Thursday, June 7, 2007

Missing the point on new Euromissiles

President Bush’s peculiar assertion yesterday that “Russia is not an enemy” resurfaces yet again a fundamental inconsistency of neoconservative foreign policy: common values cannot be spread by force.

The remark comes at an ironic moment, before a scheduled meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Bush on the margins of the G-8 summit in which the two leaders hope to resolve differences sparked by the planned U.S. deployment of an anti-missile shield in Europe.

When President Putin responded to the proposed deployment by threatening to target Russian nuclear missiles at Europe, Deputy State Department Spokesman Tom Casey diplomatically referred to President Putin’s concern as “silly.”

National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley responded to Putin on The Newshour with Jim Lehrer, saying of the proposed missile shield, “It's not aimed at Russia. The systems we would deploy do not have capability of any significant character against Russian ICBMs destined for -- you know, that are aimed at the United States. It just doesn't have any capability. It's a very limited capability about other states like Iran, who are developing ballistic missiles, and potentially the weapons of mass destruction that those missiles could deliver, so it's all about Iran.”

This answer makes neither linguistic nor technical sense. If Iran launched a nuclear missile at Europe (which experts conclude is technically unfeasible for years to come), the response would be certain and devastating. Iran would never stand toe-to-toe with the rest of the world and pick a fight – if it did it would lose badly – and this is what the use of a nuclear missile would unambiguously mean (although aiding terrorists with nuclear weapons, materials, or know-how could be another matter, against which a missile shield would offer cold comfort). In addition, Mr. Hadley’s response does not address President Putin’s explicit concern that the planned system will be able to strike airborne targets deep inside Russian territory.

As this verbal Cold War brewed, hundreds of protestors were arrested at the G-8 Summit convened to promote common values among the world’s leading industrialized states. As Professor John Kirton recalls the 1975 communiqué from Heads of State articulating the original mission of the G-7 process “We came together because of shared beliefs and shared responsibilities. We are each responsible for the government of an open, democratic society, dedicated to individual liberty and social advancement. Our success will strengthen, indeed is essential to democratic societies everywhere.”

While the protestors may not have a clear idea of the critical path to the global change they seek – or even a shared vision of what the world would look like if they got what they asked for – their presence underscores how delicate the legitimacy of efforts to promote democracy, freedom, peace and development can be. It is a good thing that the world’s most powerful leaders get together to talk about the good things they have in common and how they can work together, but including only the powerful in important discussions of the future breeds resentment in those who are excluded – themselves increasingly powerful in an age of global networks.

As Richard J. Harknett, James J. Wirtz, and T.V. Paul paraphrase the late RAND strategist Bernard Brodie, “any international arrangement must ultimately rely on and therefore reflect the systemic distribution of power.” The current asymmetric conflict pitting a lone hyperpower, the United States, and a loose “coalition of the willing,” against a franchised collection of terrorist networks suggests that Brodie’s observation may be as much a source of change as stability. The important question is, will this change work for us?

This is where the neocons get it wrong – they don’t know who the “us” is. If “us” is the American experiment in democracy, a continent-spanning melting pot of cultures and beliefs joined together under the rule of law to protect individual rights and service common values – a nation of ideas that twice rose to defend the world – we have a great chance of “winning.” If “us” turns out to be the privileged few who live behind a wall of power, we are in big trouble. The neocons have tried to split the difference by spreading democracy through force, and the inconsistency is killing us.

This latest adventure in poking the Russian bear is as surreal as it is pointless. President Bush’s exercise in building a defense that doesn’t work against an Iranian capability that doesn’t exist is more than an enormous waste of money, it has led the President of Russia to level a threat of increased military readiness that he is immediately capable of executing against a peaceful Europe with which he has no other reason to spark an arms race. But that’s what arms racing is – weapons acquisitions by one state driving responses in kind by the other until their arsenals are so ponderous that war seems a foregone conclusion. Realists understand this, because they base their analysis on capabilities, not intentions.

In asserting that Russia is not an enemy, President Bush has confused his own neoconservative idealism – that believes all bad intentions can be answered with hardware – with Russia’s realism which is hardwired to answer hardware with hardware, no matter what one leader sees in another’s soul.

More importantly, President Bush confuses the fact of the Cold War’s end with its meaning: even the largest nuclear arsenal in the world did not allow the Soviet leadership to resist the will to freedom. We would do well to remember the lessons of this last great global conflict as we work to respond to the danger of the next.

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