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Analysis & Opinion

Putin's proposal alters the ABM debate

20:05 09/06/2007
MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Pyotr Goncharov) - President Vladimir Putin's proposal to use the Gabala radar in Azerbaijan in a joint antiballistic missile (ABM) system with the United States may affect the debate about missile defense in Europe.

The Gabala radar station, which Russia leases from Azerbaijan, is unique - it covers all directions from which missiles could potentially strike Europe, registering the launch seconds after a missile takes off, following its flight path and feeding the information needed to intercept it at the optimal point. However, there is more to the story than just practical considerations. Putin's proposal is changing the character of plans for an ABM system in Europe.

The United States believes the European ABM question has already been resolved. Indicatively, on the eve of the G8 summit in Germany, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates spoke about his readiness to discuss with China, as he had with Russia, opportunities, technical specifications and restrictions on American ABM elements in East Asia. In other words, the need to deploy the missile defense in East Asia was not a subject for discussion, just as it was not in the case of Russia and the ABM in Europe.

Nevertheless, Moscow did not abandon its hope to discuss the ABM issue with the United States. It was obvious that this problem would be one of the most sensitive at the summit in Heiligendamm.

At a news conference for journalists from G8 countries, the Russian president explained what Moscow thought about the problem. Above all, Russia wants to know why the ABM system is being deployed in Europe.

Putin's logic is simple. It is obvious that the Europe-based ABM system is not targeted against North Korea and Iran because their missiles simply can't reach Europe. Nor is it aimed against Russia because it is abundantly clear that Russia is not going to attack anyone. What's the point of deploying it then?

Putin expected his American counterpart to give a clear answer to this question in Germany. The Kremlin knows that the White House has not given the answer for a reason.

One more interesting detail has appeared in the European ABM saga. Recently, Washington has been much less specific in mentioning the potential targets for its ABM system. It defines them as countries with unpredictable and unstable regimes like North Korea and Iran.

But being unstable, unpredictable regimes will not last long. What will be done with the ABM after their inevitable transformation? There is no point in dismantling it or retargeting it at other countries using the same excuse.

Therefore, Washington is gradually pushing the idea that the ABM is being deployed in everyone's interest to deal with unforeseen circumstances - that is, permanently. But all controls and information will be exclusively in American hands.

Putin's proposal on the joint use of the Gabala radar would turn the ABM in Europe into a collective system of ABM security, a kind of ABM NATO.

How will the United States reply to this proposal? It would be naive to think that the American experts have not already thought about the Gabala radar, but apparently it did not suit them for some reason. Therefore, the White House is not likely to accept it right away. It will have many opponents in Congress and at security agencies. Most probably, the Russia-U.S. strategic dialogue promised by Bush will shed light on many questions.

Today, the United States is positioning itself as the leader of a global project. The creation of an ABM system that could protect the world against nuclear conflicts is bound to come to the fore, all the more so since the world community has not been able to stop nuclear proliferation.

It is also obvious that countries that have ABM defenses as well as missile systems that could easily penetrate them should cooperate in the formation of a global ABM. The Russian president has made the first and timely step in this direction.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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