From Pavel Podvig, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: Judging by the intensity of Russia’s constant opposition to US missile defenses in Europe, one might think that the very survival of the nation is in danger. In reality, though, the opposite is true: The battle over missile defense is so fierce because the stakes are so low. In terms of an actual impact on Russia’s security, US defense is largely irrelevant. The intensity of Russia’s opposition to the missile defense plans owes more to its internal political circumstances than to anything else — which is why the current controversy is so persistent despite efforts to resolve it. It is time to acknowledge this and to recognize that, as far as US-Russian relations are concerned, disagreement over missile defense is just an overblown distraction. . . .
The row over missile defense has also given rise to a fairly large Russian industry of so-called "response measures." Every now and then, Russia warns the United States that, if no agreement on missile defense is reached, then Russia will have to resort to response measures to restore strategic balance. This is not a development that should be taken lightly, of course, but the reality is that Russia has been implementing response measures all along anyway. In fact, at this point, it’s hard to see how a potential missile defense agreement would even be worth its while.
Indeed, if the response to missile defense is to increase the number of warheads on ballistic missiles, it has already been done. Russia began deployment of a multiple-warhead version of its Topol-M missile, RS-24, in 2010. And a version of its R-29 submarine-launched ballistic missile, which can carry 10 instead of four warheads, was successfully tested in 2011 and is now on its way to deployment. Meanwhile, Russia is currently at work on a new silo-based multiple-warhead intercontinental ballistic missile, which is expected to enter service some time after 2016, along with at least one more new intercontinental ballistic missile. Each of these projects, of course, has been justified as a response to US missile defense development. But none really has anything to do with the US program; more important, none would stop were the United States to shut down its missile defense program tomorrow.
There is no easy way out of the current impasse. Dialogue and cooperation is still the best available choice. But at this point, very little progress is likely to be made on that front. So maybe those in the international community in general and the expert community in particular, who watch this gridlock in despair, should stop treating missile defense as if it were a vital national security matter — it is not — and look instead at the underlying issues that drive strategic modernization and prevent deep reductions of nuclear arsenals. No doubt missile defense makes moving forward more difficult. But right now, nuclear buildup and modernization — whether in Russia, the United States, or elsewhere — are happening regardless of missile defenses. These are the dynamics that need the most attention. Missile defense in this regard is a small, distracting, and not particularly important part of the picture.
Pavel Podvig is a research associate at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation. His expertise is in the Russian nuclear arsenal, U.S.-Russian relations, and nonproliferation; and he has a blog called "Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces." (graphic: Voice of America) (via Real Clear World)