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Thursday, December 20, 2007

You Can't Have Too Many Enemies

That seems to be the mantra in Washington these days, where the powers that be are doing their best to irritate the Russians. Apparently nostalgic for the Cold War, we are installing anti-ballistic missiles and X-band radar in Poland and the Czech Republic. Ostensibly this is to guard against nuclear-tipped madmen in Pakistan or the Middle East (or perhaps a frontal assault by Dr. Doom). But we're doing it in a way that sends the Russians -- always a paranoid bunch -- skidding down memory lane to Cold War Central.

You think I'm kidding? Vladimir Putin equates the current situation with the Cuban missile crisis that pushed the US and the Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear war in 1962.

"Analogous actions by the Soviet Union when it deployed rockets on Cuba provoked the Cuban missile crisis," the Russian president said after an EU-Russia summit in Portugal. "For us, technologically, the situation is very similar. On our borders such threats to our country are being created."

What is this new radar? It's made of up of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of transmitter/receiver modules. The linked system can scan for targets, keep a continuous track of dozens of them, and guide missiles. Perhaps most interestingly, all the power of the radar's TR modules can be focused to jam enemy radars in a narrow frequency band. So you can see how the paranoid Russians might think it could be used to jam their early warning radar system. We know we wouldn't do that. But THEY don't know we wouldn't do that.

So then the highest ranking Russian general, Chief of Staff Yuri Baluyevsky, has this say: "The firing of an anti-missile rocket from Poland could be seen by Russia's automated system as the launch of a ballistic missile, which could provoke an answering strike," Itar-Tass news agency quoted Baluyevsky.

And then the commander of Russia's strategic missile forces, General Nikolai Solovtsov, chimed in: "If the US shield is seen to threaten Russia's nuclear capability, I do not exclude ... the missile defence shield sites in Poland and the Czech Republic being chosen as targets for some of our intercontinental ballistic missiles."

IF -- and I say IF -- the missile shield is to protect against wayward missile strikes from the Middle East, then the obvious thing to do would be to offer to make Russia part of the program -- they could help pay for it with some of that oil money they're piling up. Instead, we antagonize them.

And that brings me back to my headline. I guess Washington is nostalgic for the Cold War, when we had enemies we could respect and understand.
The good news is it isn't affecting the red-hot Russian business climate (yet anyway)
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