The Obama administration made no attempt to offer Russia a deal to make concessions over the deployment of a missile defence system in Europe in exchange for Russia’s cooperation on the “Iran issue”. President Obama himself drew a line under the issue at a press conference held on Wednesday, following his meeting with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. What could this deal, or “trade-off”, have looked like? The media supposed that the United States would “forget” about deploying interceptor missiles in Eastern Europe on condition that Russia “formed a common front with the U.S.” in the negotiations on the Iranian nuclear and missile problem.
The proposal looked meaningless and crudely simplistic from the very start. Russia’s security interests call for a comprehensive discussion of a vast region comprising Iran, the Caspian, Central Asia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. In all these situations, many of which affect Moscow’s interests, Iran plays a key role. For the US, Russian support on the Iran issue is very important, because, as it loses leverage over the situation, America needs the support of a country that commands authority in the Middle East to preserve its levers of influence. At the same time, it hardly makes sense for Russia to give up its authority by directly supporting the US, for then Russia would risk losing much of its political clout built up in recent years in the relations with Middle East and Central Asian countries. Granted, these issues can and must be discussed, but, not in terms of “supporting” the US, but, in terms of a new American policy in the region.
The missile defence problem has nothing to do with Iran, but, it cannot be separated from Russia’s relations with NATO countries. It is impossible to pluck the issue of missile defence out of the whole range of security issues in Europe. The US promise not to deploy a missile defence system in Eastern Europe is not an adequate replacement of talks on the security system in Europe. At the end of the day, the possible deployment of American bases with strike weapons in the new NATO member countries is no less of a threat than the deployment of a missile defence system or the possible accession of Georgia and the Ukraine to NATO. Finally, the problem of missile defence is closely linked with the issue of preserving the nuclear and missile parity between the two countries, which has been the subject of a lively discussion in connection with reports about the US initiative on drastic cuts of nuclear arsenals. The agreement between Russia and the US on further nuclear arms cuts must include limitations on the development of missile defence systems, not only in Eastern Europe, but, throughout the world. Ideally, it should impose a total ban on the development of strategic missile defence systems and allow only the creation of theatre missile defence.
One should also bear in mind that in the current situation the “price” of the missile defence system as a bargaining chip has diminished significantly. In pre-crisis times, such expenditure for the US, though significant, was not unmanageable, and the prospects of creating a massive missile defence deployed in key points in the world looked quite realistic. But, tomorrow, it may very well happen that the US will have to scrap its plans of a missile defence system without any negotiations disguising the fact with fine words about “additional tests” and “development of a more sophisticated system”. The real reason would be simply that there will be no wherewithal to pay for such a huge project. That is a circumstance to be borne in mind too.
On balance, an Iran-missile defence deal plucks both problems out of the political and economic context without solving either. To repeat, the two issues can and must be discussed between Russia and the US, but, each in the framework of its range of problems. Iran, as part of the overall range of issues in the Middle East and Central Asia, and missile defence as part of the issues of European and world security. The current situation objectively favours an agreement between the two countries as both the Russian and American administrations have shown a readiness to negotiate, including on key issues.
5 March 2009
All too many Americans have only a cartoonish image of Iran. Iran is, not to put a too fine point on it, the largest single and most powerful state in the Middle East/Persian Gulf region. Therefore, its foreign policy often comes into conflict with that of the USA. Since the fall of communism in the USSR and Eastern Europe, certain Western forces looked about for a new “evil empire”. North Korea is too small. The PRC is too large. Iran is “just right” (shades of the Three Bears!). Just as ordinary life went on in the USSR; it does so in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
To make total sense of Mr Kramnik’s argument, one must understand that most educated Russians hold the view of the 19th century historian Sergei Solovyov, that is, that the world is made up of several interlocking and interdependent, yet, fully distinct, “civilisations”. For instance, there is a “Western” civilisation headed by the US and Western Europe, with its roots in Catholicism and Protestantism. “Orthodox” civilisation is focused on the main Orthodox nation-state, Russia. “Indian” civilisation is found mainly on the subcontinent (and some Southeast Asian areas as well); “East Asian” civilisation focuses on Japan, China, and Korea; and “Latin American” civilisation envelops the Spanish and Portuguese language areas in the Americas. Each of these civilisations have their own spiritual, human, and political values, and most of the problems of the last twenty years have come from the attempt of the Western bloc led by the USA to impose its values by force on the entire world.
There is one other major world civilisational area (to use the Russian academic term). That is, the Islamic civilisation. Today, there are two contenders for leadership of this bloc, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Iran is a de facto ally of Russia and the KSA is a de jure ally of the USA. We have to understand that just as we see different “cultures” in London, New York, and Paris, but, one can see their common roots in Catholic/Protestant Europe, in like fashion, although there are differences in Casablanca, Cairo, Riyadh, and Teheran, they are tied together by their roots in Islam. The question today is simple. Shall Iran become the leader of the Islamic world or shall Saudi Arabia? That is what lies behind the whole mess over Iran.
The conservative social and spiritual values of the Russian and Iranian leaderships are in sync. They are both in opposition to the liberal West. Do not forget that Muslims and Orthodox have lived together in peace in Russia for centuries. Russia does not fear Iran, and vice versa. Both see the other as different cultures, not to be interfered with. The USA, however, is miffed that Iran not only rejects Western liberalism, it also “exports” its Islamic view of the world to other Islamic societies (How dare they! Only America has the “right” to “export” its values and notions!). Therefore, any American attempt to get Russian approval for its plans to “put Iran in its place” is doomed to failure. The social and political visions of Orthodoxy and Islam are congruent on virtually all points, and both are in opposition to liberal radical ideas from Western sources. So, this makes the Islamic and Orthodox civilisations “natural allies” against the West.
Obama’s initiative is doomed to failure. However, Russia would agree to act as an “honest broker” between Iran and the USA. God willing, the USA shall accept such assistance. Shall Americans give up their notion of exporting “democracy” to the world? One would hope so…
Personal PS from the editor:
I have been posting sparsely lately because of health problems. However, I have the good habit of listening to my doctor; so, I am resting a bit and getting myself back into shape. Thank God, it did not result in something serious; I can put things right with rest, exercise, and “taking my medicine”. Gotta run… well, walk, actually… I’ve been skimping on the exercise, it’s one of the reasons I got into the fix that I’m in. Do listen to your doctors… they are trying to help you, after all. Thanks, Dr Karen! Now… better put on my Nikes and get out there! See ya later!