Wednesday was marked by a series of events related to Russia's strategy to counter U.S. plans for ballistic missile defense (BMD) in Europe. First, the chief of staff of the Russian armed forces, Nikolai Makarov, met in Moscow with his German counterpart, Volker Wieker. The second event was a joint declaration issued by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a grouping dominated by Russia and China that includes several Central Asian states. The declaration stated that the bloc is opposed to any Western plans for ballistic missile defense that could "jeopardize international stability." The third event was the announcement that the Czech Republic has pulled out of the BMD concept. Taken together, these events point to a trend that could significantly change the trajectory of security institutions in Europe and beyond. The BMD system is one that the United States has supported for several years. Under the plan, several military assets — including X-Band radars, ground-based SM-3 interceptors and early warning centers — would be installed across Central European countries like Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania and possibly others, beginning in 2015. The official purpose of this BMD system is to counter the long-range missile capabilities of rogue powers like Iran. But the real purpose is quite different. The United States aims to use BMD to expand its military presence in the countries that form the so-called Intermarium
, which has become the new area of contention between the United States and Russia
. Politically, such assets would not be significant so much for their technical and military capabilities as for the associated presence of U.S. boots on the ground and the security guarantees that these entail — and which these countries have expressed a clear desire for in the face of a resurgent Russia. With the United States still overwhelmingly involved in the Middle East and Russia's regional influence growing, Moscow knows that the time is now to sow seeds of division in Europe and strengthen its position.
Of course, such a U.S.-dominated BMD system is an unsettling prospect to Russia. Moscow, knowing a direct military confrontation is out of the question, has employed a multi-pronged strategy to counter U.S. plans for BMD. Russia has proposed replacing those plans with a scheme that invites more players to the table — including NATO and, of course, Russia — in order to dilute U.S. decision-making. Russia has also been working to advocate new security institutions with European powers. These include the proposed European Security Treaty and the EU-Russia Political and Security Committee. These frameworks would put Russia at the decision-making table on key European political and security issues while — and this is especially central to the latter proposal — keeping the United States away. From the Russian perspective, the purpose of such new institutions would be to weaken the current security arrangements of Europe — in other words, NATO, which is dominated by the United States — by exacerbating internal tensions and creating doubt within Europe about the reliability of such a security institution. Key to this strategy is Russia's strengthening its relationship with major Western European countries, especially Germany, that are less wary of a resurgent Russia, more open to doing business with Moscow, and share Russia's skepticism toward U.S. intentions. Russia wants to spread doubt in Central Europe, where countries are both the most worried about Russian resurgence and the most committed to NATO, over whether the more established NATO members are committed to their security. Also, with the United States still overwhelmingly involved in the Middle East and Russia's regional influence growing, Moscow knows that the time is now to sow seeds of division in Europe and strengthen its position. And with the Czech Republic choosing to opt out of the current plans for the BMD system, at a time when Russia and Germany are increasing their pace of consultation and cooperation via meetings and business deals, the strategy appears to be working. Meanwhile, the SCO declaration against stability-jeopardizing missile defense plans, a clear reference to the U.S. BMD system, demonstrates Russia's ability to rally the support of countries outside of the region behind its cause. That China, another rising power with a similar interest in limiting U.S. engagement in its sphere of influence, supported this declaration demonstrates Russia's ability to exert global pull to counter U.S. strategic designs. BMD gives Russia the perfect opportunity to use the SCO as a vehicle to counter NATO in certain respects. However, this does not mean that Russia has accomplished all its goals in its tug-of-war over security issues with the United States. A meeting is just a meeting, a declaration is just a declaration, and the Czech move can still be reversed. BMD plans are not set to be really in place until the middle of this decade and the architecture is increasingly mobile and flexible. But while the issue is far from settled from the Russian point of view, Moscow can take pleasure in the fact that, at least as of Wednesday, its complex and multifaceted strategy to counter BMD is bearing fruit.