The Washington Post’s David Ignatius seems to have forgotten one rule of thumb when dealing with the representatives of authoritarian regimes: Seriousness does not equal sincerity.
Ignatius recently met with Russian envoy Dmitry Rogozin and Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov to talk missile defense. For the uninitiated, Rogozin has a Soviet charm, yet is a distinctly post-Soviet envoy; he functions as a sort of catch-all ambassador to anyone Russia is in the mood to talk to, as if he were a one-man ambassadorial kiosk floating around Moscow’s alleys in the Yeltsin years.
Rogozin’s charm seems to have worked on Ignatius, who writes that he was delighted Moscow even wanted to talk to American journalists about the issue of joint missile defense between the U.S. and Russia. Ignatius writes:
Russia wants to be a real partner in the missile defense system, Rogozin said, rather than a “passive observer” watching American operations, like “a tourist visiting a planetarium.” He said the missile defense system should be proportional to the threat, which the U.S. says is chiefly from Iran. If so, he said, then why would the U.S. need to deploy advanced anti-missile systems late in this decade, at the end of the four-phase project, that seem more suited to stopping Russian than Iranian attacks?
An avid hunter, Rogozin argued that the Americans were claiming they just wanted to shoot rabbits, but were proposing to carry guns that could bring down a bear.
That last phrase is quite clever, but it’s also the point of missile defense in Europe: to prevent Russia from getting any ideas. Russia has been increasingly defensive of its “near-abroad,” and has been making noises about protecting its sphere of influence–concepts that go back to the days of the Soviet Union and détente. And Rogozin often speaks about missile defense in these terms–Iran is the real threat, not Russia.
Yes, Iran is a threat. It is a threat that must be taken as seriously as Rogozin suggests. But we have allies in Europe who cannot otherwise protect themselves against what they (reasonably) consider to be their main threat: Russia. Missile defense is not an exercise in protecting anyone’s feelings. It’s an exercise in protecting ourselves and our allies from harm.
Rogozin can be convincing, and he seems to have Ignatius convinced. But the fact remains: a good missile defense system will necessarily make Russia unhappy–and Russia’s unhappiness at not being able to effectively threaten its neighbors should tell Ignatius all he needs to know.