. Neither country even borders Russia proper. Besides, the Czechs and Poles are now our NATO partners - no longer (involuntary) allies of Russia's old Warsaw Pact.

Which starts to get at the real issue. Russia accepted the idea of NATO expansion into Eastern Europe and the Baltics - but never liked it. Moscow has been incredibly sensitive to its loss of control over countries in its traditional sphere of influence - its so-called near abroad.

And the Russian military, long a source of pride, has weakened from neglect. Deploying "Son of Star Wars" to their neighborhood - something the Russians simply can't match - makes that creeping inferiority all the more obvious.

It also gives the Kremlin the willies. Russia sees missile defense in Europe as aimed at crumbling the last vestige of its military might: land- and sea-based intercontinental ballistic missiles. (The successful U.S. missile-defense test Saturday over the Pacific won't help.)

But the Russian "shoe-banging" about missile defense in Europe remains shockingly hypocritical - when you consider all the "destabilizing" activity Moscow has willfully engaged in at the expense of America's security.

How about Russia's delivery of $1 billion in super-advanced Tor-M1 air-defense missiles to Iran, encouraging Tehran's belligerence - and bolstering its confidence - as the world seeks to rein in its nuclear program?

Did Moscow really believe building Iran's first nuclear reactor at Bushehr (starting in the 1990s) - would stabilize the Middle East? And what of its $1 billion in arms contracts with Syria?

How about the irascible North Koreans? Pyongyang's ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs got their start from - you guessed it - the Kremlin.

The Russians carp about the Poles and the Czechs but seem conveniently to forget about Venezuela in our neighborhood. Moscow inked $3 billion in arms deals with Castro-wannabe Hugo Chavez for advanced fighters, helicopters and other weapons.

And China? Someday, China - using advanced Russian weapons - might cross swords with the United States over Taiwan's future. Moscow sells billions in arms to Beijing, and recently agreed to cooperate with the Chinese space program.

The point here is that Moscow wants it both ways. Russia is now the world's biggest arms merchant to the developing world. In some cases, these sales seriously undermine American interests and security - and threaten U.S. forces.

Yet Russia wants us to forgo deploying a defensive missile system that will protect us and our allies from two countries - Iran and North Korea - Russia had a hand in arming?

That's downright outrageous.

The United States and Russia can both benefit from a cooperative relationship. Neither capital wants a deeper freeze in already chilly ties. But Moscow must understand its actions aren't without perceived - or real - consequences for Russian security, too.

Peter Brookes is a columnist forThe New York Post, a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and author of "A Devil's Triangle: Terrorism, WMD and Rogue States."

About the Author

Peter Brookes Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

First appeared in the New York Post