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On Missile Defense, Russian Paranoia Trumps Reality

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Unread 06.07.12, 04:55 PM
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On Missile Defense, Russian Paranoia Trumps Reality

On 06.07.12 12:00 PM posted by Luke Coffey

Yesterday Nikolai Korchunov, Russia’s acting representative to NATO, had an article in The New York Times about NATO’s Ballistic Missile Defense entitled: “You Say Defense, We See Threat.”

Unfortunately, Korchunov did not elaborate on how NATO’s Ballistic Missile Defense system is an actual threat to Russia. NATO leaders have said time and again that NATO’s Ballistic Missile Defense is not directed toward Russia but against rogue states like Iran who are developing ballistic missiles that may reach Europe. This fact was most recently pointed out by the U.S. Ambassador to NATO, Ivo Daalder in another article in the Times appearing on the same day as Korchumov’s. Even with these public assurances from all sides, Russian paranoia trumps reality.

Korchunov’s article contains both technical curiosities and blatant hypocrisy. For example, he writes:
Even the limited current deployments of missile-defense elements are worrying for Russia. The proposed BMD base inPoland, housing increasingly capable SM-3 interceptors, is less than 100 kilometers away fromRussia’sKaliningradregion. At the other end of the Continent, the AN/TPY-2 phased-array radar inTurkeycan potentially monitor the air space over the entire Caucasus, parts of Central Asia and much ofSouthern Russiaas well.

Firstly, SM-3 interceptors carry only kinetic warheads. A kinetic warhead is a projectile that does not contain an explosive charge. It is effective against incoming missiles because it can attain a high muzzle velocity and collide with its target at high speeds—without the use of explosives. This is unlike conventional warheads on missiles that contain explosives likeRussia’s Iskander missiles, for example. SM-3 interceptors pose no threat to Kaliningrad.

Secondly, Russia has very little room to talk when complaining about NATO’s AN/TPY-2 phased-array radar in Turkey. In 2006, Russia established a similar radar system at its Armavir Radar Station near the Black Sea. Russia also has its Gabala Radar Station in Azerbaijan, which has a range of more than 4,000 miles and covers parts of Turkey, the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and parts of China. It has been reported that U.S. Tomahawk cruise missiles launched during the early days of the Afghanistan operation were spotted by Russia thanks to its Gabala Radar.

By definition as a defensive weapon, missile defense is not directed at anyone who is not a potential military threat to NATO. Therefore, the only way NATO’s Ballistic Missile Defense system can be considered a threat toRussia is ifRussia plans on using ballistic missiles againstEurope—a scenario that seems so unlikely it is almost implausible.

Russia’s argument that NATO’s Ballistic Missile Defense is a threat is no more valid than saying that the body armor worn by NATO troops in Afghanistan as protection against the Taliban is also a threat to Russia. If the technology exists, which it does, then NATO has a responsibility to protect its people.

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