Commentary Magazine


Russia to the West: Please Don’t Defend Yourself

Russia and the United States are no closer to agreement on a missile shield for Europe after a high-level meeting in Moscow on Tuesday. “On the matter of principle the positions of our two sides have not changed,” said Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov. There has not been much movement on details either. Serdyukov made his remarks after conferring with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Russia’s Foreign Minster Sergei Lavrov.

In order to allay Moscow’s concerns, Washington has offered to allow Russian inspection of the Polish and Czech sites for the shield and agreed not to switch on the system until Iran more fully develops its missile-launch capabilities. Moreover, the Washington Post’s Jim Hoagland reported today that Rice and Gates this month delivered to the Kremlin a “Strategic Framework Declaration” offering participation in both existing missile defenses and future development of defensive technology.

The fundamental question is why the Bush administration, at this late date, is still seeking Russian approval of our efforts to defend ourselves. The American plan of ten interceptors to be based in Poland poses no practical threat to Moscow’s 800 missiles. Even with qualitative and quantitative improvements in the American-designed system, there is no possibility that, during the lifetime of any living Russian, interceptors will be able to destroy sufficient number of missiles in flight so as to eliminate the deterrent effect of Moscow’s arsenal.

The Russians can, if they want, convince the West not to deploy any missile defense system in Europe. How? They can cooperate with Washington and Brussels in stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons. To date, however, the Kremlin’s leaders are intent on helping Tehran build its horrible instruments of destruction while complaining about Washington’s efforts to protect Europe. Russians are building Iran’s first nuclear generating station, supplying the uranium fuel to Tehran, selling air-defense systems to protect Iranian nuclear sites, providing underpinning to the failing Iranian economy, and giving Tehran crucial diplomatic support in the United Nations Security Council and the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

So what is the United States doing in response? On Wednesday, the White House announced that President Bush had accepted a last-minute invitation to go to the Black Sea resort of Sochi to meet with President Vladimir Putin after next week’s NATO summit in Bucharest and his visit to Croatia. The American leader is expected to try to obtain the Kremlin’s cooperation on, among other things, missile defense. “I’m optimistic we can reach accord on very important matters,” Bush said on Wednesday at a meeting with foreign reporters in Washington.

Let’s not complicate things, Mr. President. You don’t need to go all the way to Putin’s dacha in Sochi next month. Get on the phone today and tell the Russian this: “We will take all steps to defend ourselves and our allies as long as you help arm an adversary that threatens the international community.” It should be as simple as that.