The Obama administration’s decision to scrap the Bush era anti-missile defense plans in Eastern Europe was actually expected. Nonetheless, this was a very pragmatic move on the part of Washington. However, the immediate talk and plans for a different American-led “stronger, smarter, and swifter” anti-missile strategy was not helpful. I will reserve judgment on this matter until more details are made available.
US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates didn’t mention cooperation with Russia in this new strategy, though the US president made it clear that he wanted this to happen. So we have to wait and see. But one thing is constant: American weapon contractors can still count on billions of US taxpayer dollars to counter military and security threats the US created in the first place.
We have been told that the Bush plan (actually designed by Gates when he served in the Bush administration) was ditched because of revised military intelligence reports. In those reports it is believed the so-called Iranian threat has changed — instead of worrying about Tehran’s long-range missiles, we now need to be mindful of its short-range missiles. Well, that is really interesting! US military intelligence doesn’t exactly have the best track record, and it can hardly be called intelligent. US military intelligence got us into Iraq and cannot come up with a real plan to get us out of Afghanistan. This is why I believe Obama’s “out with the old and in with the new” anti-missile plan should be taken with a huge grain of salt.
Why now? Why did Obama make his announcement now and why did NATO suddenly parrot Washington’s alleged new approach toward Moscow on missile defense? NATO can hardly find a consensus on any issue, particularly regarding Russia. Well, it is really all about “someone else’s” problem — Iran.
Russia and Iran are not friends, nor allies. However, it is fair to say they do not have hostile attitudes toward each other. Simply put, Russia does not see Iran as threatening and is very hesitant to join other countries desiring to destabilize the regime in Tehran. Moscow also does not see any wisdom in punishing Iran through sanctions because of real or imagined activities surrounding Iran’s nuclear program (and alleged ambitions).
Suddenly, the West, particularly the US, wants to be Russia’s new pal. And surely it is not because of the coming talks with Iran at the start of October in Turkey! They are the same talks in which Iran must bow to the West and surrender its sovereignty, or face a fourth round of sanctions. And remember, the EU has said it will go it alone without the UN Security Council this time — the most powerful sanction is cut the exports of refined fuels to Iran. Tehran, in turn, will very likely claim this act would be an existential threat to Iran’s security. This is the path to confrontation and Russia wants to have nothing to do with it.
Russia will not join with the West to make unreasonable demands of Tehran irrespective of Washington’s future anti-missile plans. Russia believes in direct engagement of Tehran and at the same time does not want to see Iran develop a deployable nuclear weapon. Russia will continue to respect the opinions of the IAEA regarding Iran’s nuclear program. I use the word ‘respect’ and not the word ‘follow’ because a great deal of the IAEA’s intelligence comes from the Americans and the Israelis (and it is the Israelis who first and foremost hope to con its Western friends into acting against Iran as a cover for Israel to complete its annexation of the West Bank, thus making a Palestinian state impossible).
Allow me to reiterate a point: Russia does not want to see Tehran develop a nuclear weapon that could threaten Iran’s neighbors and beyond. However, Russia’s worst nightmare is a Western-sponsored war against Iran. About two million ethnic Azeris in the north of the country could opt to find refuge in neighboring Azerbaijan, threatening the very existence of this fragile state. The knock-on impact for the rest of the region and the post-soviet space would be devastating. Western mainstream media constantly repeat that Russia overly meddles in the affairs of its neighbors, but if Russia’s neighbors go to hell in a hand basket it is Russia that is left to pick up the pieces.
Russia has no intention of bailing out the US in the Greater Middle East. And Russia will have nothing to do with the West attacking and/or invading a third Muslim country. The West should stop looking for ways to contain and destroy the Islamic Republic. There must be honest and constructive engagement on the part of all parties. In my opinion, the first item on the table should be the complete nuclear disarmament of the entire Greater Middle East and that includes Israel. We should start struggling for peace in this region of the world and not preparing for another senseless war. This is an agenda Russia can support.
Peter Lavelle is host of In Context, a television program of the Russia-based, English-language satellite channel Russia Today. This article was first published as an entry in his blog Untimely Thoughts on 20 September 2009; it is reproduced here for educational purposes.