Understanding Russia's Lukewarm Position on Missile Defense

In his recent piece questioning Russia’s hostility to missile defence, PolicyMic pundit Jonathan Dowdall reflects on Russian Ambassador Dmitry Rogozin’s strong remarks about NATO’s intentions. It is important to explain Russian strategic thought in order to understand the motivation for Moscow’s position – this is what NATO is obtusely missing in its analysis towards the futile missile defense initiative.

There are several reasons why a missile defense shield will not go up in Eastern Europe. At the heart of Russian psyche lies the historical permeability of Russia’s western border and the destruction brought on multiple times through the centuries — from Napoleon to the two world wars. In effect, the security of that border is the psychological motivation for Russia's being aggressive towards NATO’s missile plans. Even if the final version of the shield will not be difficult for Russia to deal with, anything perceived as a threat strikes a sensitive nerve in Russian foreign policy.

The main ground for NATO to implement the whole scheme is justified through the propaganda about the Iranian ballistic threat and/or other Mideast regimes with questionable motives. Some Eastern European countries — Poland, the Czech Republic — see that shield as a deterrent to Russian aggression, not necessarily as one against the hazy ambitions of leaders in far-off deserts. In a reverse situation, what would be the response by the EU and the U.S. if Russia initiated a missile shield with countries, such as Tajikistan, Syria, or Lebanon against Israeli nuclear weapons and their non-strategic American counterparts in Europe? Expectedly, the EU and U.S. would be just as hostile.

It is not essential for Russia to participate in the missile defense project, because doing so would serve a political, not a practical need; at the same time, Moscow will not allow the threat of such a system to exist so close to them. NATO won’t listen to Russian proposals, because it would entail the sharing of information in a way that would make Russia a de facto member of the alliance. NATO is thus unable to understand Moscow’s decision-making independence, or get out of its schizophrenic perception about whether Russia is a friend or foe.

Russia’s near abroad represents a buffer zone against outside threats. These areas include Eastern Europe, the Black Sea, and Caspian basins, the former central Asian Soviet republics and to an extent, China’s own backyard.

Let’s say that Iran fires a missile towards Europe. Even if it never breaches Russia’s airspace, it still is a direct threat to its security. Armed to the teeth with all kinds of conceivable weaponry, even Israel will almost certainly respond before Russia does. But, suppose none of that works and the missile does get to Europe.

To avoid casualties and destruction, NATO will have to work on a deeper level with Russia. A better option may be phasing NATO out of the process altogether. A missile defense shield with Russia on a common technological, legal and information-sharing basis can be the cornerstone to the EU’s own security policy; it is a nascent affair that has the potential to define security architecture in this century as NATO continues to be stuck in its imaginary Cold War. This kind of partnership could stop the missile.

The scary part about all this: Russia’s military doctrine does include limited use of its nuclear arsenal for self-defense against a nuclear threat. If Iran does fire one or more nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles (not out of the question as a challenge to the proposed shield), two things will happen: one, Israel may very well be the first casualty and two, Iran will likely be turned into a sterile nuclear wasteland overnight by the Russians. Effectively, nobody wins. Based on rational outcomes, then, NATO’s missile defense initiative is really not worth the time, money or the effort.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons