Condoleezza Rice has insisted that the interceptor missiles the US is installing in a silo on Poland’s Baltic Coast are “defensive” and “not aimed at anyone“. Russia argues that, in reality, the system serves to undermine its own strategic deterrent. Whilst the US may, with some ease, paint a programme designed to halt incoming missiles as defensive, we should consider the wider strategic implications of such a move. The point of a deterrent is to make any potential aggressor think twice before attacking; a missile attack by the US on Russia would currently be unlikely because Russia can counterattack and cause comparable damage to the US. If the US has moved to neutralise the potential of Russia’s deterrent system, by blocking any missiles from Russia, then it has given itself a significant strategic advantage; it may attack with relative impunity, and therefore affords itself a significant power-advantage.
Russia would appear to have some reason to feel defensive at this point. The blame for the conflict earlier this month was laid almost wholly at its feet, despite the reality being both more complex and more balanced (on this, see Gary Leupp and Charles King). NATO’s continuous move eastwards, likely eventually to encompass Georgia, challenges Russia’s self-perception as a Eurasian power and may see it attempt to boost its support in other regions of the world. Dmitry Medvedev’s wish to deploy Russian missiles in Syria is perhaps the latest example of this attempt by Russia to expand its influence, and to escape the corner into which the US seems determined to push it. The Syrian deal is comparable with the US-Poland system, although such comparisons escape a media which is able to publish the stories side-by-side without addressing the hypocrisy of a mixed reception.
Russia is far from a benign power, and surely harbours its own imperial ambitions (as does any state with the capacity to enact its plans). The danger is that western aggression (and the missile shield system can only reasonably be seen in this light – imagine a Russian plan to station boats around the US laden with interceptors) will force Russia to seek more extreme methods of preserving its deterrent; a situation which could see the weapons falling into the ‘wrong’ hands (not that there are ever ‘right’ hands for weapons to occupy). The US’s manipulation of Europe (which Obama’s chief foreign policy advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski argues is crucial if the US is to maintain its global primacy) is forcing Russias hand. Condemning Russia, and painting it as dangerous when it speaks out against ‘defensive’ measures is not productive, and distracts attention away from the real imperial danger.