Missile shield shift opens common ground for Russia and US
Strategists say that President Barack Obama's decision to scrap a controversial missile shield for Eastern Europe has mollified Russia, and could open the door for cooperation against common nuclear threats.
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"If you can get away from the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) that has held the world in a death grip for the past 60 years, then we could certainly talk about cooperative approaches to missile defense," Cohen says, referring to the old "balance of terror" under which the US and the former USSR saw no alternative but to negotiate mutual limitations on their vast arsenals of offensive nuclear weapons.Skip to next paragraph
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And some Russian security experts say current talks aimed at finding a replacement for the soon-to-expire Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty could represent the end of the road for the cold war-era paradigm of global strategic management.
"Controls on national defenses and offensive strategic weapons are leading into a blind alley," says Pavel Zolotaryov, deputy director of the official Institute of USA-Canada Studies in Moscow. "Even if we theoretically reached that 'global zero' point, where the big powers had no nuclear weapons, we would still have to deal with states that have the capability to make (nuclear missiles) and the will to launch them. So the threat will still be present," he says.
"Therefore, what we need are joint efforts to analyze common threats, in order to prevent them, and to move toward a general system under joint command. That is the best way to overcome the apparent contradictions," in which anti-missile defenses deployed by one side appear to undermine the nuclear deterrent of the other, he adds.
What Russia brings to the table
Russia currently maintains a functioning anti-missile network around its capital city, Moscow, and has a struggling but still viable space program, including some of the best launch vehicles around. Last year Russia's military opened a state-of-the-art early warning radar station at Armavir in southern Russia which, combined with a Soviet-era radar station at Gabala in Azerbaijan, furnishes the capability to detect any missile launches from the Middle East, Iran, the Indian Ocean, and western China.
"Russia has much more to offer than just radars," across a geographical expanse that runs from the North Korean border to the Baltic Sea, says Vladimir Dvorkin, head of the Center for International Security, a Moscow think tank.
"We have a well-developed infrastructure for anti-ballistic missile systems and we're ahead of the US in the high-speed missile technology that's essential for anti-missile weapons," he adds. "If we worked together, we could make it seem absurd to go on with the old system of nuclear deterrence."
The main obstacle facing the idea of joint US-Russian missile defense, say its advocates, is the ongoing lack of political trust between Moscow and Washington.
"When the subject is missile defense, you're talking about the most secret of state secrets, and there needs to be a high level of confidence before that kind of information can be shared," says Sergei Oznobishchev, a security analyst with the official Institute of World Economy and International Relations in Moscow.
"This is not, at heart, a technical problem. If we had better relations we could do anything together, and that includes building a joint missile defense shield," he adds.
Should nations fly to the moon together? Read more about cooperation in space here.