Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Russia, Poland, and the increasingly dangerous world

It is undeniably true that President Obama inherited many messes from Dubya, both economic and foreign.

One of the worst of them is the Bush administration promise to deploy anti-missile defenses on Polish soil:

At a conference of world politicians yesterday, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslav Sikorski warned the United States not to abandon the Bush Administration’s pledge to place a missile base in the eastern European nation, saying Poland had taken “something of a political risk” in agreeing to it and “we hope we don’t regret our trust in the United States.”

The Obama Administration has been under increasing pressure to abandon the system, given the serious damage it has done to US-Russian relations and considering reports that the multi-billion dollar system probably wouldn’t work at any rate.

Yet perhaps the most telling aspect of the FM’s comments was that nowhere was Iran, the ostensible “threat” the defense shield was directed at, mentioned. Instead, Sikorski cited the threat of Russian medium range missiles. The United States had attempted to persuade Russia that the base was targeted at Iran, in spite of being far outside the maximum range of Iran’s best missiles. It seems Poland views it the same way Russia does: as a direct deployment against Russia near its western border.

Of course it doesn't help that the Assistant Executive Officer to the Air Force Chief of Staff wrote a paper last year suggesting that the USAF move F-16s from Italy to Poland:

An Air Force officer based at the Pentagon has suggested the United States and NATO would be best served by moving F-16s now stationed at Aviano Air Base, Italy, to Poland.

Lt. Col. Chris Sage, assistant executive officer to the Air Force Chief of Staff, delivered his opinion in a paper published in the spring edition of Air and Space Power Journal. In an interview last week, Sage said the paper was written as a project while he was attending the Naval War College more than a year ago. The journal picked it up and posted it on the Internet earlier this month.

A lack of training opportunities and other factors make Aviano a less-than-ideal location in some respects, said Sage, who added that he agrees with U.S. Air Forces in Europe’s stated goal of concentrating more efforts to the east and south.

"It is in the national interest of the United States to continue to transform USAFE by relocating U.S. F-16s currently in Italy to new bases in Poland," he writes in the opening paragraph of "Transforming United States Air Forces in Europe and Empowering Poland."

USAFE and Brig. Gen. Craig Franklin, commander of the 31st Fighter Wing at Aviano, noted that Sage’s proposal was an "academic paper," and declined to comment further.

Irony: nobody believes General Franklin, because this is exactly how political operatives leak trial balloons to allow for later deniability. But in point of fact this is exactly the kind of paper that Colonel Sage would have been assigned to write at the Naval War College, and almost certainly has pretty much nothing to do with even notional plans about basing combat aircraft in Poland.

In fact, had such an idea been in the process of being discussed, I can virtually guarantee you that it's the last topic Colonel Sage would have picked.

But try telling that to Russia and Poland....

F-16s in Poland are the equivalent of Soviet combat aircraft in Cuba.

Meanwhile, there is good news--if you have a very elastic definition of good. The Russian Navy is going to be reducing the size of the tactical nuclear warheads on the cruise missiles on its warships. The bad news is that this reduction in size means that the Russians will be more likely to use them:

MOSCOW - The role of tactical nuclear weapons in the Russian navy may grow, a news agency quoted a senior Russian admiral as saying Monday.

Vice Adm. Oleg Burtsev told the state-run RIA-Novosti that the increasing range and precision of tactical nuclear weapons makes them an important asset.

"Probably, tactical nuclear weapons will play a key role in the future," said Burtsev, the navy's deputy chief of staff.

He added that the navy may fit new, less powerful nuclear warheads to the existing types of cruise missiles.

"There is no longer any need to equip missiles with powerful nuclear warheads," Burtsev said. "We can install low-yield warheads on existing cruise missiles."

The world is going to become an increasing interesting and dangerous place over the next decade.

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