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Washington's moment of truth
18/06/07
MOSCOW. (Military commentator Andrei Vasilyev for RIA Novosti) -

The United States has a lot on its plate. It has to come up with a position on the
statement issued by the North Atlantic Council after its meeting in Brussels, negotiations in Vienna on the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), and Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko's announcement of his country's intention to join NATO.

Will the U.S. stance include a commitment to European security?

Defense and security issues are among the few in the system of international
relations that hold out the promise of learning the truth about the parties'
real goals and intentions. It is extremely difficult to attain this moment
of truth, because real interests are the most tightly guarded secret in
politics. You can speculate or guess, but only very rarely can you find out
the facts.

For example, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute has
calculated that the U.S. defense budget reached an astronomical $528 billion
in the past few years. Washington and its NATO allies, which account for 66%
of the world's defense spending (Russia's share is 3%), do not believe this
amounts to a resumption of the arms race. They explain their growing defense
allocations by pointing out the "fight for democracy" in Iraq, the
peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan, and other "peace" programs.

One can talk about the "militarization of the U.S. administration's
mentality," but Washington will never admit that NATO's eastward expansion
threatens Russia's security and is disrupting the alignment of forces in
Europe. This is part of American pragmatism, which ignores the national
interests of other countries as insubstantial and unimportant.

Russian officials have more than once reminded the United States and NATO
about their commitment not to expand the bloc, but to no avail. Therefore,
when President Vladimir Putin said he considered the CFE treaty obsolete and
favored a moratorium on it, a true strategic partner would have accepted his
words as a logical reaction to its actions, but not Washington.

The United States believes Moscow must withdraw its troops from the
self-proclaimed republic of Abkhazia and Moldova before the West ratifies
the CFE treaty.

Daniel Fried, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian
affairs, made it clear in Vienna that Russia had met the requirements of the
United States in Georgia, a country on Russia's southern border, but had not
complied with its wishes in Transdnestr.

"They're almost there with respect to Georgia (but) with respect to
Transdnestr - no, I'm afraid they're not there," Fried said. "Well, if it is
a peacekeeping function, maybe we ought to consider how a modest
peacekeeping function could be properly internationalized," he said,
apparently referring to American involvement.

Washington's growing claims to a more active presence in Europe jeopardize
the CFE treaty by violating its fundamental principles of maintaining a safe
military balance and imposing limits on the amount of conventional military
equipment in the area extending from the Atlantic to the Urals. Thanks to
the CFE treaty, the number of troops in the area has been cut by 700,000, to
3 million servicemen.

How will the proportion change if Ukraine joins NATO? And what should Russia
do about the U.S. plan to deploy elements of an anti-ballistic missile (ABM)
defense system near its borders?

Boris Gryzlov, speaker of the Russian parliament's lower house, said: "The
intention to expand NATO and build up its armaments near the Russian borders
is unjustified and contradicts the spirit of partnership." He added that
Russia would cut its conventional forces in Europe only if NATO acted
likewise.

In effect, solving the CFE and ABM problems depends on the United States.
The other NATO members know very well that the Iranian and North Korean
missile threats are hypothetical, as Chris Prebensen, secretary general of
the Norwegian Atlantic Committee, recently acknowledged in an interview he
granted to the Ukrainian newspaper Den.

Prebensen said the Norwegian government viewed the American plans to create
an anti-missile shield in Europe as damaging to the principle of a strategic
balance, since such systems would spur an arms race, which is a bad idea.

There are even harsher opinions of the matter. On June 6, The Financial
Times published a letter from Robert Skidelsky of Britain's House of Lords,
who speculates that the [U.S.] anti-missile program is aimed at Russia and
that the purpose of this (...) strategy is to neutralize Russia's nuclear
capability.

He writes: "What may have started out as President Reagan's bluff to force
the Soviet Union into arms control agreements has evolved into the doctrine
of American military unilateralism. If this is the game, the Russian
response is understandable. Russia is playing the only card it has."

Therefore, Putin's proposal that Russia and America use the Gabala radar
station in Azerbaijan as an alternative to the U.S. plans to base the system
in Poland and the Czech Republic could be a solution for those who are
against starting a new cold war.

It could be also a chance for Europeans to check on the purity of
Washington's intentions. Does it really intend to protect Europe from
Iranian or North Korean missiles, or does it simply want to strengthen its
presence in Europe?

Nobody expected that question to be answered at the recent meeting of the
North Atlantic Council. According to a source in NATO headquarters in
Brussels cited by Russian news agency Itar-Tass, Russia and the United
States should first tackle the issue bilaterally.

There may be quite a few technical problems involved, but the political
difficulties engendered by Washington's desire to create a unipolar world
are much more dangerous. They could prevent the two sides from reaching an
equitable agreement, and Russia will neither accept anything less nor agree
to play the part of Europe's "poor relation."

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not
necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.