The tussles between the United States and Russia over Eastern Europe have never ceased ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.
On May 12 of this year, the anti-missile system, constructed by the United States at the Deveselu airbase in southern Romania, was officially operational and stood ready to be connected with NATO’s anti-missile defense system in Europe at any moment. On May 13, a groundbreaking ceremony for the construction and deployment of the Aegis ashore missile defense system was held at the army base in northern Polish city of Redzikowo.
The United States claimed that such systems were meant to counter threats from Iran, but Russia did not buy this explanation, saying they would seriously harm Russia’s strategic security. The ongoing arm wrestling between the United States and Russia started to escalate.
People may still remember this scenario: Mikhail Gorbachev assumed that after the dissolution of the Warsaw Treaty Organization, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization would be dissolved accordingly. In December 1987, the Soviet Union and the United States signed the Treaty on the Elimination of Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles, which entered into force as of 1988. The treaty required the destruction and complete ban of missiles with shorter ranges of between 500 and 1,000 kilometers and missiles with intermediate ranges of between 1,000 and 5,000 kilometers. This treaty played an important role in easing international relations.
In the 25 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, relations between US-dominated NATO and Russia have witnessed ups and downs. In February 1992, then NATO secretary-general Manfred Wörner said: It is no longer the time when we are adversaries, enemies. It is now the time of partnership and cooperation.
In May 1997, Russia and the NATO signed the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security. Based on this act, the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council was established to serve as a mechanism for consultations and coordination. In March 1999, Russia temporarily suspended relations with NATO due to the outbreak of the Kosovo War, but in March 2000, Russia-NATO relations began to normalize.
After the terror attacks on September 11, 2001, and with the aim of strengthening cooperation with Russia on anti-terror and other fields, NATO and Russia signed in May 2002 the Rome Declaration on the establishment of the NATO-Russia Council. Under the new mechanism of “20 equal partners,” Russia enjoyed fully equal rights with the 19 NATO members in the cooperation in such non-core affairs as anti-terror, non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and arms control.
In August 2008, however, military conflict between Russia and Georgia broke out, and activities at all levels of the NATO-Russia Council were interrupted. In April 2009, high-level political contacts of the NATO-Russia Council were officially resumed.
After the eruption of the Ukraine crisis in 2014, relations between NATO and Russia were suspended again, with these relations reaching the lowest level since the end of the Cold War.
Nowadays, due to their differences and conflicts over deployment of anti-missile systems, their relations have become confrontational again.
In fact, the US plan of deploying anti-missile systems in Eastern Europe did not progress smoothly as expected.
As early as in January 2007, the United States began to hold consultations with the Czech Republic and Poland, planning to construct anti-missile systems in Poland and to deploy 10 ashore interception missiles, and to deploy advanced anti-missile radar systems in the Czech Republic. In 2009, however, President Obama had to abandon this plan, and proposed a new one: deploying, stage by stage, anti-missile systems in Europe.
In May 2011, Romania announced that it had approved deployment of the United States anti-missile systems at the Deveselu airbase in the southern Romania county of Olt. Now, the plan is finally implemented.
Russia reacted strongly to this. On May 13, Russian President Vladimir Putin made three points about the missile deployment plan in a speech. First, the United States unilaterally withdrew from the Treaty on the Limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems, taking the first step in disrupting the global strategic balance. Today, the official launch of the anti-missile system plans set conditions for its violation of the Treaty on the Elimination of Intermediate-range and Shorter-range Missiles, dealing a blow to the international security order. Second, the deployment of anti-missile systems in Romania and Poland is part of the United States’ strategic nuclear plan, and they are not, in any sense, defense systems. The United States could, by using the systems’ launching devices, fire intermediate- and shorter-range missiles in the shortest time possible, posing security threats to Russia. And third, the moves of the United States in its deployment of the anti-missile systems would destabilize the international security system, and could trigger a new round of an arms race. Russia said it will not join such an arms race, but will take all necessary measures to strike a balance in the international strategic forces and to prevent massive wars or conflicts.
Russia has its own countermeasures. First, it has deployed nuclear-capable Iskander tactical missile systems at the enclave of Kaliningrad near the borders of Poland and Lithuania. Second, the Russian Foreign Ministry and the State Duma all said on May 12 that Russia will retain the right to exit the Treaty on Further Reduction and Limitation of Offensive Strategic Arms. And third, it is believed that if the two sides have any military conflicts, Russia will probably make pre-emptive strikes on the anti-missile systems deployed by the United States in Europe.
The United States move of deploying anti-missile systems in Eastern Europe is thought-provoking. First, the United States stressed repeatedly that the deployment of anti-missile systems was aimed at Iran, and recently further clarified that after the comprehensive agreement on the Iran nuclear issue, Iran has lost its capability of developing nuclear weapons, but its plan for conventional missile development has never ceased. This explanation is hardly convincing to anyone. Second, the United States claimed that its anti-missile systems were not intended to intercept Russian missiles, but Russia’s real concerned is whether or not the systems have the capability to do that. If this could not be appropriately addressed, it would not only lead to a new arms race between the two sides, but also have a negative impact on the overall security situation in Europe. Third, the United States has incorporated the anti-missile systems deployed in Eastern Europe into the NATO system, and this could serve as another wheel for the eastward expansion of NATO. Some analysts believe that the move by the United States will further consolidate its military presence in the Black Sea region, and could also serve as springboard for the United States to expand and increase its presence into the Middle East, the Caucasus and Central Asian regions. Finally, the move by the United States will leave a batch of bad assets for the next president’s dealings with Putin. This will not be constructive to easing the tensions between the United States and Russia, and will not be helpful to peace and stability in Europe, either.