US president Barrack Obama plans to give the “European speech of the year” next month in Prague. To the Czechs’ delight, this will surely herald a new era of transatlantic cooperation and strategic partnership. But aside from the much anticipated bluster and reassuring rhetoric to comfort the edgy small nation now hosting the rotating EU presidency, there is great concern in central Europe that the entire harebrained scheme may be scrapped. This would be a good thing.
However, the Czech and Poles fear such a move might leave them exposed to the Russians’ expansionist designs. Such thinking is perhaps delusional and paranoid. But when reviewing the region’s endless history of domination and repeated sinister betrayal (mostly by the West — Munich in 1938, Yalta in 1945), the central Europeans may have reasons to feel unease. But then this isn’t 1938, 1945, or even 1968. ‘New Europe,’ despite its recent tribulations, is firmly anchored and embedded within both the EU and the US-led NATO. The region’s fortunes are now tied, for better or worse, to those in Brussels; not in Moscow anymore.
Russia: The Key to Global Stability
For various reasons, which are becoming increasingly evident, and despite the diplomatic obfuscation deployed by Brussels and Washington, the West cannot afford to lose Russia.
Missile defense piled up, next to their border like some futurist ‘Maginot line risks alienating a key strategic partner. The West needs Russian help for a host of vital logistical, technical, and diplomatic reasons in dealing with so called rogue states. Those incubators and so called sponsors of ‘terrorism’ and drug trafficking, like Afghanistan, Iran and, to a lesser extent North Korea (for cooperation in nuclear weapons proliferation), without Russian pressure on them will only become more bold and unwieldy.
Obama’s new team knows this. They have made semi-successful attempts at resetting and recalibrating the bilateral relationship (such as this week’s aborted trade-off on Iran and the missiles); but Moscow doesn’t want to bargain when it has the upper hand.
Moreover, the doormat approach to Russia, under Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II, during the two decades since the implosion of the Soviet Union, has been the mainstay or leitmotif of the US approach to the former superpower, and has dismally backfired.
Russia, today, is the indispensable player, both in its backyard and beyond. The US missile defense plan (despite the benefits to General Dynamics, Raytheon and other US corporations on the Pentagon’s payroll) is just too high a price to pay for losing the Russians. Therefore, the West needs them on their side as never before since the end of the cold war.
Taking Notice of Russia
Russia’s comeback has taken the west by surprise. Throughout the 1990s, the cowed, beaten, and tamed bear which lost the cold war and the arms race to the other superpower, danced to the tune of free market ‘reforms’ while Western ‘democracies’ steadily encroached on its turf in the Baltic States, the Balkans (Serbia, Kosovo), central Asian republics, Afghanistan, and the Black Sea area (Georgia).
With the rise of a more self-assertive nation under what some call the ‘ruthless rule’ of Vladimir Putin, and funded by an energy bonanza or resource boom earlier in this decade, Russia has returned with a vengeance to the world stage. However, this is not to everyone’s liking.
Moscow proved its military savvy in Caucasia last August with its adroit and lightning counter-attack against Georgia’s bungled incursion into disputed territory. On a wider global scale, the Kremlin has strengthened ties with China by means of the ‘NATO of the east’ — the Shanghai Cooperation Council (SCC). And there is speculation that Iran might join eventually. Western pressure, such as threats of squeezing Tehran with further sanctions, may hasten such a possibility.
President Obama: Post Cold War Warrior or a Kissinger Realist Ready for Détente?
As for Osama’s speech next month in Prague, the much anticipated address will most likely disclose Washington’s real intentions regarding the missile defense scheme: that it was a dismally planned and misconceived Bush project aimed against Russia and was deliberately designed to further weaken the would-be rival. The new man in the White House will deal with Moscow differently, it is assumed — in a manner more attuned to Moscow’s legitimate security interests in the ‘New Europe” and in Eurasia.
Officially, and ostensibly, the plan seeks to install radar, and anti-missile interceptors, and even station US troops perhaps permanently in Poland and the Czech Republic to prevent attacks from states like Iran.
Russia is adamantly opposed to this unilateral move. It perceives it as an outright provocation, a hostile act, and inevitably a first step in restarting an arms race in the region, which could easily spiral out of control. Who can blame them?
But the veil of deception is becoming evermore transparent and fading fast. In Brussels, one of the US’s closest NATO allies and an old standing bulwark against Russia, Turkey, almost admitted that the ‘defense shield’ is meant to threaten Russia and not Iran, as is officially stated.
In an article which appeared in the Turkish English daily Today’s Zaman [“Turkish FM Babacan courts Russia, questions missile defense system”, March 6th, 2009], a newspaper closely affiliated with the governing AKP party, Turkey has questioned the wisdom of the defense deal in central Europe. Ankara believes “that it [the defense shield] appeared to be aimed at Russia and not Iran, as the United States insists.”
This position was clarified by the Turkish foreign minister Ali Babacan who, at a NATO foreign ministers meeting this week, expressed doubts about Washington’s assertions that the Polish missile/Czech radar duo is supposed to ward off an Iranian attack. “First we have to make clear who this project is aimed at. Who is the threat in mind when this system is built?” the top Turkish diplomat questioned.
He went on to say: “”If the target was really Iran, we would not have had the problems we have today between Russia and the United States … It means there are other aspects to the matter.” And those aspects he seems to be inferring are Russia’s outspoken objections to this plan, which could heighten tensions not only in central Europe but also in the Black Sea area. The minister’s remarks were meant, perhaps, to warn Washington not to proceed with the scheme. He added in a somewhat worrisome tone: “Whenever there is tension in ties with Russia, both sides of the tension lose. We believe threatening or being threatened should not be an element of relations. Every country may have security concerns, but they all must be resolved through discussion,” Babacan asserted.
Iran or Russia the Bad Guy?
Iran is supposed to be perceived as the antagonist here, and is cast as the bad guy. Yet it is Russia, as Turkish diplomacy clearly sees, that is being targeted by the missile scheme and not Iran. Furthermore, the fact is this whole plan has been initiated by the US and is, seemingly, part of an overall recontainment strategy against its erstwhile cold war rival. The counter spin coming out of Washington seeks to allay such ‘unfounded’ and ‘exaggerated’ fears. American officials argue (until they run out of oxygen, it seems) that the military inhalations are meant to dissuade an attack from states like Iran. This is flummery. Beyond the Iranian bogeyman smokescreen lies the ‘real deal’ and goal of the US and NATO backed plan — to further subjugate the former superpower which today is referred to as ‘re-emerging Russia’ while providing a big fillip to the American arms industry.
Yet not everybody is buying, it seems. As the Turkish foreign minister rightly puts it, “Policies that make Russia feel besieged are wrong.” Indeed they are mistaken, and so are the recklessly-conceived plans known as the Missile Defense Shield.