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     Mar 1, 2007
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When cowboys don't shoot straight
By F William Engdahl

The frank words of Vladimir Putin to the assembled participants of the annual Munich security conference have unleashed a storm of self-righteous protest from Western media and politicians. A visitor from another planet might have the impression that the Russian president had abruptly decided to launch a provocative confrontation policy with the West reminiscent of the 1943-91 Cold War.

However, the details of the developments in the military policies of

the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the United States since 1991 are anything but deja vu. This time around we are already deep in a new cold war whose stakes are literally the future of life on this planet.

The debacle in Iraq or the prospect of a US tactical nuclear preemptive strike against Iran are ghastly enough. In comparison with what is at play in the US global military buildup against its most formidable remaining global rival, Russia, they loom relatively small. The US military policies since the end of the Soviet Union and emergence of the Russian Federation in 1991 are in need of close examination in this context. Only then do Putin's frank remarks on February 10 at the Munich Conference on Security make sense.

There were many misleading accounts of most of Putin's remarks in Western media. Putin spoke in general terms of Washington's vision of a "unipolar" world, with "one center of authority, one center of force, one center of decision-making", calling it a "world in which there is one master, one sovereign. And at the end of the day this is pernicious not only for all those within this system, but also for the sovereign itself, because it destroys itself from within."
Then the president got to the heart of the matter: "Today we are witnessing an almost uncontained hyper-use of force - military force - in international relations, force that is plunging the world into an abyss of permanent conflicts. As a result, we do not have sufficient strength to find a comprehensive solution to any one of these conflicts. Finding a political settlement also becomes impossible."

Putin continued: "We are seeing a greater and greater disdain for the basic principles of international law. And independent legal norms are, as a matter of fact, coming increasingly closer to one state's legal system. One state and, of course, first and foremost the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way. This is visible in the economic, political, cultural and educational policies it imposes on other nations. Well, who likes this? Who is happy about this?"

These direct words began to touch on what Putin was concerned about in US foreign and military policy since the end of the Cold War some 16 ago. But it was further in the text that he got explicit about what military policies he was reacting to. Here is where the speech is worth clarification.

Putin warned of the destabilizing effect of space weapons: "It is impossible to sanction the appearance of new, destabilizing high-tech weapons ... a new area of confrontation, especially in outer space. Star wars is no longer a fantasy - it is a reality ... In Russia's opinion, the militarization of outer space could have unpredictable consequences for the international community, and provoke nothing less than the beginning of a nuclear [arms race] era."

He then declared: "Plans to expand certain elements of the anti-missile defense system to Europe cannot help but disturb us. Who needs the next step of what would be, in this case, an inevitable arms race?"

What does he refer to here? Few are aware that while claiming it is doing so to protect itself against the risk of a "rogue state" nuclear-missile attack from the likes of North Korea or perhaps one day Iran, the US recently announced it is building massive anti-missile defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Poland? Missile defense? What's this all about?

Missile defense and a US nuclear first strike
On January 29, US Army Brigadier-General Patrick J O'Reilly, deputy director of the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency, announced US plans to deploy anti-ballistic-missile defense elements in Europe by 2011, which the Pentagon claims is aimed at protecting US and NATO installations from enemy threats coming from the Middle East, not Russia. After Putin's Munich remarks, the US State Department issued a formal comment noting that the administration was "puzzled by the repeated caustic comments about the envisaged system from Moscow".

Oops ... Better send that press release back to the Pentagon's Office of Deception Propaganda for a rewrite. The Iran missile threat to NATO installations in Poland somehow isn't quite convincing. Why not ask longtime NATO member Turkey if the US can place its missile shield there, far closer to Iran? Or maybe Kuwait? Or Israel?

US policy since 1999 has called for building some form of active missile defense despite the end of the Cold War threat from Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles or other missile launch. The National Missile Defense Act of 1999 says: "It is the policy of the United States to deploy as soon as is technologically possible an effective national missile defense system capable of defending the territory of the United States against limited ballistic missile attack (whether accidental, unauthorized, or deliberate) with funding subject to the annual authorization of appropriations and the annual appropriation of funds for national missile defense." Missile defense was one of Donald Rumsfeld's obsessions as defense secretary.

Why now?
What is increasingly clear, at least in Moscow and Beijing, is that Washington has a far larger grand strategy behind its seemingly irrational and arbitrary unilateral military moves.

For the Pentagon and the US policy establishment, regardless of political party, the Cold War with Russia never ended. It merely continued in disguised form. This has been the case with presidents George H W Bush, Bill Clinton, and now George W Bush.

Missile defense sounds plausible if the United States is vulnerable to attack by a tiny band of dedicated Islamic terrorists able to commandeer a Boeing aircraft with box cutters. The only problem is that missile defense is not aimed at rogue terrorists like al-Qaeda, or states like North Korea or Iran.

From them the threat of a devastating nuclear strike on the territory of the United States is non-existent. The US Navy and Air Force bomber fleet today stands in full preparation to bomb, even nuke, Iran back to the Stone Age only over suspicions it is trying to develop independent nuclear-weapon technology. States like Iran have no capability to render the US defenseless, without risking nuclear annihilation many times over.

Missile defense came out of the 1980s when president Ronald Reagan proposed developing a system of satellites in space and radar bases around the globe, listening stations and interceptor missiles, to monitor and shoot down nuclear missiles before they hit their intended target.

It was dubbed "Star Wars" by its critics, but the Pentagon officially has spent more than US$130 billion on such a system since 1983. President Bush increased that significantly beginning 2002, to $11 billion a year, double the level during the Clinton years. And another $53 billion for the following five years has been budgeted.

Washington's obsession with nuclear primacy
What Washington did not say, but Putin has now alluded to in Munich, is that the US missile defense is not at all defensive. It is offensive, and how.

The possibility of providing a powerful state, one with the world's

Continued 1 2 3 4 5  

Russia as friend, not foe (Feb 17, '07)

All power to Putin - not quite (Jan 18, '07)

The Great Game on a razor's edge (Dec 23, '06)


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