Professor: U.S. missile defense shield in Romania ‘will have little effect on Iranian security’

May 27, 2016

TEHRAN - Professor Farhang Jahanpour is of the opinion that the U.S. missile defense shield in Romania will not pose threat to the Iranian security.

“In my view, it will have little effect on Iranian security,” says Jahanpour, a member of Kellogg College, University of Oxford.

In an interview with the Tehran Times, Jahanpour says, “Even in the past, Iran’s role in the defense shield was mainly used for propaganda purposes because Iran did not possess nuclear weapons or intercontinental ballistic missiles."

Following is the full text of the interview:

Q: What is the purpose of U.S.’s decision to establish the missile defense shield in Romania? Can we see this event as NATO’s expansion into the East?

A: Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the West has moved closer and closer to Russian borders. The former Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev has claimed that when he reached an agreement with the West to allow the dissolution of the Soviet Union and German unification, the West promised that NATO “would not expand into the East”. However, the West has rejected his claim.

In any case, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War provided a great opportunity for reconciliation in the European continent that was missed. For decades, the world had been divided between the two superpowers and their satellites, with thousands of nuclear weapons aimed at each other. Humanity was in great danger of annihilation as the result of a nuclear clash between those two blocs, as could be seen over the Cuban crisis.

With the end of the Cold War, the world breathed a sigh of relief and many people hoped that hostilities between the two blocs would end for good. The Warsaw Pact was dismantled, and indeed most former Soviet satellites became members of the European Union and even of NATO.

However, the West saw the collapse of the Soviet Union as a victory by the West and treated Russia, which had come to its knees facing severe economic and political problems, not as an equal but as a vanquished foe. Had Russia been incorporated into Europe, as many East European and Baltic countries were, the world could have experienced a long period of peace and stability with a big drop in military expenditure by both sides.

“The only way that the current situation can impact Iran is as the result of the hostility between Russia and the West, which will create a less stable situation in the region and the world.”

One can blame both sides for renewed hostilities. The West accuses Russia and particularly President Vladimir Putin of wishing to reinstate the former Soviet zone of influence, while Russia blames the West of expansionism and a desire to encircle Russia with NATO bases. The Russian involvement in Georgia to prevent it from joining NATO, the coup in Ukraine supported by the West, the annexation of Crimea by Russia, and Russian military involvement in the civil war in Syria have intensified hostility between the West and Russia.

In order to deter Russia from encroaching into her former satellites, the West has set up a chain of bases in those countries, and the missile defense shield is a part of those measures. Initially, the Americans maintained that the missile defense system was aimed at preventing Iranian nuclear weapons from reaching the West. Since signing the JCPOA agreement with Iran, the West cannot use that excuse any longer, and Russia sees the missile defense shield as a major threat that will undermine her deterrence.

Rightly or wrongly, many Russians believe that Russia is vulnerable to a sudden Western attack that could destroy most of Russian nuclear warheads. If the West also builds a missile defense shield against Russian retaliation, the nuclear deterrence, or the concept of MAD (mutual assured destruction), would lose its value and Russia would have no option but to surrender to Western demands. This may be a form of paranoia, but in politics perception plays a major role.

Recently, the United States switched on the $800 million missile shield ironically at a Soviet-era base in Romania, again saying that it was aimed at the so-called rogue states, but speaking to his top military officers, President Putin said: "This is not a defense system. This is part of U.S. nuclear strategic potential brought onto a periphery. In this case, Eastern Europe is such periphery." He went on to say: "Until now, those taking such decisions have lived in calm, fairly well-off and in safety. Now, as these elements of ballistic missile defense are deployed, we are forced to think how to neutralize emerging threats to the Russian Federation." All this sounds very ominous.

Q: Is there any substance to such fears?

A: There are certainly some hardliners in the United States and Europe who have not given up their dream of a unipolar world, with the United States as the only global hegemon. Some Western officials are talking of a possible clash with Russia.

This view is clearly not shared by many others who argue that Western wars during the past decade have been very costly, both in blood and treasure, and that America should not act as a world policeman. The debate between the hawks and doves is certainly continuing, and those involved in the Military Industrial Complex on both sides may be fanning the flames of a conflict. But most people are not interested in a major conflict with Russia, because it serves no real purpose and could be very costly for the whole world.

Earlier in May, two high-ranking U.S. generals made statements about the need "to deter Moscow" and build up military potential to that end. A senior British general, General Sir Richard Shirreff, who until recently was the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, has just published a book with the alarming title “2017 War with Russia”. Although the book is fictional, he argues that the West should fortify its defenses in order to deter a Russian invasion of the Baltic States.

Q: How will Russia react to the decision to install a ballistic missile defense system in Eastern Europe?

A: There are hardliners and moderates both in the West and Russia. Many Russians feel that their country cannot sustain a military and economic assault by the West, and the best option would be to reduce the tension and reach a compromise with the West. Some Russian generals have argued that Russia is not prepared to face a major war either at home or abroad.

On the other hand, there are those who believe that the West is pushing too hard against Russia with the aim of totally encircling her, and the pressure would continue unless Russia is prepared to confront the United States and raise the stakes for the West. A leading British investigative journalist, Alastair Crooke, in an article in Huffington Post on 16 May with the headline “Putin is Being Pushed to Abandon His Conciliatory Approach To the West and Prepare for War”, argued that some hardline “nationalists” in Moscow have accused President Putin of weakness towards the West and are calling for a more robust response.

Q: Are we witnessing a new Cold War?

A: Yes, sadly we see many signs of a return to the Cold War period. The rhetoric on both sides has become quite hostile and menacing, with many senior U.S. officials openly saying that they see Russia as the greatest threat to the United States. On the other hand, President Putin also accuses the West of aggressive behavior.

The hostility is not limited to rhetoric, but there are also many examples of a return to a confrontational relationship. The West has imposed economic sanctions on Russia that are hurting the Russian economy. There are many countries whose athletes have been accused of doping, but Russia has been singled out for condemnation and barred from taking part in international competitions until further notice. Even the Eurovision song contest, which is supposed to be a light-hearted musical show to bring the European countries together, has been politicized. In the last contest earlier this month, a mediocre song by the team from Ukraine about Stalin’s expulsion of the Tartars from Crimea was voted for as the winning song, mainly due to anti-Russian voting by some delegates.

In fact, the danger of the new Cold War is much greater than was the case with the old Cold War, because at that time there was some form of parity between the two sides, and neither side pushed openly for confrontation. Above all, each side knew the rules of the game and did not transgress them. Strangely enough, there was a great deal of dialog between the two sides, and each of them knew how far they could go before igniting a serious confrontation. However, now those rules are off the table and despite appearances there is little real contact and dialog between Russia and the West. Recently, former U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned that both sides would find themselves “very quickly in another Cold War build-up here that makes sense for neither side.”

All of this points to the seeming inevitability of future conflict. This is why it is essential that before the situation gets out of hand both sides should take a step back and should turn to cooperation instead of confrontation. Western sanctions are certainly hurting Russia. At the same time, the West will not be able to cope with the problems of terrorism and instability in the Middle East without Russian support. The two sides can gain more by cooperation rather than confrontation.

Q: What will be the impact of the defense shield on Iranian security?

A: In my view, it will have little effect on Iranian security. Even in the past, Iran’s role in the defense shield was mainly used for propaganda purposes because Iran did not possess nuclear weapons or intercontinental ballistic missiles. The only way that the current situation can impact Iran is as the result of the hostility between Russia and the West, which will create a less stable situation in the region and the world. It is in Iran’s best interests to remain impartial in this rivalry and maintain good relations with both sides.



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