It’s Really about US Primacy in Space
On June 12, the White House vehemently denied it was engaging in “gamesmanship” as it weighed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s alternative to the deployment of the American missile shield in East Europe, namely the radar base Russia leases from Azerbaijan.
Asked whether the US was looking for a way to make Putin’s offer work or trying to come up with a face-saving way to reject it, White House spokesman Tony Snow said: “What we have now is a basis of conversation. The implication before the G8 was that Russia was adamantly opposed to any kind of (missile) defense. It turns out that it’s not. We look at that as a constructive step forward.”
He added that President George W. Bush and Putin would discuss the matter at the president’s family estate in Kennebunkport, Maine, on July 1-2.
Bush too seems to have taken a step forward – or is it sideways?
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Washington sources say President Bush will not abandon his original plan for the Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMD) to be deployed in Poland and the Czech Republic. But Tony Snow did not rule out the possibility of an American counter-proposal for the Russians in the form of an addendum to the basic proposition: the positioning of joint Russian-US systems in Azerbaijan at the Russian radar base as Putin proposed at the G8, or else in the Caucasian or one of the Central Asian countries. Experts in Washington took the Azerbaijan option seriously enough to study it. They rejected the site for countering a missile threat except from North Korea, because it is too near Iran to allow the early warning of a missile attack to kick in.
Furthermore, whereas last year undersecretary of state John Bolton presented the East European missile plan to Moscow last year as non-negotiable, it has been re-graded “negotiable.”
However, two factors underlie Bush’s tough insistence on East Europe for the US missile shield and Putin’s angry rejection of this location.
American strategic planners advised the US president that, while Russia is free to deploy missiles and anti-missile systems in most of the Caucasian and Central Asia, it is barred from the former Soviet Bloc countries of East Europe. None will permit Russian military personnel or its radar systems to set foot on their soil.
Therefore, any US-Russian cooperation on missile defenses must take this into account with regard to location.
Washington‘s East Europe missile shield is vital for defending its space assets
The second factor is even more fundamental. Both the Kremlin and the White House have been using the need for an interceptor system to defend Europe against Iranian missiles as a pretext for the real issue, which is the big power contest over the control of space.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Washington sources disclose: The Ballistic Missile Defense system’s location in Europe is a key element in the protection of American space assets and its ability to retaliate against challenges to their safety. Washington insists on the US being armed with the wherewithal to resist any threats to its space capabilities, which are vital to its national security and economy.
Apart from the military aspect, the United States feels bound to preserve its technological advantages as the dominant world power in space.
According to our Moscow sources, Russia lacks the resources for challenging US domination, but Putin is determined to chip away at it, while boosting the second essential attribute of a contemporary world power, control of the oil and gas markets.
Washington’s strategy is to respect Moscow’s command of the energy market but contain it to Europe, while preserving US pre-eminence in space.
Therefore the Bush-Putin talks in Kennebunkport in two weeks will center on the following cardinal points:
1. Moscow’s acceptance of the early completion of a global Ballistic Missile Defense network, with bases in East Europe connected with parallel systems in Japan and the United States. This network is fundamental to America’s dominant status in space.
2. Washington’s acceptance of an adversarial relationship with Moscow in Central and South Asia over highly combustible issues.
One concerns America’s quest for friendly bases in these regions to support its battle against Islamist terrorists. Moscow challenges the American military presence on its doorstep.
A second concerns US efforts to establish pipelines that divert Central Asian energy resources away from Russian control.
When the American and Russian presidents get together therefore, Putin will be asked to accept that America is far ahead of Russia in the space race. (For instance, Russia’s military and civilian GLONASS lags far behind America’s GPS global positioning system and is not due to be introduced before 2009 or 2010).
If the Russian president goes along with this, the conversation can go forward constructively. If not, Washington and Moscow will continue to argue with increasing acerbity. How this dispute evolves is likely to be relegated to the next US president serving in the White House from January 2009 and Putin’s successor, who takes over in the Kremlin eight months earlier, on March 9, 2008.