The US has activated Aegis Ashore, a NATO missile shield in Romania, and the Russians are up in arms. I don’t mean this as a figure of speech: Putin and his spokesmen are incandescent, frothing at the mouth and dropping sinister hints about deploying nuclear weapons in Kaliningad, née Königsberg, the part of East Prussia the Soviets claimed as their own.
It’s not immediately obvious what their problem is. Aegis Ashore is a sophisticated defence system of radars, communication devices and surface-to-air missiles designed to intercept and destroy incoming nuclear missiles before re-entry.
Officially its purpose is to protect Europe from missiles fired by rogue states, such as Iran. Unless Putin sees Russia as one such, what’s his problem?
Let’s put it in the context of my quiet residential neighbourhood. Suppose my next-door neighbour, worried about the spate of burglaries in the area, had razor wire put on top of his fence. I might wince at the unsightliness of it, but otherwise I’d have no valid objections – after all, I’m not planning to break into his house, so his prudence, even if I regard it as paranoid, is really none of my concern.
Now if I were in fact contemplating a career switch into burglary, then I’d feel aggrieved. What am I supposed to do, get cut to pieces climbing his fence? Some people simply have no regard for good neighbourly relations.
Even assuming that Aegis is designed to protect Europe against not only Iranian but also Russian missiles (some experts doubt it’s capable of the latter), Russia should only feel threatened if she intends to launch such missiles. If Putin and his kleptofascist KGB junta have no such intentions, rather than protesting they should be rubbing their hands with glee over NATO wasting all that money (about £1 billion).
Of course Aegis may have a less benign purpose, that of protecting NATO against Russia’s retaliation following a NATO first strike with nuclear weapons. Does Putin seriously think this is on the cards? If so, he’s a madman and his foreign-policy advisers are mountebanks.
Yet here he is, talking about “how to neutralise emerging threats to the Russian Federation”, with his spokesman Peskov reiterating the same theme (now there’s a surprise): “Without doubt the deployment of [Aegis] really is a threat to the security of the Russian Federation”.
It was a Russian Foreign Ministry official who inadvertently put his finger right on it: “It is part of the military and political containment of Russia.” It probably is just that.
But a country or a military alliance would only be out to contain a potential aggressor, not a nice country peacefully going about her business. The doctrine of ‘containment’ was first formulated by the US strategist George Kennan in 1947, when the Soviet Iron Curtain had come clanking down, and every word in the Soviet press was a sabre rattling with deafening noise.
“The main element of any United States policy toward the Soviet Union,” Kennan wrote, “must be that of a long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies.” This, Kennan predicted, would “promote tendencies which must eventually find their outlet in either the break-up or the gradual mellowing of Soviet power.”
Well, Soviet power might have broken up, but it has come back as post-Soviet power wielded by history’s most murderous organisation fronted by Col. Putin. Hence the purely defensive doctrine of containment is back on the agenda.
My neighbour isn’t going to leave his doors and windows open and put up a ‘Burglars Are Welcome’ sign. If he’s worried about a break-in, he’s going to put up razor wire instead or perhaps, in a more sophisticated mood, have an up-to-date alarm system installed.
That’s exactly what Aegis Ashore is, an alarm system linked to law enforcement designed to inform about burglaries and stop them in their tracks. Only criminals would take offence at it, and I’m happy Putin has publicly identified himself as one. On, regrettably, a vastly greater scale.