The shield and the sword

Russia’s deputy prime minister Sergei Ivanov said last week that «a more effective sword can be found for every shield.» His comment concerned US plans to build an anti-missile defense system also known as the «Star Wars» program. It’s the revival of the old Ronald Reagan ambition to use ground- and space-based systems to protect the US against attacks by strategic nuclear ballistic missiles, thus giving America a nuclear advantage. The Bush administration has already put $100 billion into the project that has divided Europe after US plans to install radar bases in the Czech Republic and interceptor missiles in Poland. Ivanov’s confidence was soon vindicated when Russia announced it had successfully tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile. The RS-24 missile was fired from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome before hitting targets at the Kura test site on the Kamchatka peninsula north of Japan. Fired from Kamchatka, the missiles could reach as far as Seattle, Los Angeles or Houston. The RS-24 carries multiple independent warheads that are virtually impossible to intercept. Washington claims that the shield is designed to defend against renegade states such as Iran and North Korea. But why would Washington persist with a controversial plan that clearly cannot neutralize the Russian arsenal? Apart from the military advantages (the bases in Central Europe will allow Washington to spy across Russian air space as far as the Urals), there are also political reasons: It’s the continuation of Donald Rumsfeld’s idea of splitting Europe into old and new and dragging the continent into a new Cold War-style alliance against Russia. Another instance of collateral damage is the collapse of non-proliferation treaties, particularly after the US withdrew from the ABM Treaty in 2002. Two decades after the end of the Cold War, the demand for disarmament remains strong.