Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Why Europe Wants the Missile Shield

By Vasko Kohlmayer | 12/17/2008 Recently foreign ministers of Europe’s twenty-two NATO countries met in Brussels to discuss the future of the ballistic missile defense shield. At the summit’s conclusion, the ministers issued a communiqué whereby they unanimously reaffirmed their support for the project. The news predictably angered the Russians who are so virulently opposed to this undertaking that last year Vladimir Putin threatened a nuclear response against Poland if it agreed to participate. Putin was bluffing on that one, but the extreme language shows how strongly the Russians feel about it. Knowing that under George W. Bush the United States would not back down, Russian leaders focused on the Europeans in an effort to undercut their commitment. They tried diplomatic charm and strong-arming in turn, they threatened and cajoled and they shook their thick energy stick. Most recently, they announced plans to install Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad in a move that would put most of Poland within the range of Russian rockets. They Russians have also sought to drive a wedge between the US and the rest of NATO by portraying the Shield as an American scheme to get at Russia rather than as a means of providing ballistic protection. They argued that by disrupting strategic balance, the Shield would give rise to the kinds of tensions that could eventually erupt into a conflict on the continent. Such a precarious situation, the Kremlin would say, is not conducive to the best interest of Europe’s NATO members. Last month, the Russian efforts appeared to bear fruit when French President Nicolas Sarkozy stated, “deployment of a missile defense system would bring nothing to security in Europe,” adding: “It would complicate things.” Sarkozy’s widely reported comment came as something of a shock, since he has long been considered a strong ally of the United States. There were some who feared his words indicated that a fundamental shift was taking place in Europe’s thinking about the need for ballistic defense. The Brussels joint declaration put such doubts to rest. That fact that Sarkozy’s foreign minister was among the signatories is a clear indication that France, too, is behind the project. It would now seem that Sarkozy’s statement was not so much an expression of his views as of the immediate circumstances in which it was made. Speaking at a joint press conference with Dmitri Medvedev at the EU-Russian summit in France, Sarkozy seemingly did not want to offend his guest. If Medvedev and Co. were led to believe that the Europeans were beginning to falter, last week’s communiqué dashed their hopes. Not only did Europe’s NATO members express their continued commitment to the project, they also summarily dismissed the Russian arguments against it. By asserting that the Shield will make a “substantial contribution” to their security, the Europeans rejected the Kremlin’s claim that the primary motivation behind its construction is to diminish Russia’s strategic position. By issuing a unanimous endorsement, they also rebuffed the notion that the undertaking is an American-driven effort to insidiously undercut its old Cold War nemesis. As if this was not a sharp enough slap, the NATO foreign ministers rebuked Russia for intransigence and asked that it “take advantage of United States missile defence [sic.] cooperation proposals.” Such forthrightness is quite out of character for Europeans, who rarely take a clear-cut position on any controversial matter. Their uncompromising stand is even more remarkable for the fact that Russia is not only a great military power, but also the prime supplier of their energy needs. Their unwillingness to give in shows that Europe fears something else more than they fear an angry Russian bear: a nuclear missile from a rogue regime, particularly Iran. This happens to be the stated reason for the Shield’s construction. As Iran moves closer to realizing its nuclear goals, the Europeans grow increasingly nervous, knowing they could become a target. It should not escape anyone’s notice that the danger is largely of their own making, as it was they who presided over the negotiations concerning Iran’s nuclear program. Busy with wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, George W. Bush took a cue from his critics and let our European friends handle the Iran issue, not exerting any dreaded American belligerence. The Europeans accomplished nothing, and Tehran relished negotiations, knowing no serious action would be taken as long as talks were under way. The Europeans’ present conundrum reveals a glaring: for the past seven years they have sought to engage in rational discussion a regime that they believe may launch an unprovoked nuclear attack against them. That is, they thought they could reason and negotiate with fanatics. The futility of the notion has now become clear. This futile gesture leaves the Europeans squeezed on two sides. On one hand looms the existential threat of Iran’s nuclear weapons program. On the other, Russia threatens dire consequences against any measure that would improve European security. Having invested most of their national wealth into clunky welfare states, the Europeans lack the means to adequately address the challenges on either front. The NATO statement demonstrates that they know that they have a protector who will ensure their security on both.

No comments: