Running Local

This Train of Thought Makes All Stops

Money,Missiles, and a Question of Credit

Posted by Bob Kohm on January 28, 2009

Ben Smith had a very interesting short in his blog today, about your friend and mine Dmitry Medvedev and the Bush iskandermissile1v. Medvedev standoff over the proposed US missile shield in Eastern Europe and the Russian SS-26 forward deployment to Kaliningrad.

Smith, drawing on Joshua Keating’s piece in Foreign Policy, posits that President Obama and SecState Hillary Clinton’s tough talk on the US-Russia relationship may have catalyzed the rumored Russian decision to hold off on the deployment of the nuclear missiles to the Russian enclave less than 100 miles from Gdansk and 300 miles from Berlin. As much as I agree with most of Obama’s positions on foreign policy, I have to question whether anything he’s done has much to do with this decision.

As Obama ascends to the Presidency, the world does seem to be breathing a sigh of relief at the end of the seemingly random belligerence of the Bush Administration and some concrete results are building from it– the possibility of allies taking released Gitmo detainees and the possibility of true economic coordination to resolve the global financial crisis both having made news of late. If you told me that Russia had become amenable to revisiting this issue on that basis, I might have less of a problem with the analysis– the writing is on the wall that Western Europe will be giving Obama a honeymoon and Russia should try to capitalize on that to seek renegotiation of what has been a roundly botched and needlessly aggravating situation.

What I have trouble buying is that Russia has been cowed into making a unilateral decision, even if it is in anticipation of a delay or reversal of the deployment of the American missile shield to the Czech Republic and Poland. Are we to believe that Russia is more afraid of Obama’s posturing than that of the Bush Administration, which actually explored and had advocates for deploying American combat troops into Georgia during the 2008 South Ossetian conflict.

So, if we can discount that tough talk of Obama and Clinton while also questioning whether or not Russia is simply defusing a messy situaiton under the guise of joining the honeymoon party, what are we left with? To my mind the answer is simple– it comes down to money. Russia recognizes that Obama, who has never been a huge proponent of missile defense, would love to shed the expense of this system’s deployment to Eastern Europe but really can’t due to the fatc that the Czech Republic and Poland have stuck their necks out to accommodate the Bush Admin and by extension America¬† in playing host to the system. They also recognize that the downturn in petroleum prices is trashing what had been up until a few months ago their own boom economy and that they may once again need Western and Central Europe not just as clients for Gazprom and the rest of their petroleum industry but also as economic partners. Forward deploying clearly offensive missile systems in Kaliningrad meant to threaten Prague, Warsaw, Berlin, Copenhagen, Oslo and the Baltics is not necessarily the best way to foster the kind of mutual trust economic relationships that Moscow may well need.

Economics, goodwill, fear, hidden circumstance– it is hard to ascertain precisely what Moscow’s driving influence right now might be with regard to the deployment of the Iskander missile system to Kaliningrad, although we can make some educated guesses– most of which come down to money. Will the G20 meeting, to be held in April, be the forum in which the two leaders finally resolve this issue by agreeing to basically backburner all of it, as Keating suggests? Possibly, but I suspect that will be the “public” resolution to a problem whose outcome has already been dictated by forces outside of the control of Obama, Medvedev or indeed anyone. As always, strategic military issues are tied so tightly to economic realities that they become indistinguishable.

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