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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

No One Is Fooled by NMD

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A number of leaks from U.S. officials this week have generated a stream of stories in the American media speculating about a possible deal with the Kremlin on missile defense. It has been reported that Washington will offer to purchase Russian S-300 missiles from Moscow, to be integrated into a national missile defense shield over Russia and Europe. The same reports claim the United States will offer Russia participation in joint anti-missile exercises with the U.S. military and other economic and military aid as well.

In return, Moscow will be expected to cooperate with U.S. President George W. Bush's administration in scrapping the 1972 Anti-ballistic Missile Treaty and to stop proliferating sensitive technologies and advanced arms to Iran, China and other potential American adversaries. Some articles even imply that Moscow is in fact ready to form a strategic alliance with the United States directed against China.

These implications are not true. The terms of a possible agreement on NMD was outlined to Russian officials earlier this month when Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley visited Moscow. The Kremlin considered these proposals and determined, "at the highest level" that they were simply "poisoned bait in a mouse trap."

As soon as leaks of the proposed NMD deal appeared, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov immediately rejected them out of hand, even using similar language: They said, in effect, that any sale of S-300s has nothing to do with NMD policy and would not reflect a change in Russia's position.

Russian officials believe that the leaks were made deliberately so that Washington could tell its NATO allies that Moscow is on the verge of making a deal and that they shouldn't be overly concerned about the impending abrogation of the ABM Treaty. Russia's immediate and unequivocal rejection of the proposal was intended to diplomatically outflank Washington and to reinforce European opposition to NMD.

In fact, Russia already agreed to sell the S-330B system to the United States for $100 million in the mid-1990s. But the Pentagon cheated, paying just $30 million for the radar and control equipment that the U.S. military wanted to scrutinize while leaving the Russian arms producers stuck with the rest of the hardware. In the end, the Russian government had to pay tens of millions of dollars to cover what the S-300 producers lost as a result of the U.S. deal.

The long-term partnership in missile defense and other fields that the Bush administration is today offering could benefit Russia in many ways in the future. But virtually no one in the Russia's ruling elite genuinely believes in American good graces. At the same time influential power groups have much to lose if military and nuclear technology transfers to China and Iran are terminated in the near future.

Multibillion-dollar deals to sell Iran new arms, including advanced anti-ship and anti-aircraft weapon systems, are being prepared for signing later this year. China has been buying approximately $1 billion worth of Russian arms per year since 1992. Last year, according to industry sources, Chinese military procurement doubled to nearly $2 billion (more than 60 percent of all Russian arms exports).

If Beijing is seriously intent on building a military capability to isolate and subdue Taiwan, its procurement of Russian weapons may double again in a year or so. There have been consistent rumors in the Moscow arms-trading community that China is negotiating the purchase or lease of several Russian nuclear attack submarines and is primarily interested in Oscar II (Kursk-type) submarines. China could arm the anti-ship missiles on such submarines with its own nuclear warheads and keep American aircraft carriers at bay during any potential crisis in the region.

Any conflict with the United States over NMD or NATO expansion could further affect Russian foreign and arms-export policies, prompting the Kremlin to sell its most sophisticated air and naval weapons to China and generating billions of dollars for Russia's defense community. The anti-American lobby is very powerful today in Moscow, while insiders say there is virtually no pro-American lobbying going on at all now in the Kremlin. Bush's attempts to reverse this situation are pathetic at best — or, more likely, simply insincere and designed to be rejected.

Pavel Felgenhauer is an independent, Moscow-based defense analyst.