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Posted by on Jun 8, 2007 in At TMV | 22 comments

Putin’s trap for Bush on the missile shield

Russia’s Vladimir Putin has laid a very skilful trap for President George Bush’s plans to place the beginnings of an anti-missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic to protect Western Europe against a possible attack by Iran or North Korea.

By suggesting that the shield should be located on a Russian military base in Azerbaijan, Putin has challenged Bush to protect all countries west of Iran and not just its Western allies. Further, he is trying to trick Bush into putting the shield under joint US, Russian and, to a lesser extent, Azerbaijan control by placing it outside NATO’s territory.

Thus, Moscow would have a say in all decisions, including those to launch anti-missile missiles, and would tie the hands of both the White House and Congress in a future conflict with Iran if it is executed against Russia’s will.

In effect, Russia or anyone else could destroy the shield installations without automatically triggering NATO’s collective defence clauses. Those are activated under treaty obligation if a non-NATO member State attacks anything on the territory of a NATO member State. Collective defence means that an attack on one member State is considered to be an attack on all.

Any enemy State could justify destroying or neutralizing the shield installations on a base in Azerbaijan without triggering the collective defence clauses unless the territory is formally ceded under contract to the US or NATO. The legal situation would still be unprecedented and murky.

Russia could intervene to shut down the base if the US attacks Iran bypassing the UN Security Council, as it did Iraq, or in defiance of a Russian veto in the Security Council. Russia might do so if it opposes military intervention in Iran, as it does currently, and wishes to win brownie points with Teheran for economic or other reasons.

It might even turn a blind eye if Teheran retaliates to a Western coalition attack with a missile launch on a NATO member within range of its weapons, as Iran would most likely do in an all out conflict. Much would depend on the military balances and strategic partnerships affecting West and Central Asia in coming years.

Such scenarious sound like fiction right now but it is worth remembering that security strategies are built to handle long term future uncertainties, not simply to riposte to present tensions. Russia has objected to bases in Poland and the Czech Republic because it sees any new US military installations using missiles, whether in defence or offence, as an alternation of the carefully negotiated strategic balance of forces between Moscow and Washington.

Once those bases are built, it cannot neutralize them in the event that they are used to coerce Moscow not to cosy up to Iran or other West and Central Asian countries because they will be on NATO territory. No one can foretell at this time how future strategic partnerships or alliances will shape in coming years if the US continues its determination, as stated several times, to be the world’s supreme military power.

Since US military power seems invincible, it is normal that other countries study how to prevent its use to coerce them to compromise on whatever they might consider to be in their national interest. Security negotiations involving conventional and nuclear weapons, which are often misleadingly called disarmament negotiations for public image purposes, are conducted to safeguard the security interests of governments for decades to come.

Putin is trying to put Bush in a corner. At the recent G-8 Summit, Bush invited Putin to share in developing the missile shield. By suggesting Azerbaijan as the location, which borders on Iran, Putin is ensuring that the invitation is not just rhetoric or insincere bluff.

If Washington decides to go so far forward in cooperating with Moscow, the world will move towards a new strategic balance in which the US and Russia would work together outside the UN Security Council to strengthen global security and neutralize Iran’s ambitions.

A compromise might include shields in Azerbaijan, Poland and the Czech Republic, thus making clear that they are not a defensive measure to protect only NATO members. In this way, the strategic balance inside Europe would not be disturbed since Moscow would a partner and Iran would be thoroughly isolated.

However, we can expect a revival of tensions between Washington and Moscow if Bush insists on sticking just to Poland and the Czech Republic. China would also have to consulted if Bush decides to cooperate with Putin, since Azerbaijan is in China’s backyard just as Latin America is in the US backyard.