Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Missiles for mullahs? 

Are we trading missile defense for Russian help with Iran? Stratfor thinks so. From its Geopolitical Diary this morning (which comes to me via email):

The Russian government confirmed Monday that Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the first time in Geneva on March 6. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov also commented on recent “signals sent by the U.S. administration” and stated clearly that removing concerns over Iran’s nuclear program could lead to “more profound talks on cooperation on missile defense.” Ryabkov added that Russia has shown no signs that it will toughen its position on Iran just now, but that diplomatic efforts should be stepped up in dealing with the Iranian nuclear issue.

The signals that Ryabkov was referring to were statements by Clinton and U.S. Undersecretary of State William Burns that linked negotiations on U.S. ballistic missile defense (BMD) plans in Central Europe to the Iranian nuclear issue. In short, the Obama administration has been signaling that if Russia does its part to cooperate in containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Washington will be open to addressing Moscow’s concerns over its plans to install BMD facilities in Europe.

In what appears to be the first public Russian response to the BMD-Iran proposal, Russia is hinting that it might throw Iran under the bus, but is waiting to see what kind of a deal Clinton offers when she meets with Lavrov in Geneva. Moscow has a long list of demands for Washington that includes everything from BMD to NATO expansion in Eastern Europe to the renegotiation of nuclear arms treaties. The United States, meanwhile, needs Russia’s cooperation in its efforts to establish non-Pakistan supply routes for troops in Afghanistan and curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions. This is where the BMD connection comes in: The BMD installations being planned for Europe are designed primarily to thwart a possible intercontinental ballistic missile attack from Iran. If the Iranian nuclear threat could be eliminated with Moscow’s help, the entire justification for BMD in Europe dissolves — giving Russia the breathing space it has been seeking.

While the Poles, the Czechs and the Baltic states — all of whom have been counting on the BMD plan to shield them from Russia — are feeling some trepidation as these statements emanate from Washington and Moscow, the Iranians should be feeling especially fearful just now. There is no love lost between Russia and Iran. The brief Soviet occupation of northern Iran during World War II is still remembered, and the Iranians know that Russia’s current interest in Tehran is born out of Moscow’s tactical desire to capture U.S. attention on strategic issues such as BMD. So, whenever Russia feels the need to catch Washington’s ear, it issues vague threats about supplying Iran with the S-300 air defense system or completing the Bushehr nuclear facility.

Though Tehran knows that nine times out of 10 its support from its Russian allies is more rhetorical than material, it relies on Moscow’s backing as a means of leverage against the West, particularly on issues concerning its nuclear program and Iraq. At the same time, Russia is well aware of all the talk about the United States and Iran patching up their differences and publicly engaging each other. From Moscow’s point of view, it could be only a matter of time before Iran starts shifting toward the West, so the Kremlin might as well derive as much tactical utility from its relationship with Tehran as possible, while it still can.

A visit by Iran’s defense minister to Moscow on Monday gave Russia and Iran another chance to highlight their relationship and concern Washington with ambiguous talk of greater missile cooperation — but Iran might not be able to count on the Russians for much longer. Ultimately, Moscow’s core concerns revolve around protecting Russian influence in the former Soviet region, so that it can survive in the long term as a regional power. That means doing whatever it takes to ensure that EU enlargement and BMD plans for Europe are scrapped, so the Russians don’t have to worry about having American troops within a few miles of their borders. If Russia must sacrifice its relatively superficial relationship with Iran to make that happen, Iran could soon be left without a great power backer.

Two questions for you to noodle on while I descend into roughly nine hours of meetings: (1) Do you buy Stratfor's theory?; and (2) Is the trade worthwhile? I am thinking on the point, and will check back later to see what our luminous readership has posted in the comments.


By Blogger Georg Felis, at Wed Feb 18, 02:27:00 PM:

My prediction on What This Means:
Soon we will be threatened by Iranian nukes in the Middle East AND Russian nukes in Europe...and will be able to do nothing about either.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Feb 18, 02:28:00 PM:

Yes. Stratfor's theory is a tenable one. If Obama trades away our BMD in exchange for denying SAMs to Iran, it will be a huge win for Russia. They know that over time, as the techs improve, our BMD could be used against them, thus reducing the strategic value of their nukes. It leaves our Eastern Eurpean Allies in the lurch and wondering how reliable an ally we really are. Most importantly, it leaves us with no way to knock down an Iranian missile. Finally, with the collapse of oil prices,who knows if Iran still has the 800 million to pay the S-300? This could be a case of the Russians getting something for nothing.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Feb 18, 02:29:00 PM:

Russia's main national interest is a high oil price. This is vastly more important even than the position in the "near abroad" Two thirds of all their exports are oil and gas and they produce nothing else of any real value. A high oil price is best served by tension in the Gulf, with Iran threatening the Straits of Hormuz, and international sanctions on Iranian oil production. Hence Russian interests are well served by the current situation and no permanent change in that policy can be expected.  

By Blogger TOF, at Wed Feb 18, 02:37:00 PM:

Hah! What makes anyone think the Soviets, uh, Russians will honor any agreements with us? They always will have the option of arming the Persians. They regard us as the enemy.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Feb 18, 03:05:00 PM:

Russia's main interest is regaining major influence in the world. Or if you prefer, becoming a major power again, not in a cultural way, but in a political way. The common perception is that they once were, are not, and won't be again. I don't think they accept that. It grates.

The behavior of the Russian leadership reads like a series of chess moves, not always successful, but always designed to enhance their strategic advantage, or to create a strategic advantage. So, they work to make Europe dependent on them for gas to heat their homes. And they work to prevent, by brutal means if necessary, any competitive alternatives emerging. And so they insist on the right to have neighboring states defenseless against their offensive missiles. And so they work to make the American forces in Afghanistan dependent on their trains for vital supplies. And so they befriend dictators and undermine freely elected leaders.

In the mean time, we play checkers and more and more we look like fools. Is it in our strategic interest to throw fledgling democracies under the bus for a brief deal with a country like Russia whose government stands for little that we favor?

It is a vile bargain in my opinion. There are other ways to deal with Iran and Russia.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Feb 18, 04:50:00 PM:

Why would anyone assume the Russians can stop Iran? After all, recent news reports suggest the Iranians possess all the technical knowledge they need right now, and only need to keep their existing arrays going in order to finish enough material to finish building actual bombs.

It's tempting to try to think about this threat in 1980's big power terms, but sort of odd. Stratfor likes to see the world this way still, I realize, but why?

Iran is often said to represent a new and different kind of threat to civilization, an existential threat. But let's not forget the Iranians have thousands of years of big power history of their own to rely on in their diplomacy. Only western hubris would lead one to think the Iranians (who've contested against the Russians for centuries, and presumably well understand the fickleness factor in dealing with them) can be stopped by the mere withdrawal of Russian sponsorship. Without a reasonable basis for assuming the Iranians need the Russians, and there doesn't seem to be one, then there's no reason to proceed.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Wed Feb 18, 04:59:00 PM:

What this means is another option to shut down the Iranian program (like a successful unilateral Israeli strike?) is worth a lot more to us now.

But then, I don't think like Team O.  

By Blogger Viking Kaj, at Wed Feb 18, 05:05:00 PM:

Definition: "Team O" = multilateral fumblers who are shocked to have a seat at the table. Better at reading books than Realpolitik.  

By Blogger Viking Kaj, at Wed Feb 18, 05:08:00 PM:

Realpolitik. The Russians want to get into the bazaar with the Chinese when it comes to selling missle technology and nukes to the Saudis. Any problems with the Iranis are real, and due to fact that they support revolt by Islamic ethnic minorities within the Russian areas of interest.

The world is about to become a lot more dangerous place.  

By Blogger Viking Kaj, at Wed Feb 18, 05:13:00 PM:

Speaking of fumbling around, Putin and his gang of crooks will take anything they can get from the South Side crooks on the BMD as long as they don't have to do anything for it. Look for the South Side crooks, aided by the Whitewater crooks, to louse this up in the name of "internationalism".  

By Blogger Viking Kaj, at Wed Feb 18, 05:20:00 PM:

Question: Is BMD real or a shibboleth?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Feb 18, 05:24:00 PM:

Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin would make interesting bargaining partners, as could be said of both of them, there is an expiration date on any promise that they make.

The question would them be who trusts who less (or more), and who will be double crossed first.

I have my own answer based on my own judgement, but it should be a fun game to watch, if we all didn't have so much at stake.

Too much hubris will create too much war debris down the road.


By Blogger Steve M. Galbraith, at Wed Feb 18, 05:25:00 PM:

I think Putin will want missile defense as a starter carrot, if you will.

But his main goal would be to prevent Georgia and Ukraine, et al. (the "near abroad") from being admitted into NATO.

Yeah, he'll help us with Iran in return for that. Missile defense and (sorta') Yalta II .

The next question then is what will Beijing want?  

By Blogger Viking Kaj, at Wed Feb 18, 05:38:00 PM:

SMG: Shot in the dark, Taiwan?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Feb 18, 07:39:00 PM:

Interesting timing. The Jerusalem Post (via QandO) has reported that Russia has held up sale of S-300 antiaircraft systems to Iran, at least temporarily.


Part of the "deal"?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Feb 18, 08:17:00 PM:

Putin is sharp. The U.S. is in a bind. We need to get supplies into Afghanistan and we will with their help. The missile shield in Europe provided by the Americans, a trade off. Iran and it's nuclear facilities, along with it's missiles will soon be a steaming heap of trash. The Israelis have no choice but to demolish the Iranians Nuclear threat. The attack by Israel will also be on Iran's ace in the hole, oil. Russia will be in the drivers set to pick up the slack and money in the aftermath of an attack on Iran. One less supplier, means more money for Russian oil. Win Win situation for Putin.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Feb 18, 09:14:00 PM:

If I were a betting man, I would bet the "sale" was held up because the Iranians are broke.

This mythical attack that has been imminent against Iran for the past few years from Israel/US/Tooth Fairy is never going to happen. Iran must strike first, if ever. Pre-emptive war is double-plus ungood in New World Order Speak.

I would also agree that if Iran does start something (stupid), and their oil capacity is lost, that the Russians will cry a river of crocodile tears over it. It is, in the end, all about gettting the price of oil up and keeping it up, for the Russians and the Iranians. All the Iranian gestures and war talk is all about creating unrest and instability and driving up the price of oil.


By Blogger Purple Avenger, at Wed Feb 18, 09:20:00 PM:

Question: Is BMD real or a shibboleth?

Again the smallish volume of junk Iran would ever be capable of launching its very real.

The Russians, of course, could darken the sky with decoys and overwhelm it.  

By Blogger Viking Kaj, at Thu Feb 19, 12:08:00 PM:

PA, my point exactly. The present administration can probably give up this Republican program without sacrificing much in terms of real security for Central (formerly Eastern) Europe. We probably don't care if a missile lands in Poland anymore than we did in 1939. Unless, of course, the cash starved governments over there were actually prepared to pay for this.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Feb 19, 12:55:00 PM:

How many terrorists are hiding out and a sheltered by the UN and how many are financed by the UN?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Feb 19, 02:44:00 PM:

^ Since I live in the greater NYC area, my immediate concern is those presently resident at the UN with diplomatic immunity.  

By Blogger Viking Kaj, at Thu Feb 19, 02:45:00 PM:

Hey TH, regarding that luminous comment, my extra time in the radiation lab isn't showing, right?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Feb 19, 10:21:00 PM:

Some late night reading, from Michael Rubin.  

By Blogger davod, at Fri Feb 20, 04:43:00 AM:

"PA, my point exactly. The present administration can probably give up this Republican program without sacrificing much in terms of real security for Central (formerly Eastern) Europe. We probably don't care if a missile lands in Poland anymore than we did in 1939. Unless, of course, the cash starved governments over there were actually prepared to pay for this."

Include as well or replace Eastern Europe with "Israel", or "Taiwan", or "South Korea" or "......." and before you know it we will have no friends but the kind of "friends "you should hold closer to you than other friends.  

By Blogger Whiskey, at Fri Feb 20, 05:10:00 AM:

What people don't understand is:

1. Putin's game is to help Iran nuke up so it will attack both Israel (and kill lots of Jews, something Russians always approve) and the US (to provoke a wider US-Muslim war).

Russia has been following the "Last Man Standing" (after the movie) policy. Get the West, mainly America, to fight the Muslim world, move in after both are wounded.

No agreement with Russia is worth anything. Even if Iran is broke, Russia would give them SAMs for free.

2. "Deals" with Russia on Iran have consequences, because Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Lithunia, Latvia, Estonia, and other small countries fearing Russian invasion can nuke up quickly, and will as a result of the death of BMD. Ending the BMD will not end Eastern European efforts to remain free of Russian rule. It will only guarantee a race to develop their own nukes as deterrents to invasion.

3. The more nervous Israel gets over broken promise after broken promise to allies, and the more Obama pronounces on his Mulim past, his Muslim relatives, and his pro-Muslim sentiments, the more desperate and unpredictable Israel may become.

With GWB there was always incentive NOT to launch nukes because well, the US would be protector of last resort. NOW, the incentive is to launch, launch massively and launch without warning.

What people don't get (because frankly, they are stupid) is that the current situation is not "normal" -- we now have weapons available, nukes, that allow even small/tiny states to fight back, and if they strike first, kill an aggressor people seeking to exterminate them. As long as it is done by surprise.

This is unique. The Czech Republic won't be sold out again, as in Munich, because it can nuke up and take out Moscow and St. Petersberg and Russia will not be able to afford to invade them. But even more unique is that now a small nation facing existential threat, in a pure survival mode, CAN do anything if it WILL do anything.

And the Hamas War has probably led Israel on most of the leadership and popular level to WILL do anything to live.

The shift in thinking required to understand this change, how unique this really is, and how terribly unstable seems beyond most people, caught in the ideas and stasis of the Cold War.

Whoever nukes first, nukes hard, and nukes out of existence the enemy people, wins. This is reality.

Israel, if it wants to survive, must simply kill most of the Iranian people, who will surely kill them with their own nukes when they have enough.

This is not the Cuban Missile Crisis. We will wake up one day and find out either Israel nuked Iran out of existence, or the other way around.  

By Blogger Viking Kaj, at Fri Feb 20, 10:21:00 AM:

Humans have never built a weapon that we did not use, and nuclear weapons will be no exception.

The basic technology is from 1942 and is not that difficult to reproduce.

Also, in the interim, there is enough fissile material floating around out there for people to acquire the weapons.

I predict that further nuclear exchange is inevitable. The only question is whether it will be in the Middle East or the Punjab.  

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