Monday, February 12, 2007

The effort to build a missile defense site in Europe faces bitter opposition from Moscow. President Vladimir Putin calls it a new arms race. It reminds us of the bitter Soviet opposition in the 1980s to the basing of Pershing II ballistic missiles in Europe, Moscow’s long fight to preserve the ABM treaty, and Russia’s continuing battle against the expansion of NATO.

Despite years of effort by the United States and Europe to welcome Russia as a democratic and economic partner, Moscow’s political and military leadership seems unable to deal with the West except as an adversary. Mr. Putin has used Russia’s oil wealth to turn a nascent democracy into an autocracy run by a strongman and oil-rich associates from the old KGB.

We have no reason to fear the nuclear missiles of Britain and France because they are democracies and allies. When the Soviet Union collapsed and a democratic state emerged, the hope was that Russia would become an ally, or at least a friend, and the threat of Soviet nuclear weapons would end.

But Mr. Putin and his generals talk constantly about strengthening their military power and improving their strategic nuclear forces, emphasizing how they can evade and overwhelm any missile defenses. They ignore the fact U.S. officials from President Bush on down keep saying missile defenses cannot stop Russia’s huge arsenal of missiles and are not intended to do so.

The plan for Europe is simple. Build a small defense site with 10 interceptors in Poland and an anti-ballistic missile radar in the Czech Republic to protect U.S. bases and allies in Europe, and the Eastern United States, against missiles from the Middle East. This is in keeping with Mr. Bush’s promise that U.S. missile defenses will help protect our allies. We are cooperating with Japan, Australia, Israel and friends and allies in the Middle East and elsewhere in developing and deploying such defenses.

We would be negligent not to protect our bases and allies in NATO. Iran continues to develop and test longer-range missiles, while seeking to develop nuclear weapons for them to carry. Numerous sources claim Iran is working on a space launch vehicle to put a satellite in orbit, and any rocket or combination of rockets that can do that also could carry a warhead to Western Europe and across the Atlantic.

The danger is real and growing, but Moscow denies it. Russian generals rage that the planned missile defense site in Europe is aimed at their strategic deterrent and nothing else. Mr. Putin opposes the whole U.S. missile defense system, claiming it is not to defend against Iran and North Korea but is an attack on Russia.

Last week, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov reported Russia will produce 17 new ballistic missiles this year, pointedly noting that their maneuverable warheads can evade missile defenses. Moscow is trapped in Cold War thinking. Mr. Putin and his policy advisers seem wedded to the concept of mutual assured destruction.

They still resent NATO’s expansion into countries they consider within Moscow’s sphere of influence, and bemoan the end of the ABM treaty they fought so hard to keep. With oil revenue pouring in, Mr. Putin apparently dreams of re-creating the Soviet empire, with China and Iran as key allies. He sees the United States, adding bases in Central Europe and the Middle East, as his main adversary.

In the 2008 budget now before Congress, the Pentagon asks for $300 million to begin building missile defenses in Europe. While there is a difference of opinion on U.S. bases in Poland and the Czech Republic, the governments in those countries see the danger and want closer ties with the United States. Last week, Poland’s military attache in Moscow suggested the plan to have defenses operational in 2011-12 would be none too soon, since Tehran expects to have long-range missiles by 2010-13.

Mr. Putin’s talk of a new arms race is ridiculous. No one is racing with him. Besides, missile defenses by their very nature are defensive weapons that threaten no one. Mr. Putin is playing the old Cold War game of trying to divide the West. It failed then and must fail now.

Congress should reject Moscow’s threats and histrionics, and promptly approve the full amount requested for a missile defense site in Europe.

James Hackett is a contributing writer to The Washington Times and is based in Carlsbad, Calif.

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