Blaze and Symmetry (2008)

President Putin has hinted at an ‘asymmetrical’ response if the USA stations part of its Ballistic Missile Defence Network in Czechoslovakia and Poland. What he has in mind may be what western newspapers tend to call the ‘unpredictability’ of the Russian Bear. Unpredictability can be a good ruse in the face of a challenge that is relentlessly predictable. I used to use it against my sister.

The defence network is intended to intercept and knock out any missiles targeted at the US by states we normally call “rogue” : Iran and North Korea. Tracking radar in one place notifies long range interceptors in another that a missile is on its way. They lock onto it and “kill” it, without detonating other devices.

Given the targets, it may seem surprising that 21 of the interceptors are based in Alaska, as is one of the fixed radar sites. Other mobile installations are on board US cruiser ships. On 6 February 2007 the first successful THADD was carried out, which decodes as a Terminal High Altitude Area Defence. Six more have taken place since then including, on 21 March 2007, the first using sea-based radar and Aegis Ballistic Missile Defence Ships.

53% of Poles are against siting Son of Star Wars on their territory. Czechoslovakia also needed courting by the US. The UK has meanwhile been lobbying to add an interceptor to its tracking radar in Fylingdales. The US has said it hopes Fylingdales will be ‘fully integrated into the East European system” by 2012. “Go home and sit down”, as the Defence Ministry said to Elsie Inglis when she wanted to join the war effort in France.

Eastern Europe has had a charm for the western strategists since 1999. Twelve days after Hungary and its immediate neighbours joined NATO they were involved in the bombing of Belgrade on 24 March. The message was not lost on Russian audiences. Grigory Yavlinsky, the leader of the Russian reformist party “Yabloko” said: “one moment we were told NATO was all about partnerships and fluffy frocks, and the next minute we saw Slavs with faces like ours running from their homes in tears”.

Russia and the USA agreed in May 2002 that central asia was an area of common interest for them both, where they were willing to cooperate ‘to achieve regional stability and security’. Since then there has been an unholy race for influence between them, with setbacks for both. At last count the USA was pulling ahead. NATO had included the five central asian states in its Partnerships for Peace Programme, and was sounding out their views on regional security in the Balkans and the Caucasus.

We are told that the USA feels very insecure. We have seen the blaze in Iraq and Afghanistan. Russia is feeling the symmetry on its borders. When Belarus President Lukashenko said he would carry on for a fourth term, despite the fatigue of office, the Belarus press said: “you’re not the only one who’s tired, Vova”.