by Steven D
Thu Feb 15th, 2007 at 03:29:54 PM EST
A Russian general today claimed that Russia may withdraw from a nuclear weapons treaty with the United States that was signed during the second term of the Reagan presidency, in response to the President Bush's announced plans to deploy missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, according to this Associated Press report:
Gen. Yuri Baluyevsky, chief of the military's General Staff, said Russia could pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, negotiated between Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and President Reagan in 1987.
The decision would depend, he said, on whether the U.S. completed plans to deploy components of a missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic - plans that have drawn sharp criticism from President Vladimir Putin.
For those of you (like me) who are unfamiliar with the terms of the INF treaty (as it is known) here's a brief review of its relevant provisions:
The INF Treaty eliminated all nuclear-armed ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers (about 300 to 3400 miles) and their infrastructure. The INF Treaty is the first nuclear arms control agreement to actually reduce nuclear arms, rather than establish ceilings that could not be exceeded. Altogether it resulted in the elimination by May 1991 of 846 longer-and shorter-range U.S. INF missile systems and 1846 Soviet INF missile systems, including the modernized U.S. Pershing II and Soviet SS-20 missiles.
Let me repeat that bolded phrase excerpted from the Federation of American Scientists web page on this topic: "The INF Treaty is the first nuclear arms control agreement to actually reduce nuclear arms..." This was one of the signal accomplishments of President Reagan and the Soviet Union's leader, Michael Gorbachev. A treaty that not only limited a class of nuclear weapons, but actually reduced the number of such weapons that each country had in its respective arsenal. That a Russian general has now publicly stated that Russia may withdraw from this treaty (presumably with the approval of President Putin) is a major shot across the bow of the US government.
The purported reason that the US is deploying these missile defense systems to Poland and the Czech Republic at this time was to deter Iran from attacking America's European allies with ballistic missiles in the event of an American-Iranian military conflict. It has been described in some reports as part of the build-up of US forces in the Persian Gulf region intended to intimidate Iran.
Either Putin isn't buying that explanation, or he is so unhappy with the Bush administration's rhetoric regarding Iran (or both) that he has felt the need to impress upon the United States that it's continued aggressive military posturing in the Middle East and Eastern Europe will have significant consequences for US-Russian relations. Here's what he's had to say over the last two weeks regarding these US military deployments:
In both his annual Kremlin news conference, which occurred on Feb.1, and in his appearance at the Munich Security Conference the following week, Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced U.S. plans to deploy ballistic missile defenses in Eastern Europe. Insisting that the Russian government must consider how to ensure the country's national security, Putin pledged to adopt a "highly effective" response.
I guess threatening withdrawal from the INF treaty, and the prospect of a new nuclear arms race between America and Russia, is the first step in that "highly effective" response to the US stationing advanced missile defense systems near Russia's borders. And who can blame the Russians, considering that the Bush administration has been talking about placing these defensive systems in Eastern Europe for some time now, long before the threat from Iranian ballistic missiles was advanced as a justification.
For several years, the U.S. government has been pursuing bilateral initiatives with select NATO members to deploy a small number of U.S. ballistic missile defense (BMD) interceptors in Eastern Europe. On Jan. 20, 2007, U.S. officials made a formal proposal to the new Czech government, offering to establish an American-run BMD radar system on Czech territory. On Jan. 22, they announced that the United States and Poland would soon begin formal discussions about the possible stationing of U.S. BMD interceptor missiles on Polish territory. This deployment would establish the first U.S. missile interceptor base outside the United States.
The trouble is, such proposals are not seen by the Russians as aimed at Iran, necessarily. They fear that the real reason for these "defensive missiles" may be to neutralize Russian military capabilities, and thus allow American military aggression in regions vital to Russia's security interests to go unchecked. In other words, they view these developments as being aimed at limiting the scope of Russia's influence and power, and preserving an American military hegemony in the Middle East. That is, they consider these actions by the US government as destabilizing, and not directed at preventing or deterring nuclear proliferation, as has been claimed by US officials.
It's not surprising, therefore, that the Russia would respond to such moves with the recent harsh rhetoric from President Putin directed at the United States and the conduct of its foreign policy under Bush:
"The unipolar world that had been proposed after the Cold War did not take place ... However one might embellish this term, in the end it refers to one type of situation, namely one center of authority, one center of force, one center of decision-making. It is a world in which there is one master, one sovereign. And in the end this is pernicious not only for all those within this system, but also for the sovereign itself because it destroys itself from within. And this certainly has nothing in common with democracy. Because, as you know, democracy is the power of the majority in light of the interests and opinions of the minority." [...]
"... Unilateral and frequently illegitimate actions have not resolved problems. Moreover, they have caused new human tragedies and created new centers of tension. Judge for yourselves: wars as well as local and regional conflicts have not diminished ... And no fewer people perish in these conflicts - even more die than before. Significantly more, significantly more!"
"...One state and, of course, first and foremost the United States has overstepped its national borders in every respect. This is visible in the economic, political, cultural and educational policies it imposes on other nations. Well, who likes this? Who is happy about this? ... And of course this is extremely dangerous. The result of this is that no one feels safe. I want to emphasize this - no one feels safe! Because no one can feel that international law is like a stone wall that will protect them!"
Nor is it surprising that Russia's political and military leaders would consider further military and diplomatic responses that significantly raise the risk of drawing America and Russia into a direct confrontation at some point in the near future.
...Three-star General Vladimir Popovkin, chief of the Russian Space Troops, told reporters, "The U.S. bases would be a clear threat to Russia." Popovkin expressed concern that the new radar would be monitoring Russian strategic nuclear missiles deployed in Central Russia and the North Fleet (Barents Sea/Kola Peninsula). "It's doubtful that Iranian or North Korean rockets would fly over Poland or the Czech Republic," he commented. "If such a base would be deployed in Turkey, which is a NATO member and much closer to Iran, we would not be asking questions." ...
...Official news agency Itar-Tass quotes General Vitaly Dubrovin, a Russian military expert in the sphere of anti-missile and space defense, who believes that "the reply measures should include the possibility of the destruction of the U.S. [missile defense] system in Europe" (Itar-Tass, January 22).
Looks like the Russians have learned that two can play the "no option is off the table" game.
In any event, I guess Bush and Cheney really do long to relive those thrilling days of yesteryear when the Cold War offered a wonderful excuse to build literally mountains of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems, and set American defense spending soaring to heights never before matched in American history until -- well, until George W. Bush took office in 2001. And perhaps that is the real legacy that George W. Bush seeks to be remembered for; as the man who re-cemented the power of the military-industrial complex, and the corruption of our democracy it brings with it, in American politics. No other explanation (other than rampant megalomania and delusions of empire on the part of our dear leaders) makes much sense.