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  • U.S.–Russia: A Stress Test over Afghanistan

    Russia is trying to exploit U.S. vulnerability in Afghanistan by squeezing concessions on European missile defense. This is a disturbing development, potentially threatening security of the U.S. logistical operations.

    The campaign of anti-Americanism led by Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s Ambassador to NATO, culminated in his remarks before the Duma that Russia may link its opposition to the NATO missile defense in Europe to the future of the NATO supply line to Afghanistan. This complex logistics operation, known as the Northern Distribution Network (NDN), is responsible for 40 percent of NATO supplies, while 50 percent goes through Pakistan.

    However, the land routes via Pakistan are currently suspended due to the November 26 NATO attacks on a Pakistani border post. The route remains dangerous, as the supply vehicles are attacked and the road is regularly sabotaged.

    The NDN is more crucial now than ever for two reasons. First is the fraying relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan, especially in light of the recent NATO operation that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers and unanswered questions about Osama bin Laden’s long sojourn in Abbotabad, the Pakistani garrison city a two-hour drive from the capital city, Islamabad.

    The second reason the NDN is crucial is the current Administration’s plan for withdrawal from Afghanistan. The NDN is soon to become a two-way street. With soldiers returning home, the equipment will need to go with them. Capture of NATO military supplies by the Taliban is not an option. The U.S. and NATO are busy negotiating their way out and have started stockpiling equipment for removal in northern Afghanistan, to be shipped further west.

    Russia’s attempt to link the NDN to missile defense demonstrates the failure of the Obama Administration’s “reset” policy. The reset had two main functions: sweeping disagreements under the rug and showering the Kremlin with concessions.

    Russia has argued for years that NATO’s proposed missile defense system is somehow damaging to its security interests by directly threatening Russia’s nuclear deterrent force—in case it launches a nuclear strike against the U.S. This issue is brought to the forefront, repeatedly, through periodic bouts of hysteria emanating from Moscow.

    NATO officials maintain that the proposed defense system is intended to protect Europe from a possible limited missile strike from the Middle East—specifically, Iran. Rogozin’s comments mark the first time a senior Kremlin official has suggested limiting Russian cooperation with NATO regarding Afghanistan as a retaliatory measure against the U.S. position on missile defense.

    In these difficult times for the U.S. and its allies, a senior Russian official decided to speak brashly—without considering the consequences for his country. It is an open question whether this was a trial balloon approved on the highest level, or Rogozin simply ad-libbing.

    While the Obama Administration works hard to provide Russia with coveted membership in the World Trade Organization, some Russian policymakers are dreaming up new ways to undermine U.S. foreign policy, hoping that a payback for the Soviet debacle in Afghanistan is around the corner.

    Rogozin forgets that if the U.S. contingent in Afghanistan is trapped or leaves in haste, the Russian troops may need to fight the Taliban on the Tajik border. This will be a disaster for a country that was defeated in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Russia does not have the resources, personnel, or credible allies for such an open-ended engagement.

    The Obama Administration must recognize that the reset has reached its limits. The White House should clarify to the Putin–Medvedev administration that Rogozin is out of line and that a mutually beneficial relationship between the U.S. and Russia is contingent on full cooperation with NATO in Afghanistan.

    Posted in Security [slideshow_deploy]

    5 Responses to U.S.–Russia: A Stress Test over Afghanistan

    1. This is good news! Anything which proves an obstacle to NATO operations in Afghanistan is good for America and NATO. Historically, Afghanistan has been a graveyard for empires — the British, Russians and Americans have spilled and shed much blood and treasure to tame an area which is not worth the investment it has swallowed. In retrospect, Russia's efforts to modernize and secularize Afghanistan remarkably resemble the futile and expensive ideological masturbation we are witnessing today.
      The time for troops in Afghanistan was before the bombing campaign — when the troops could serve as an anvil against which our air forces hammered the Taliban and al-Qaida. Once those Taliban and al-Qaida forces fled to the border regions with Pakistan, ground troops were too little, too late. Why is that so difficult for the pro-intervention civilian advisors to understand?

    2. The pipe dream of a Strategic Missile Umbrella (a/k/a SDI) is a welfare system for the armaments industry. This country has spent billions on researching such a system although nothing has been achieved. At the same time, conventional delivery methods — commercial shipping, for example — are more realistic conveyances for nuclear weapons by terrorist regimes.
      All nuclear weapons materials which are exploded will leave trace substances which will allow identification of the producing country. The source of an offensive nuclear explosion will face massive retaliation; it is therefore unlikely that any nation-state will commit suicide by allowing its weapons to be used in that manner.

    3. Iran is not likely to prove a nuclear threat to the security of the United States. While an Arab-Iranian Mideast nuclear arms race is to be avoided, a US-Iran or NATO-Iran war is not justified by that goal. With nuclear weapons, Iran will successfully deter US or Israeli intervention. That is certainly Iran's objective. Nuclear weapons are not useful in the scope of any other likely conflict. Use of these weapons against Arab states or Israel would kill many Muslims, destroy many Muslim holy sites, and certainly invite a nuclear retaliatory strike which might well prove the end of Persian Civilization.
      So, let us all take a deep breath and relax. No need to get our panties in a twist.

    4. unicorn says:

      "Rogozin forgets that if the U.S. contingent in Afghanistan is trapped or leaves in haste, the Russian troops may need to fight the Taliban on the Tajik border. This will be a disaster for a country that was defeated in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Russia does not have the resources, personnel, or credible allies for such an open-ended engagement."

      That is exactly the reason why they are getting close to the Pakistanis.USA time is still left to wake up before it's too late.

    5. clint says:

      Heritage said in a previous post that they do not support the EPAA missile defense plan of Obama. So why not advocate for removing the EPAA plan?? I don't get the logic — does HERITAGE have an overarching vision of what they would like to see as regards missile defense? Does this vision include the Aegis/EPAA that you folks have critiszied before?

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