Pining for the Fjords

With the ink barely dry on the START Treaty, Russia is warning the US on missile defense:

The treaty doesn’t prevent the U.S. from building new missile defense systems, but Russia has warned that it reserves the right to withdraw from the treaty if the United States significantly boosts its missile shield.

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov reaffirmed Monday that a buildup in the U.S. missile defense capability would prompt Moscow re-consider its obligations under the New START treaty.

“If the U.S. increases the qualitative and quantitative potential of its missile defense … a question will arise whether Russia should further abide by the treaty or would have to take other measures to respond to the situation, including military-technical measures,” Ryabkov said, according to Russian news agencies.

The US takes the view that START does not constrain its ability to pursue missile defenses.

Does not! Does so! Does not! Does so! Does not!  Does so!  Always the hallmark of a well-crafted treaty. Somehow I don’t think this one meets Bismarck’s criteria.

The Russians keep flogging the idea of a truly joint defense system, but this makes little sense operationally, strategically, or politically for NATO and the US.  The Russian desire to ensnare US efforts in a joint system over which Russia will have a veto appears to be fears that the Dr. Strangeloves in the Pentagon are pining for the fjords:

Russia’s top brass has convinced the Kremlin that by 2020, the NATO missile defense system would be able to intercept any Russian nuclear missiles fired at the United States along a North Pole trajectory. According to this theory, NATO will try to hide its ships equipped with Aegis missile defense systems in the Norwegian fjords. Therefore, the argument goes, the Kremlin must convince NATO to sign a legally binding agreement promising not to deploy missile defense systems on any territory over which Russia’s nuclear missiles would travel.

The 2020 nightmare date appears to be based on this time line from the US Missile Defense Agency, which sets a goal of 2020 for providing the SM-3/Aegis system with capabilities against ICBMs.  (Earlier versions are are capable against medium and intermediate range missiles–MRBMs and IRBMs.)  Although here it appears that the SM-3/Aegis ICBM capability will be land-based, rather than seaborne.

And the irony is just too much.  Remember just why the US shifted its focus to Aegis/SM-3: in deference to previous Russian hissy fits, the US decided to terminate its plans to deploy land-based ABM systems in Central Europe (Czech Republic and Poland), and replace this system with a sea-based system that would not require the use of radars that would peer into Russia.  (SecDef Gates denied the change was a response to Russian complaints about the Czech-Polish bases: let’s just say that Gates’s denial was taken with massive amounts of salt.)

Careful what you ask for, guys.

But it’s more likely that the Russian military is just reprising its well-practiced Roseanne Rosannadanna “It’s always something, if it’s not one thing it’s another” routine (at about the 3:14 mark).

Speaking of START and hissy fits, Senatorial fossil Richard Lugar threw one about it, this time defending the treaty against Tea Party attacks:

I’ve got to say ‘Get real’. I hear Tea Party or other people talking about they were against START. If you want to get into START, let’s talk about it, but realistically as Americans, not as some Republican renegade. [I’m] trying to take warheads out of Russia so they won’t hit Indiana.

Uhm, except this START doesn’t take any warheads out of Russia.  Don’t believe me, then consider the statement of someone whose opinion really matters, Russian Defense Minister Serdyukov:

In Moscow START III is viewed as essentially a technical agreement to preserve a credible nuclear deterrent against the US by forcing the Pentagon to downsize its nuclear arsenal to help Russia maintain a balance and contain a dangerous opponent. During ratification procedures in the Duma, Defense Minister, Anatoliy Serdyukov, announced: “It is a very useful treaty –it allows us to significantly increase our [nuclear] armaments, while the Americans will have to cut theirs.”

Read that last piece again: “It is a very useful treaty –it allows us to significantly increase our [nuclear] armaments, while the Americans will have to cut theirs.”  Yo, Dick: doesn’t sound like the treaty is getting any missiles out of Russia.  To the contrary.

START, in other words, is aptly named.  It isn’t the end of anything.  It’s just the beginning–the start–of a new round of squabbling and dispute both between the Russians and the US, and within the US.

About Craig Pirrong 223 Articles

Affiliation: University of Houston

Dr Pirrong is Professor of Finance, and Energy Markets Director for the Global Energy Management Institute at the Bauer College of Business of the University of Houston. He was previously Watson Family Professor of Commodity and Financial Risk Management at Oklahoma State University, and a faculty member at the University of Michigan, the University of Chicago, and Washington University.

Professor Pirrong's research focuses on the organization of financial exchanges, derivatives clearing, competition between exchanges, commodity markets, derivatives market manipulation, the relation between market fundamentals and commodity price dynamics, and the implications of this relation for the pricing of commodity derivatives. He has published 30 articles in professional publications, is the author of three books, and has consulted widely, primarily on commodity and market manipulation-related issues.

He holds a Ph.D. in business economics from the University of Chicago.

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