Wednesday, June 06, 2007

In desperate search of a unipolar world . . . but not likely

US missiles hit Russia where it hurts

By M K Bhadrakumar

One does not need the clairvoyant gnome Oskar Matzerath in Guenter Grass's allegorical novel The Tin Drum to scream and tell us in a voice that can break thick glass jars that looking from Germany's Baltic resort of Heiligendamm, where the annual Group of Eight summit commenced on Wednesday, that the horizons to the east of the Vistula are getting very dark, heavy with storm clouds.

The G8 mandarins will add caveats, insisting Heiligendamm has important business to transact - climate change, free trade, terrorism, energy security, AIDS and, of course, Africa's development.

Oskar has begun to hammer on his drum to drown out the idiocies of the adult world. Indeed, the fantastical reality of this year's summit of the G8 is that it wears the look of a drunken birthday party, taking place at a time of great uncertainty when the world around is once again threatening to become too much to bear.

A new cold war is building up. The US Congress' House Committee on International Affairs ominously titled its hearing on May 17 as "Russia: Rebuilding the Iron Curtain". The rhetoric of US-Russian relations has become distinctly sharp and vicious. It slipped by unobtrusively for months, and took a sudden leap in the recent weeks.

A determined effort is on by Washington to eliminate Russia's strategic parity with the US. Washington regards this as the first essential step toward getting "unipolarity" and the New American Century project going again. The outcome is uncertain. Moscow is firmly resisting, no matter what it takes. But it is also a complex struggle. Despite Washington's attempts to portray it as a morality play of democracy and freedom versus authoritarianism, the heart of the matter is that the struggle also enables the US to consolidate its trans-Atlantic leadership over Europe in the post-Soviet era.

Without the Western alliance providing the anchor sheet of its geostrategy, the US cannot establish viable global dominance in the 21st century. That is to say, there is no ideology as such involved in the new cold war. In philosophical terms, it is about "absolute security" - how absolute indeed security can be, yet how futile it may still remain. It is, on a different plane, about national sovereignty in a globalized system. It is also about the efficacy of "unilateralism". Least of all, it is about "triumphalism". It certainly lifts Washington's morale, sapped by the Iraq quagmire.

China shifts stance
Its outcome will determine the way the international system works for the better part of the 21st century. No major country can pretend to be unaffected by it. This is most apparent in the pronounced shift in China's standoffish stance lately.

A Moscow statement highlighted that during the meeting between Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi in Seoul on Monday on the sidelines of the Asia Cooperation Dialogue meeting, they "exchanged views on a broad range of international themes of mutual concern [emphasis added], including cooperation within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the United States' plans to deploy a global missile-defense system".

Not surprisingly, the issue of Washington's deployment of its anti-ballistic-missile (ABM) system has figured in a Russian-Chinese high-level political exchange as a topic of "mutual concern" to the two countries. In the past six weeks, in fact, the Chinese stance on the escalating US-Russia confrontation over that defense system has shifted significantly. A series of Chinese commentaries has appeared indicative of a high level of interest in Beijing over the trajectory of the tensions in US-Russia relations.

China previously viewed the tensions more as "an exchange of rhetoric", and seemed to have estimated that in the ultimate analysis, Russia would resort to a "pragmatic diplomatic strategy" guided essentially by two core considerations. These are Russia's need of US involvement with its developing economy in the nature of US capital, technology, expertise and market, and second, Russia's keenness to ensure its World Trade Organization accession, for which US support is vital.

In essence, China doubted whether the existing post-Soviet pattern of "contention and cooperation" in US-Russia ties would substantially change in a setting where the two countries could be only seeking "maximum benefits" out of a conflict of interests. China remained rooted in this belief, and justifiably so, since it was apparent that the US and Russia continued to cooperate on many issues, and even had a "bilateral strategic interest" in doing so.

To be sure, China could see that Washington was attempting to maintain its hegemony in international affairs and was, therefore, determined to prevent the resurgence of Russia, which in turn led to the US stratagem to pressure and weaken Russia. But China still couldn't quite anticipate that US-Russia relations would deteriorate almost to the point of the last century's Cold War, or that the two powers would come to view each other with such hostility, or that they were likely to embark on an arms race.

However, China began reassessing the state of play by the end of April. The People's Daily took note on May 9 for the first time that by its decision to deploy its missile-defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, Washington was "no doubt targeting Russia". Commenting on Moscow's warning that Russia might seek withdrawal from the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, the People's Daily admitted the "likelihood of a new arms race rising dramatically". The commentary concluded, "If we look at US-Russian relations closely, it is clear that we are standing at the edge of a new cold war."

A series of Chinese commentaries thereafter has swiftly built up on that conclusion by frontally attacking the US deployment of a missile-defense system in Europe. Not only that, China stressed that Washington's deployment plans in East Asia and Europe are in actuality its "two wings". Dismissing Washington's claim that the deployments are directed against Iran and North Korea, the People's Daily underlined on May 18 that "the existing layout is targeted directly and entirely at both Russia and China". This implied for the first time China's commonality of interests with Russia in regard of the latter's "strong opposition" to the US deployments.

Chinese criticism of the US deployment has since become strident, underlining that the US action will produce a "profound effect on the global strategic layout at present"; that it undermines regional security; that it will have a negative impact on the "internal stability" of the affected countries; and that it will make US foreign policy even more belligerent.

China identifies four factors guiding Washington's decision on the deployment of the missile defense: a search for "absolute security"; blind faith in technological supremacy; US ambition of global hegemony; the United States' keenness to retain leadership of the Euro-Atlantic alliance.

Progressively, the Chinese stance has come to put the blame squarely on the US for ratcheting up tensions with Russia. The causes of the present tensions, in the Chinese view, are manifold. They lie in Washington's strategy of pushing for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO's) eastward expansion; making further inroads into Russia's strategic space by deciding to deploy the defense system in Central Europe; the US "frequently poking its nose" into Russia's domestic affairs, such as openly funding political forces in Russia that oppose the Kremlin; fomenting "color revolutions" in the former Soviet republics; "brushing aside Russian opinions in the handling of global issues"; and generally resorting to "unilateralism in international affairs".

China says the US actions in this respect remind one of the "law of the jungle", where with the "biggest power and the sharpest claws" at its command, Washington is bullying the weak; fighting for spheres of influence; interfering with impunity in the internal affairs of other countries; and resorting to unilateralism. And it is doing all this while complacent in its belief that "one can do just about anything one wants so long as one is strong enough, whatever one does is rational and compatible with rules, whereas if the other side struggles or opposes, that only means they don't understand, and the only thing one needs to do is to explain".

China has carefully sized up Moscow's "grit" in resisting the US pressure. It seems to have assessed that President Vladimir Putin is indeed serious when he says Russia is determined to ensure the global strategic balance. With this assessment of the Kremlin's seriousness, China has begun raising its head above the parapet.

A Chinese expert at Kanwa, a Hong Kong-based think-tank, was quoted by the Russian official news agency in an interview on Monday as saying that the planned US deployments in Japan and Australia of anti-missile installations and the powerful XBR radars (with an estimated range of 4,000 kilometers) would allow the Americans to follow the launches of missiles from China's main testing range in Shanxi province. Therefore, he said, "Russia is worried about the US plans in East Europe - and China in East Asia. And the two countries can evidently decide to pursue a coordinated policy on this account."

The European predicament
The expert in Kanwa went on to underline China's determination to accelerate the development of its own missile program if the Asian missile-defense system is created. Clearly, the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization due to be held in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, in August assumes new significance.

But in comparison with China's increasingly open stance, the predicament faced by the European countries remains acute. This is evident from the different levels of reaction in European capitals to the escalation in US-Russian rhetoric. Apropos Putin's statement on Monday that Russia might have to target Europe with nuclear missiles if the US deployments in Poland and the Czech Republic went ahead, Washington, London and Warsaw poured heavy criticism on the Kremlin. But Paris and Berlin have been noticeably circumspect.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel tried to cool down tempers by saying, "For me it is important to be clear that the Cold War remains forever in history." Merkel stressed that Russia is a partner for the West, and "we share a common responsibility ... We depend on each other, and this is what will determine the Heiligendamm summit. Even when we disagree, it remains indisputable that Russia is a partner, Russia is a member of the G8."

In essence, Merkel disagreed with British Prime Minister Tony Blair's characterization of Putin's statement as "quite unsettling". The reaction by the French Foreign Ministry too has been noticeably balanced. It acknowledged Russia's concerns over the missile-defense deployments in Eastern Europe as "legitimate", and it called for "comprehensive discussions" between the US and Russia. More important, it distanced Paris from the acrimony by painting the ABM deployment as a "bilateral project [emphasis added], which is being pursued by the United States, Poland and the Czech Republic".

The German and French statements offer a perfect study in contrast with the hot words by the NATO bureaucracy in Brussels and Polish officials in Warsaw, who tried to play up Putin's remarks as suggestive of Russian belligerence. Without doubt, "Old Europe" is being pulled in opposite directions. Senior European leaders fear that the missile-defense controversy could split Europe and set back its relations with the US once again at a time when they have just about recovered from frictions over the Iraq war. Ideally, Europe would like to work together with the US. But countries of "Old Europe" also wish to give consideration to the positions of both the US and Russia.

Equally, the controversy touches a lot of raw nerves as it involves overall post-Cold War trans-Atlantic cooperation. Washington and London, with Poland and the Baltic countries (which are new to both NATO and the European Union but are diehard allies of the US) in tow, plus, of course, the NATO bureaucracy in Brussels, are striving to set the agenda of the trans-Atlantic friendship. But "Old Europe" and the US, despite their recent improved relations, have different interests to pursue in the post-Cold War setting - and have different ideas about war and peace, and different beliefs in a world order.

All the same, relations between the US and its traditional allies in Western Europe, though put to stress by the Iraq war and which may be not as solid and predictable as during the Cold War, are still largely intact. Friendlier ties are in the interest of Western Europe. On its part, the US also realizes that without the Western alliance, its agenda of global dominance will remain a pipe dream, and that under no circumstances do the "New Europeans" have the experience, resources and credibility to replace the traditional Western European allies.

Europe's best hope, therefore, will be that the US missile-deployment issue doesn't assume dimensions that jeopardize trans-Atlantic cooperation. This became starkly apparent on May 22 when Europe's three largest gas companies - Eni of Italy, Gaz de France and E.ON Ruhrgas of Germany - warned against growing tensions between Europe and Russia and sought greater political support for stepping up their business activities involving Russia. The European energy giants are all in varying stages of negotiating long-term deals involving asset swaps with Russia's Gazprom.

'Selective cooperation' with Russia
But it is unlikely that the tensions in US-Russia relations will ease any time soon. Washington is working on the basis of a well-thought-out, clear-cut strategy toward Russia. In a high-profile show of support to the "New Europeans" against Russian pressure, President George W Bush was scheduled to visit Prague and Poland immediately before and after the G8 summit in Heiligendamm.

Thereafter, on June 25 he is to host Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves in the White House, which will be another meeting fraught with symbolism to the Russians. This will be just ahead of Putin's hastily arranged weekend halt at the Bush family home in Kennebunkport, Maine, on July 1. Fortunately, Putin will be in the region as he had plans to visit Guatemala.

In retrospect, it is clear that visits in recent weeks by US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Page 3 of 4
US missiles hit Russia where it hurts
By M K Bhadrakumar

Condoleezza Rice to Moscow were undertaken under pressure from America's European allies who are unhappy about Washington's insistent unilateralism in the missile-defense deployments. After meeting Putin in the Kremlin, Rice virtually let it be known that dogs could bark, but the caravan would move on. She said, "The US needs to be able to move forward to use technology to defend itself, and we're going to do that."

There has also been a systematic attempt by Washington to "provoke" the Kremlin. At a time when tempers were already testy in January, Washington criticized Moscow's decision to increase gas prices for Belarus as "energy imperialism", whereas the US had previously insisted on strict market-economy principles for Belarus. When Moscow got into a tizzy over the Estonian government's removal of the memorial to World War II Soviet veterans in Tallinn, Bush rushed to express solidarity with the Baltic state.

Gates testified before the US Congress while presenting the Pentagon budget for the coming fiscal year that the unprecedented rise in military expenditure was necessitated, among other factors, in view of "the uncertain paths of China and Russia" as well as "the dangers posed by Iran and North Korea's nuclear ambitions" - this as if Russia threatened the US, or as if Russia belonged to the so-called "axis of evil".

Again ignoring Russian sensitivities, Bush signed a bill envisaging Ukraine's and Georgia's membership of NATO. Furthermore, the US allocated funds for accelerating these countries' NATO accession. Also, Moscow realizes that the US Congress has no immediate plans of repealing the Jackson-Vandik amendment of 1974 imposing trade sanctions, despite repeated Russia pleas that the Cold War-era legislation is an aberration when the two countries are supposedly building a partnership.

In April, the US administration brought out two highly provocative reports on Russia. On April 5, the State Department released a report titled "Supporting Human Rights and Democracy". It contained a scathing attack on the Kremlin, accusing it of human-rights violations and "breaking away from the principles of democracy". It made an astounding claim that US support for some public organizations in Russia had begun to yield results and, furthermore, that such support would continue with the objective of influencing the forthcoming elections to the Duma (parliament) as well as the presidential election next year.

On April 16, the State Department brought out another report titled "Strategic Plan for the Fiscal Years 2007-2012", which declared that countering Russia's "negative behavior" would be one of Washington's diplomatic priorities over the coming five-year period. This was the first time that Washington went on record that it had been giving financial support to political elements within Russia hostile to the Kremlin as well as identifying Russia's resurgence as a focal point of US diplomatic strategy.

On May 17, the House of Representatives Committee on International Affairs held highly publicized hearings in Washington under the title "Russia: Rebuilding the Iron Curtain". Opening the hearing, Congressman Tom Lantos, who is also the chairman of the House committee, spoke about Putin's leadership in highly derogatory terms. Making it clear that he had spoken to Rice before making the speech, Lantos declared: "I do not think Vladimir Putin is a reincarnation of Josef Stalin. But I am profoundly disturbed by his pattern of abuse and repression of dissidents, independent journalists and, in fact, anyone who opposes him. Russia's tactic under the KGB colonel now in charge of the Kremlin threatens to send the country back to its authoritarian past."

Lantos continued berating Putin in this vein in extraordinary language throughout his speech. His vilification of Putin reached a high point when Lantos said, "I urge Mr Putin to rethink his skewed vision of crime and punishment ... Putin's crackdown ... is reminiscent of so many dark moments in Russia's history." Lantos rounded off with an insinuation that Putin's hand was behind the murders of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya and former Russian security-service officer Aleksandr Litvinenko.

Evidently, somewhere along the line, it begins to appear that Putin is somehow the real enemy for the political class in Washington, and not so much post-Soviet Russia. There is no doubt that personality factors have crept into Washington's tensions with Moscow. We may not have heard the last word yet on Russian ex-intelligence official Andrei Lugovoy's sensational statement in Moscow a week ago that he was cultivated by British intelligence with the mission of collecting damaging information on Putin and his family members.

It probably annoys Washington that what matters for Putin is that he remains a hugely popular leader for the Russian people, with a rating that is consistently above 70% - so popular, ironically, that if he were to seek a third term in office, 43% of Russia's Communist Party supporters would vote for him rather than for their own leader, Gennadi Zyuganov.

But other than the crushing defeats that Putin has inflicted on US and British business interests in the energy sector in recent months in Russia and Central Asia, there are few reasons for such a sustained US propaganda barrage against the Kremlin. Indeed, Putin could be an ideal partner for the US in the era of globalization.

Writing in the Russian magazine Argumenty i Fakty recently, prominent Russian political observer Vyacheslav Kostikov pointed out: "Putin's critics prefer to overlook the fact that his economic policies are entirely liberal. He is a popularly elected president. He has never violated the constitution or torn up any international agreements. In all his years as president, not one Russian military division has crossed Russia's borders. It wasn't Russian planes that bombed Belgrade, Baghdad and villages in Afghanistan."

Last Thursday, David Kramer, US deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, summed up the US policy in an address at the Baltimore Council on Foreign Affairs titled "US and Russia": "Cooperate wherever we can, push back whenever we have to. If you're looking for a bumper sticker of our Russia policy, that's it." The idea of "selective cooperation" with Russia has become an established bipartisan doctrine in Washington.

Testifying in the US Congress last month, Stephen Sestanovich, formerly US president Bill Clinton's special envoy to the Commonwealth of Independent States, echoed the same idea when he said, "To set our relationship with Russia on a more productive course over the next five years, the US needs to send a two-part message: 'We do not shy away either from consultation and cooperation where they are possible or from disagreement and even opposition where they are necessary.'" Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton aptly caught the bipartisan mood in Washington when she proposed that Congress could legislate on constituting a medal for veterans of the Cold War.

Russia's strategic parity with the US
Moscow increasingly perceives the propaganda attack as one part of an all-out US political and strategic offensive that is aimed at disrupting Russia's ties with Europe, damaging its international standing, and isolating it within its geographical space. The US decision regarding the missile-defense deployments in Eastern Europe further reinforces Russian fears of a concerted US strategy of encirclement.

Evidently, Moscow takes the United States' deployment in Europe very seriously. No amount of US propaganda that the deployments are intended against Iran carries conviction in Moscow. As the Russians see it, the X-band tracking radar in the Czech Republic will pry deep into the European part of Russia up to the Urals, while the anti-missile base in Poland is intended to provide cover for the radar.

The belief is rooted in Moscow that the US missile-defense deployments aim at destroying Russia's strategic parity with the US. An essay featured in Foreign Affairs magazine in its March-April 2006 issue titled "The rise of US nuclear primacy" received huge attention among the Russian strategic community. It held out a chilling warning: "The age of MAD [mutual assured destruction] is nearing an end. Today, for the first time in almost 50 years, the United States stands on the verge of attaining nuclear primacy. It will probably soon be possible for the United States to destroy the long-range nuclear arsenals of Russia or China with a first strike ... Russia and China - and the rest of the world - will live in the shadow of US nuclear primacy for many years to come."

The Russian military assesses the threat perception by linking the proposed ABM deployments in Poland and the Czech Republic with the offensive capability that the US has developed over recent years in terms of the new Tomahawk generation of cruise missiles with a range of 3,500 kilometers. They are of such high speed and precision that they are impossible to intercept.

The Russian military has assessed, and the Russian leadership is convinced by now, that in reality the ABM system is an integral part of a formidable US strategic system that could incrementally within the next five years or so give the US a first-strike capability. For instance, over the past three years alone, more than 6,000 Tomahawk missile launchers have been deployed extensively on US naval platforms. As of now, the US possesses the capability to shell all strategically important targets on Russian soil.

In comparison with the US strategic buildup in the post-Cold War era, post-Soviet Russia's strategic nuclear arsenal has sharply deteriorated. Russia is estimated to possess almost 40% fewer long-range bombers, 60% fewer intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and 80% fewer ballistic-missile submarines.

But what the Russians fear the most is that the proposed ABM systems in Central Europe will plug important gaps in the overall US capability to launch a devastating first strike on Russia's nuclear capability. For instance, the proposed radar in the Czech Republic would be capable of determining the parameters of the trajectories of Russian ballistic missiles during the first few seconds after their launch (as against the gap of several minutes needed under the existing shipboard or space surveillance systems), which would make it far easier to bring down the missiles.

Russian military experts have written how, with a surreptitious concentration of its naval strike formations in the regions of the Barents Sea and the Baltic Sea, US cruise missiles could target at one go the Russian silo and mobile ICBM launchers as well as submarines with ballistic missiles and strategic air groups. Such a strike could also target simultaneously the armed forces' command points, its missile-defense systems, airfields, naval bases and communications systems.

A second strike could follow using deck-based aircraft on aircraft carriers and the strategic air force targeting land forces and military-industrial complexes on the whole. A Russian military expert, Mikhail Volzhenskiy, wrote recently in Izvestia, "The probability of such a scenario is very high. We recall Afghanistan, Yugoslavia and Iraq, where the American operations commenced with the concentrated use of long-range cruise missiles. Undoubtedly, our political and military leaderships have taken into account this experience in working out their strategy ... Thus we perceive the deployment of the ABM system in Europe in particular as an attempt to unilaterally destroy the existing balance of forces on the continent and in the world."

Curiously, Putin echoed the same thoughts last Thursday when he said, "There is no need to fear Russia's actions, and they are not aggressive ... They are aimed at maintaining balance in the world order, and are extremely important for maintaining peace and security globally." In other words, Moscow has intended the recently tested Iskander as its response to the US ABM systems in Europe.

Moscow has decided against the option of withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and instead chosen to work on an improved version of its famous Topol-M intercontinental missiles, which are the only missiles in the world with the capability to accelerating to supersonic speed while at the same time changing direction twice a minute (so as to avoid radar detection), and can be fired also to shorter ranges. They are strategic as well as theater missiles and are practically invulnerable to the ABM. Their MIRVed (multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicle) version can carry up to 10 independently targetable warheads.

The implicit Russian strategy is to destroy the US ABM systems in Europe in the first 15-20 minutes after a perceived US cruise-missile strike, with the help of several specially located ICBMs targeted at Europe or shorter-range missiles with nuclear warhead elements. The approximate flying time to targets in the Czech Republic would be 10-15 minutes, as compared with the estimated 2.5 to three hours needed for a US cruise-missile attack to hit all Russian targets.

At the same time, within an estimated 20 minutes, nuclear missiles fired from Russian submarines in the North Sea could hit targets in Poland. In sum, as Professor Vadim Kozyulin of the Russian Academy of Military Sciences put it, Moscow's strategy is to make it clear that "a conflict with Russia cannot be contemplated without incurring [unacceptable] losses for the attacking side". Moscow envisages that such a paradigm will leave Washington with no choice but to negotiate. But for the moment at least, Washington doesn't seem impressed.

Any Putin-Bush meet in Heiligendamm is more likely to produce tedious arguments than meaningful negotiations. Unlike Oskar's drum, which was burdened by the human condition, Bush's drum excitedly anticipates victories to come - beyond the defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan.

M K Bhadrakumar served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for more than 29 years, with postings including ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-98) and to Turkey (1998-2001).

Original article posted here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The US can be a leader in globalization by showing the way in adopting a role more appropriate for the 21st century, such as something under the leadership of Ron Paul. In this case, the unipolar influence is one of leadership, for example, by droping trade barriers broadly and unilaterally.