World War II erupted from a German enclave sticking into Poland that was left over from World War I: World War III may start some day from a Russian enclave sticking into Poland that was left over from World War II.
Last Thursday, the Bush administration scored a welcome victory, less than a week after the Russian army took Washington by surprise, sending its main battle tanks rolling into the former Soviet republic of Georgia. The Polish government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk took a quick, hard look at the Russian army showing real teeth again and promptly dropped most of its objections to the United States building a ballistic missile defense base on its territory to guard against any ICBM nuclear attack from Iran.
The 10 Ground-Based Mid-course Interceptors to be deployed at the new base cannot possibly have any significant strategic effect against Russia’s mighty Strategic Missile Forces, which currently deploy around 4,700 nuclear warheads. That is especially the case as so many of the launching systems for the revived Russian strategic "triad" — its land-, sea- and air-launched ballistic missile systems — could not be touched by the Polish-based GBIs. ICBMs launched from nuclear submarines or supersonic cruise missiles fired from Tupolev Tu-160 “White Swan” — NATO designation Blackjack — Mach 2 bombers would be launched thousands of miles away from where the GBIs are to be deployed.
Also, the GBI interceptors are not being put in Poland to threaten Russia but as a matter of urgent national survival for the United States. If Iran gets its hand on ICBM technology from North Korea — or China, or Russia — could President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad or his successors be trusted not to fire such weapons at the United States or its allies? After all, they take their political analysis from the school of the vanished Twelfth Imam, not from the “rational” realists beloved of American political scientists and think tank thumb-suckers who quote the likes of Hans Morgenthau.
If any Iranian leader ever pushes that thermonuclear button and launches nuclear-armed ICBMs against the United States, the issue won’t be whether individual GBI interceptors deployed in Poland have a 100 percent, 70 percent or 49 percent chance of hitting their targets; the issue will be whether they are already deployed and in place so that there is at least a fighting chance 10 to 20 million Americans won’t be incinerated in thermonuclear fire.
But one thing can safely be said: If that base isn’t built and those interceptor missiles aren’t deployed, the chance of survival for the inhabitants of one or more major U.S. cities will be zero, zilch, nada — nothing at all.
You won’t hear that raw truth from the considered, dignified mouths of the great statesman Sen. Barack Obama or any of his “thoughtful” and “dignified”” liberal think tank advisers. But it’s true all the same.
However, the Russian government hasn’t been laid back about the prospect of the United States constructing that base in Poland to defend itself from the threat of nuclear incineration at Iranian hands: to the contrary, you’d think that those 10 defensive GBIs were city-smashers aimed at Moscow and St. Petersburg, from the rage they have generated in Moscow over the past two years.
Therefore, it should have come as no surprise that the Kremlin hit the roof last week after the Poles finally agreed to le the U.S. missile defense base be built on their territory.
Within 24 hours of that announcement, the deputy chief of the Russian General Staff, four-star Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn, hit back. On Friday, he told a Moscow press conference that Russia would respond to Poland’s decision by targeting Poland with its own missiles.
Gen. Nogovitsyn‘s threat, strictly speaking, wasn’t even a new one: Over the past year, Russian leaders from former President and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his successor Dmitry Medvedev down through the Kremlin‘s military and diplomatic hierarchy have been warning frankly that were prepared to openly deploy their own ballistic missiles in the Kaliningrad oblast (region) to specifically target Poland.
The Russians have even spelled out the kind of missiles they would use: They plan to deploy their modern Iskander — NATO designation SS-26 Stone — short-range, solid-fuel, quasi-ballistic missiles around Kaliningrad.
The Iskander doesn’t have a particularly long range, it but it flies fast, it can be launched without warning and it is exceptionally accurate. Russia has already supplied them to Syria and this has greatly alarmed Israeli military leaders, who fear the Iskander’s pinpoint accuracy could disrupt their army mobilization procedures in the event of a war with Syria.
Putting them in Kaliningrad, of all places, would also send a very ominous signal, not just to Poland, but all the NATO nations. For, like East Prussia, the independent city of Danzig — today Polish Gdansk — and the Polish Corridor in the two decades between World Wars I and II, Kaliningrad is a messy, potentially explosive geopolitical anomaly left over from the Cold War.
The region is in an integral part of the Russian Federation. But it is cut off from any land contact with the rest of Russia, and its land borders are with Lithuania and Poland, both pro-Western, traditionally fiercely anti-Russian former Soviet client states. Lithuania was forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union for half a century. Today, both Poland and Lithuania are member states of the European Union and the NATO alliance.
Kaliningrad City was, up to 1945, the traditionally German city of Koenigsberg and an ancient center of culture and learning. But in the years since the collapse of communism and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, it has become the Russian "Gibraltar" — the last outpost of Russian military and strategic power on the Baltic and a potential area from which Moscow could put pressure on Lithuania and Poland.
The ponderous Washington pundits who never took Russia seriously in the years it was being ignored and when its leaders were steadily building up resentment against the United States are now solemnly warning that we could be seeing the start of new Cold War. It hasn‘t dawned on them yet that we’ll be lucky if this new war stays cold.