Friday, February 23, 2007

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Misguided missiles

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Misguided missiles
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
February 23, 2007

Fifteen years after the Cold War's end, it would seem that everyone involved should know better. But the Bush administration's tone-deaf plan to station parts of a missile-defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic and Moscow's snarling response shows that all sides could use a refresher course in diplomacy and civility.

The administration insists that the 10 interceptors and early warning radar it plans to build are supposed to defend Europe from Iran's missiles — not Russia's. There's little doubt that American officials are telling the truth — the untested system could easily be overwhelmed by Russia's huge nuclear arsenal. At the same time, however, it's unlikely that more military posturing against Iran, is going to persuade Tehran to give up its nuclear ambitions.

Russia's furious reaction to the stationing of even weak missile defenses near its borders (and on the territory of its former satellites) was utterly out of proportion, if totally predictable. A top Russian general,

who sounded like he'd slept through the last 15 years, warned the Poles and the Czechs that Russia's missiles "will be capable of targeting the facilities," while President Vladimir Putin shed crocodile tears against the rise of "one center of authority."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who cut her teeth on Kremlinology, should have known how Moscow would react, and that provoking Moscow this way would be especially counterproductive in her efforts to get Russia to help put pressure on Iran to halt its nuclear efforts. Add to that the fact that the move has annoyed "old European" allies like Germany, who are central to efforts to contain Iran, and it seems another example of diplomatic negligence.

This is a spat that should be quickly reined in. Washington has wisely chosen to respond calmly to the Russian vitriol, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has taken some welcome steps to moderate Moscow's stance. A few interceptors in Europe may or may not work against "rogue states," but they're counterproductive if all they do is to provoke Russia and irk NATO allies.


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