At Large

Anti-Missile Chess

Dividing Europe in order to bully its neighbors suits Russia just fine.

By 4.16.07

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In an audacious example of fallacious argumentation, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov's op-ed in London's Financial Times last Wednesday kicked off a public campaign against the American plan to deploy an anti-missile capability in Poland and the Czech Republic. Lavrov demonstrated that Russia is once again seeking to exert power over its Eastern Europe neighbors and influence U.S. allies in Western Europe.

Lavrov's overriding theme is set forth in the line, "it is unacceptable for anyone to use the continent [Europe] as their own strategic territory." He goes on to define the American plan as a "unilateral anti-missile project [that] would fundamentally alter the continent's geo-strategic landscape."

This is pure nonsense -- a transparent effort to shift ground in the debate from the rather simple goal of establishing a minimal defensive capability against Iranian missiles currently under development (see "Iranian Intentions").

The Russian foreign minister next held out the "legitimacy" of Russian fears of future deployment of even larger, more advanced American anti-missile weaponry. This from the nation that held the world hostage to its hegemonic goals for so many decades during the Cold War.

According to Lavrov, the Russian answer to the problem (read: straw man) Moscow has constructed is discussion within the Russia-NATO Council in which "public opinion" (his term) will be taken into full account. In other words, Lavrov wants the matter opened up to a broad propaganda campaign that Moscow can use to obfuscate the issue.

The next clever, but nonetheless fallacious, argument set forth by Moscow's chief spin-meister is to suggest "there is no sign of real threats at the moment." Note the phrase "at the moment." It is then suggested this matter might evolve into a "self-fulfilling prophecy." Many will recognize this line as directly from the old Cominform playbook of non-sequitur argumentation and debate. One would have thought that from a nation of all those great chess players he could have come up with something better.

The final bit of fantasy game playing is the warning that "European politics will go in reverse ..." thus drawing "new dividing lines...in Europe." The clear threat is that this matter will be expanded once again by Russia into an argument about the integral danger to Europe of the expansion of NATO.

In strategic terms it is interesting that the Kremlin has made such a major issue of American presence in these two Eastern European nations. It is impossible not to see this action as nothing less than an attempt to bully Poland and the Czech Republic in a reminder of the days when they were Soviet vassals.

Cloaking the Russian political position as part of a broad European debate is not simply disingenuous: It is an attempt to reestablish Russia as a dominant power in world strategic affairs. This is the larger issue involved. Indicatively, Sergei Lavrov repeatedly refers to Russia in equal terms to the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

While perhaps more in a sense of hope than reality, such repeated references seeking to suggest a balance of interests between a national entity and a multinational instrument such as the E.U. is a cunning use of semantics as a propaganda tool. This linguistic manipulation is a favored Kremlin tool for both foreign and domestic consumption. It's important for Vladimir Putin's concept of Russian democracy and his own political dominance to have a populace that sees itself as equal in all aspects to other societies -- especially Western Europe -- no matter the truth.

In attempting to keep the natives from becoming too restless, the current Kremlin leadership has effectively sought to return government back to strong central control by playing up the law and order aspect of the Soviet-style reformation.

With the same carefully mangled logic, Moscow has attempted to imply to both foreign and domestic audiences that the United States is aggressively seeking to overcome Russia's "defensive" offense system. Turning Russia's insecurity and sense of inadequacy into a positive weapon is an elegant strategic ploy. Washington must remain equally aggressive in its counter. Your move!

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About the Author
George H. Wittman writes a weekly column on international affairs for The American Spectator online. He was the founding chairman of the National Institute for Public Policy.