Russia lashes out at U.S. for missile defense
Military | Military expert says Russia is really the aggressor
by Michael Cochrane
Posted 10/14/16, 11:40 am
In the complex world of nuclear weapons strategy, perception is everything. And as tensions between the United States and Russia escalate, Russia increasingly perceives the U.S. missile defense program as an offensive threat.
In a bluntly worded speech this week, a top officer on the Russian military’s general staff accused the Pentagon of using the missile-defense program as part of a strategy for a possible first nuclear strike.
“The missile defense system considerably shifts the balance of offensive weapons, allowing the planning of a more efficient pre-emptive strike,” Lt. Gen. Viktor Poznikhir said Tuesday at a security conference in China. “Russian military experts believe that the U.S. hopes to gain the capability to strike any region of the world, including Russia and China, with nuclear-tipped missiles with impunity.”
He noted Russia and China would cooperate in developing countermeasures in response to the U.S. missile-defense program, but he didn’t provide specifics.
Poznikhir argued the United States would be able to launch a disabling first strike and rely on the missile shield to shoot down any missiles launched in a retaliatory strike, a claim many Western security analysts find hard to believe.
“I would characterize these claims by Russia and China as ranging somewhere between preposterous and absurd,” said Tom Karako, a senior fellow with the international security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington, D.C., think tank. “There is simply not only the capability nor the capacity to pose any real substantial threat to Russia, or for that matter China’s, strategic forces right now. It’s just not even close.”
Karako noted that outgoing undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, Rose Gottmoeller, pointed out in a 2014 speech in Bucharest, Romania, that Russia actually has more long-range missile-defense interceptors than the United States.
The primary mission of the U.S. fleet of ground-based interceptors at the Fort Greely military installation in Alaska and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California is to protect the U.S. homeland against the threat of missile attack by rogue states such as North Korea and Iran. North Korea has openly threatened the United States and its South Korean and Japanese allies with a nuclear missile strike and is actively developing long-range missiles and miniaturized nuclear warheads.
But Russia isn’t buying that argument.
“Under the pretext of countering the North Korean and Iranian ‘missile threats,’ the system intended primarily for engaging Russian and Chinese missiles is being developed,” Poznikhir said, arguing that the planned U.S. system would include hundreds of missile interceptors—more than enough to deal with potential threats from North Korea and Iran.
“Well, that’s ridiculous,” Karako countered. “We don’t have hundreds of long-range interceptors. We have currently about 36 and they’re … truly oriented toward North Korea. That’s where our radars are pointed, and that’s what the interceptors are designed against.”
Karako noted that part of Russia’s strategic messaging is to try and confuse the narrative of who is really the aggressor in the current standoff between Russia and the West.
“It’s Russia that is constantly making the nuclear provocations,” he told me. “And you see that most recently with their publicized move of Iskander missiles into Kaliningrad. The reason they do this so frequently—they’ve got the press releases down pat—is that it’s really a tool to … attempt to drive a wedge between the United States and its NATO allies. Likewise with China with respect to South Korea and Japan.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Michael is a retired Defense Department engineer and former Army officer who is an adjunct professor of engineering management at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va. He is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute's mid-career course. Follow Michael on Twitter @MFCochrane.