Kissinger: Don't Rule Out Putin's Initiative on Missile Defense
The Washington Post
August 9, 2007
The debate about missile defense, nearly 50 years old, has been reignited by the plan to deploy elements of the American missile defense in the Czech Republic and Poland. Familiar Cold War arguments have re-emerged as Russia challenges the necessity of the deployment and asserts that it is really designed to overcome Russian strategic forces rather than Iranian threats as the Bush administration claims.
But in addition to invective, the Kremlin also has a put forward a bold initiative for creating an unprecedented NATO-Russian collaboration in resisting an Iranian nuclear missile threat.
In the United States, the concept of missile defense has had a rough passage. A missile defense system proposed by President Richard Nixon in 1969 was strangled by Congress. In order to preserve its nucleus, the Nixon administration, in 1972, negotiated the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which froze existing missile defenses on both sides in parallel with an agreement that achieved the first restraints on the Soviet offensive missile buildup.
In the following decades, the international environment changed dramatically and forced a reconsideration of the earlier decisions: First, the collapse of the Soviet Union eliminated for the foreseeable future the conceptual basis for the doctrine that sought deterrence through the mutual capacity for annihilation; second, technical progress made missile defense a much more realistic prospect; third, the proliferation of nuclear weapons and missile technology has generated unprecedented dangers of accidental and rogue state launches.
Involved as well was a moral issue. How could any president explain, after even the most limited nuclear attack, why, in possession of a plausible technology to mitigate its consequences or to avoid them altogether, he chose to leave the population unprotected?
These considerations convinced the Bush administration to withdraw from the ABM treaty in 2002 and to begin the construction of a global missile defense system aimed at overcoming limited attacks, especially from rogue states. Deployment has started in Alaska, and some existing radar stations elsewhere are being integrated into the system. The prospective deployment of a radar site in the Czech Republic and a small number of interceptors in Poland would be the first new installations outside the United States explicitly designed for missile defense.
Russia, which accepted the withdrawal from the ABM treaty in 2002 with little, if any, controversy, has reacted in a neuralgic manner to the Polish and Czech deployment. This should not be a surprise. Moscow has always shown great interest in missile defense.
The current American-Russian dialogue repeats a traditional pattern. But its implications go well beyond strategic considerations. Implicit in President Vladimir Putin's conduct since his critical Munich speech is a deep resentment over the advance of the NATO military establishment toward Russia's frontiers in disregard of what Moscow regards as assurances that this would not happen - especially with respect to advanced military technology.
The U.S. argument that the deployment is designed to deal with attacks from Iran is dismissed on the ground that an Iranian missile capability to reach the United States is probably 10 years or more away. Therefore the deployment, in Russian eyes, must by its very nature involve a deeper design aimed at Russian interests. Moscow's tactics reflect its rhetoric. It has launched an intense diplomatic campaign to pressure NATO and the U.S. to revoke the missile defense deployment in Central Europe. It has withdrawn assurances that none of Russia's missiles will be aimed at NATO territory.
But there are straws in the wind that imply a more constructive attitude. Putin has made an intriguing proposal of potentially profound, long-range significance: to link Russia's existing missile tracking radar installations in Azerbaijan or those planned for Southern Russia to the American and NATO defense missile system against Iran. While the proposal is unacceptable as put forward, it contains a vision of how to implement parallel strategic interests that might set a precedent for overcoming other global challenges.
Russia and the United States face an emerging world order whose threats as well as prospects transcend what any national state, no matter how powerful, can deal with by itself. Proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, radical jihadism, the environment, a global economy all impose the need for cooperative approaches. At the level of the presidents and foreign ministers, this seems to be understood, and relations are friendly and characterized by serious cooperative efforts. Yet in the public dimension, something approaching Cold War attitudes is re-emerging.
This trend must not be permitted to take hold. The United States and Russia are no longer in a competition for global leadership. The military deployments of the two sides are no longer aimed at each other because each faces other, greater perils.
Many Americans understand that many global problems can best - perhaps only - be solved by American-Russian cooperation. By the same token, Russian leaders cannot fail to know that their country has nothing to gain from a global contest with the United States.
Each side, of course, also has national interests that are not necessarily congruent. America needs to show greater sensitivity to Russian complexities. Moscow must understand that its point about being taken for granted has been made and that threats are not the way to achieve a sense of common purpose.
The immediate challenge is to deal with the missile defense issue. For America, the NATO alliance has been the bedrock of its move from isolation to international engagement. It therefore should not be asked to bargain away an enterprise agreed to by the Czech Republic and Poland to underline their ties to America and that U.S. leaders consider important for American security.
But what America can and should do is to limit the proposed deployment to its stated objective of overcoming rogue state threats and find ways to define specific steps that separate the antimissile deployment in Central Europe from a strategy for a hypothetical and highly implausible war against Russia.
Beyond this vestige of traditional arms control looms the prospect of a new approach to international order. Putin's initiative to link NATO and Russian warning systems could be - or could be made - an historic initiative in dealing jointly with issues that threaten all countries simultaneously. It is one of those schemes easy to disparage on technical grounds but, perhaps like Reagan's Star Wars vision, is a harbinger of a future posing entirely new creative opportunities. It permits one to imagine a genuinely global approach to the specter of nuclear proliferation, which has heretofore been treated largely through national policies. And such an approach could become a forerunner for other issues of comparable dimension.
Of course, it is quite possible - perhaps even likely - that the Kremlin proposal is largely a tactical maneuver: to "expose" non-existent American designs against Russian strategic forces; to split NATO by exploring Russian proposals in the NATO-Russian Council; and to make the new proposal conditional on abandoning the planned U.S. deployment in Poland and the Czech Republic.
It would be a pity. For a successful negotiation - even a serious effort at one - would put the nonproliferation talks with Iran in a radically new framework and, in time, perhaps lead to a wider approach to other global challenges. The Russian proposal therefore deserves detailed exploration. How would such a system operate? How would the proposed system respond to its own warnings? How will other nations with comparable interests be brought into it?
If these questions can be answered positively - if, in other words, the countries involved link their strategies on the nonproliferation issue - a new framework for a host of other issues will come about. A debate started over the most destructive weapons will have culminated in sketching a road toward a more peaceful world.
Henry A. Kissinger heads the consulting firm Kissinger & Associates. This article was distributed by Tribune Media Services.