Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Washington Warmongers Still Bent on Death and Destruction

A grand bargain Russia might just refuse

By Kaveh L Afrasiabi

"We should offer Russia a grand bargain: we delay our plans for missile defense in Eastern Europe, while the Russians agree to back stronger sanctions against Iran." These are the words of Joseph Nye, a respected political scientist at Harvard University and a former top US official known for his works on "soft power". He is letting us know that soft power almost always has elements of hard power in the wings, to paraphrase noted historian Howard Zinn.

This may not exactly be friendly behavior, as Russian President Vladimir Putin bitterly complained at the Group of Eight (G8) summit in Germany last week, but then again, Putin knows best that old habits, particularly relics of the Cold War won by the US, are hard to kick. The US has disregarded Russia's strong objections and is "proceeding with its plan", according to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

That means there will be no "freeze" in the planned stationing of US missile interceptors in Poland and a large radar system in the Czech Republic, one that "will be capable of scanning a space up to the Ural Mountains", per the words of Sergei Ivanov, Russia's first deputy foreign minister. Russia is developing new nuclear missiles and, according to the right-wing Washington Times, this "shows the urgent need to deploy missile defenses, including in Europe".

Not everyone in Europe is convinced by the US justification of the defense system, including the Czech parliamentary leadership, which has questioned it - in sharp contrast to government leaders, including Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek. He has expressed "certainty" that the US missile system will be a part of "the NATO missile-defense system". Not sharing this certainty, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store told the Russian news agency Interfax that some North Atlantic Treaty Organization members "are more critically minded".

One of the unclear issues is how the installation of the defense system will impact Washington's commitment within the framework of NATO-Russia cooperation. At present, discussions are under way between Russia and NATO on a non-strategic missile defense in Europe. But in the aftermath of the G8 summit, another Russian deputy foreign minister, Alexander Grushko, stated that this interaction could become "problematical" if Russia's concerns are disregarded.

Another Kremlin official, Sergei Ivanov, expressed "dismay" that his boss's proposal for a joint US-Russia defense system based in Azerbaijan "was perceived in the West as a sign of recognition by Russia of the existence of a real threat from Iran".

That is precisely the spin that newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal have been putting on this matter: "In offering to help, Moscow is acknowledging what most of the rest of the continent figured out long ago: that Iran's nuclear program and growing missile capability are a potential threat," said an editorial. This ignored the fact that Putin and his men have been openly questioning the United States' perception of an Iranian missile threat by pointing out that Iran has no intercontinental ballistic missiles now nor will for the foreseeable future.

A NATO official, on the other hand, dismissed Putin's suggestion of using the existing radar system in Azerbaijan by calling it "too close to the rogue states in question". Even in Azerbaijan, in spite of a rather enthusiastic initial response by Azerbaijani officials, not everyone is in favor. A statement by the Islamic Party of Azerbaijan criticized the existing Gabala radar station, rented out to Russia for some US$7 million a year and capable of covering areas as distant as 7,000 kilometers, as anti-ecological.

For now, Russia has merely managed to force a consultation role for itself on an issue considered "unrevisable" by, among others, the president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus. Putin may be disinclined to go along but, in the end, he may revise himself and echo his ambassador to NATO, Konstantin Totsky, who told Interfax in March that the US plan "poses no serious threat to Russia".

Conversely, should Putin persist in his adamant objections of the past several weeks, then instead of a "grand bargain" between the Kremlin and the White House, we may witness a new arms race. This is given Moscow's criticisms of NATO members' failure to ratify the CFE (Conventional Forces in Europe) Treaty and NATO's criticisms of Russia's failure to honor some of its own commitments under that treaty, such as complete troop withdrawal from Georgia and the Transdniestria territory in Moldova.

"The missile-defense system is a problem between Russia and the US, and does not affect Iran directly," an Iranian politician, Hamid Reza Taraghi, of the powerful Moatalefe Party, has reacted. Another analyst, Mohammad Ali Ramin, opined that Putin has shown "the green light" to the US with his proposal of joint cooperation with the existing system in Azerbaijan.

This might be stretching it and discounts Putin's diplomatic maneuver, ie, the likelihood that he had already factored in the United States' eventual dismissal of his idea and was geared more toward the European capitals. Still, there is a grain of truth to what almost all Iranian pundits agree, that Russia is genuinely feeling the heat of America's military pressure by the missile-defense system in question. Some are openly hoping for a widening in the Moscow-Washington rift over this and related matters, such as Iran's nuclear program.

This may not be an entirely unfounded hope, in light of a recent statement by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that the United States' planned defense system in Eastern Europe could "complicate" the peaceful resolution of Iran's nuclear crisis.

Echoing Lavrov, some members of Iran's Majlis (parliament) have called for a strong Iranian response to Putin's suggestion of forming a partnership with the US in manning the radar system in Azerbaijan, in sharp contrast to commentaries by various pundits who claim that this would pose no threat to Iran.

On the contrary, there is a strong sentiment in Tehran that any US-Russian military cooperation against their imagined, or real, threat from Iran is a minus development, negatively affecting Iran's security and geostrategic calculus. Still, this worry is tempered by the safe bet that Russia and the US are moving apart, militarily and otherwise, and the chances of their reaching a critical agreement such as that proposed by Putin are, in fact, minimal.

For the moment, though, what worries Iran even more is the alarming news of Turkey's troop buildup near Iraq and the ramifications of a full-scale invasion of northern Iraq by Turkey's army to root out Kurdish rebels and to nip in the bud the post-Saddam Hussein accelerated momentum for an independent Kurdish state.

The crushing of the "quasi-independent" Kurdish Iraqis will not be easy, particularly when and if Iran intervenes on behalf of the well-armed and disciplined Kurdish Peshmerga.

Why is Iran so worried about a Turkish invasion of Iraq? The consensus among experts in Iran appears to be partly related to Israel's strategic relations with Turkey and its influence on Turkish generals. "Israel operates by the chaos theory. The more chaos, the more regional wars, the better," a Tehran political-science professor has told the author.

The argument is that Israel is prodding Ankara to go into Iraq not so much to reverse or retard the Kurdish state-making process but to accelerate that process. This is given the near certainty that Iraq's Kurds would declare independence once they were attacked without receiving any meaningful support from the Baghdad government, currently crippled by the insurgency and factional infighting.

The problem with that interpretation, however, is that it gives Israel too much credit for decisions the Turkish Army and political leaders may soon make based on their own calculations of risks to Turkey's national-security interests.

Given Russia's misgivings about Turkey's past interventions in the Caucasus and Central Asia, any Turkish adventure in Iraq would help the cause of Iran-Russia cooperation, no matter how the Iranians now criticize Russia's "unjustified procrastination" in completing the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran.

The containment of pan-Turkism or Turkish expansionism may soon become a common goal of Moscow and Tehran, bridging the gaps between them precisely at a time when Washington is aggressively trying to steer Russia against Iran, by twisting its arm via the missile-defense system. Contrary to Nye, such coercive tactics may backfire and illuminate not so much the "soft power", but rather the "negative power" of the rogue superpower.

Revising Iran's 'two-plus-one' security formula
Reversing gears on regional insecurity, it may be worthwhile to revisit a security initiative by Iran's former national security chief, Hassan Rowhani, which he spelled out in 2004 - Iran-Russia-Turkey security cooperation.

Although this bemused both Moscow and Ankara, it was not a fleeting tissue of imagination and, in a subsequent communication with Rowhani's deputy, Hosein Mousavian, this author was informed that Iran was serious about this formula and considered it a step in the right direction with respect to regional security issues.

So far, Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and his foreign-policy advisers have stayed away from Rowhani's idea. But given the recent evolution of Russia-Turkey relations and the growing consensus among many experts in the region regarding the need for new, and creative, security initiatives, the time for Iran's president to embrace this formula might have arrived.

There is no reason Russia cannot cooperate on security matters with Iran, bilaterally, trilaterally and multilaterally (through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization) when it has offered to do so with Washington. As Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesperson stated recently, Iran and Russia have a great deal in common and should enhance their cooperation. It is up to Russia to heed the call.

Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) and co-author of "Negotiating Iran's Nuclear Populism", Brown Journal of World Affairs, Volume XII, Issue 2, Summer 2005, with Mustafa Kibaroglu. He also wrote "Keeping Iran's nuclear potential latent", Harvard International Review, and is author of Iran's Nuclear Program: Debating Facts Versus Fiction.

Original article posted here.

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