President Medvedev's stern warning to the United States and NATO on the eve of parliamentary elections seems to be directed at domestic audiences, to rally nationalist votes. However, if his intension was to influence U.S. or NATO policies on missile defense, it most likely misfired. Obama is in no position to yield to the Kremlin's demands, and the only thing that Medvedev has achieved with this outburst is to supply ammunition for the White House critics who keep crying foul of the 'reset' policy. Additionally, Medvedev's threat to quit START sounds pretty irrational since this treaty was praised by Moscow itself as one of its most successful diplomatic efforts in recent years.
This is not to say that U.S. missile defense policy is justified. Russia has many valid reasons to complain, but if it wants its voice to be heard, it should use a different approach. Issuing threats and saber rattling did not work even in the Soviet era, and it definitely will not work now. One should add that Moscow's proposal for 'sectoral' defense responsibilities is not very serious, either. Justifiably, NATO says that it cannot delegate its members' defense to a third party.
However, the Kremlin's strong card is its offer to the West to develop and deploy a joint missile defense system. This offer has fundamental meaning since it proves that Russia is absolutely serious about its wish to be part of the global security infrastructure.
Moscow could use more 'soft power' to present its case to U.S. government and public by tirelessly reminding the public of the messages sent by the last three Republican U.S. presidents. Twenty-five years ago, in 1986, none other than Ronald Reagan proposed, in his famous letter to Mikhail Gorbachev, sharing ''the benefits'' of the space defense system with the Soviet Union, which at that time had a missile defense system - an equivalent of the current version. In 1992 President George Bush declared that America is ready to build a joint security system with Russia from Vancouver to Vladivostok. Ten years later, on June 13, 2002 his son declared the abrogation of the 1972 ABM Treaty, but stated that he and President Vladimir Putin had agreed that Russia and the United States would look for ways to cooperate on missile defense, including expanding military exercises, sharing early-warning data, and exploring potential joint research and development of missile defense technologies. He further stated that the United States and Russia had worked hard to overcome the legacy of the Cold War and to dismantle its structures, and that the two countries were on the road to building a new relationship based on common interests and, increasingly, on common values.
It looks like the present Republican leadership, as well as some Democrats, prefer to forget these statements. When Russia proposes something along the same lines, these proposals are largely ignored or flatly turned down. To sweeten the bitter pill, the West is offering plenty of fine words about its strong desire for cooperation. However, there is little or no substance to this language, and Moscow suspects, perhaps quite rightly, that Washington wants to take Russia for a ride again, like it did with NATO expansion, Kosovo, Libya, etc.
To sum up, 20 years after the collapse of communism there is little to show for progress in doing away with Cold War mentality. As far as defense issues are concerned, Moscow is clearly less to blame for this sad state of affairs than Washington and Brussels.
With no offense intended to any of the 28 NATO member states, it is easy to see that of all them the United States alone contributes technologically and financially to the development of a modern missile defense system. On the other hand, Russia does have both the intellectual capabilities and the cash to join the United States in this effort.
Taking into account the United States' astronomical $15 trillion national debt and the colossal economic and financial mess in Europe, it looks like without Russia's help America will have no alternative but to keep digging its own financial grave by borrowing more from communist China in order to build a serious missile defense system. Thus the nearsighted geopolitics promoted by the anti-Russia lobby in Washington is damaging to U.S. security interests. It should be reconsidered before it is too late.
Edward Lozansky is president of American University in Moscow and Professor of the Department of World Politics at the Moscow State University.