TOPICS : Missile defence: A misbegotten idea

T here is no Iranian missile or nuclear threat to Europe. There is no possibility of such a threat for a decade. The problems of missile development, nuclear warhead development, miniaturisation of warheads, engineering those warheads to “fit” a given missile, testing, and industrialisation of this whole process all ensure that any Iranian nuclear missile threat to Europe will be nothing more than material for plots for cheap novels.

The CIA and other countries have been trying to tell the world that. Why hasn’t the Bush administration been listening? President Putin knows there is no such threat. Russia lost the cold war but still possesses a vast army of scientists and engineers who have told him that.

That being the case, the Russians asked themselves what the true purpose of the proposed antimissile defences in Poland and the Czech Republic might be. They have decided that the missile defences are intended to consolidate American “control” of Eastern Europe and to demonstrate the supremacy of American power.

Putin as much as said so recently. In a number of forums, he complained that although Russia understands that it is no longer a superpower, it is not willing to be reduced to a subordinate that must bow to whatever is dictated by Washington. He said that Russia accepts American primacy in the world, but that this primacy requires prudent restraint and caution. He said that we Americans are in danger of becoming “bad actors” in the same way that leaders in his country have been in the past. He made reference to the internal system of constitutional checks and balances in the US. He said there must be some balancing force in the world, and that Russia would play that role.

Poland and the Czech Republic were client states of the former USSR for many years. Now they are members of NATO, the alliance that the Russians believe threatened them for 50 years. What are Putin and the Russians to think of the placement on their doorstep of an antimissile-defence system against a non-existent threat from Iran?

Putin stated earlier this month that the creation of what he thinks would be an antimissile defence aimed at Russia would require a response in the form of target selection in Western Europe. The anger that causes decisions of this kind is dangerous to humanity. At Rostock, Germany, Putin proposed that the site of the antimissile defence should be in Azerbaijan. Bush responded that this idea had merit and that America would carefully consider it.

These statements indicate a resumption of statesmanship on both sides. We must not forget that history did not, in fact, end with the fall of the USSR. Mankind is still at risk from far more dangerous weapons and vanities than those likely to be possessed by Islamic fanatics. The nuclear powers must treat one another with a prudent regard born both of self-interest and common courtesy. There is no reason for the US to humiliate our former enemies and present friends. Let us be more careful! — The Christian Science Monitor