bedeckt München 22°

Munich Security Conference:An Unfriendly Signal

In a parallel development, certain Nato states are pursuing a policy not attuned to that of the alliance and not in conformity to the agreed principles of cooperation with Russia. In particular, the intention of the United States to install antiballistic missile defense bases in Eastern Europe is baffling. The Americans assure us that these elements of the antiballistic missile defense system will only assume certain defense tasks from their European allies.

This raises a range of questions for which there are no answers. It is not entirely clear what danger could be warded off by an antiballistic missile defense base in Poland. Irrespective of the fact that missile technology has been proliferating internationally at an increasing rate, only a small circle of countries will possess long-range missiles with which it would be possible to harm European nations, much less the United States, in any foreseeable future.

Symbolic significance

Only a few Nato countries (France and Great Britain), as well as Russia and China, possess a correspondingly adequate missile potential. Given today's relationship among Europe, the United States, and Russia, reciprocal missile attacks are hard to imagine. One theory alleges that the North Korean missile tests lent stimulus to the planning of a European component of a missile defense system. This theory, however, falls apart upon taking a single glance at the globe.

The stationing of an American missile defense base in Europe has not only military importance but symbolic significance as well.

Fifteen years after the end of the cold war, conditions are being created once again in which the European continent cannot get by without America's protection - and only with a boosted American military presence. As such, the European Union's endeavors to create its own military structures may be successful only under American supervision.

An American missile defense base near the Russian border is an unfriendly signal. It burdens relations between Russia and the United States, Russia and the Nato states, and Russia and Poland (as well as any other country following its example). A further proliferation of the American missile defense system is being visibly carried out in Europe. This does not exclude its exportation to other world regions such as the Asia-Pacific, where increased missile defense activity can be observed.

All this forces us to employ countermeasures - both cheaper and asymmetrical. Needless to say, the structure of our relations with the alliance must be reconsidered. Nonetheless, we are willing to conduct a constructive dialogue among equals.

The accession process of new members to the alliance is not only leading to the expansion of its borders but also to a widening of its spheres of interest. The North Atlantic alliance has already treaded beyond its traditional sphere of duty. I am profoundly convinced that the intensive talks aimed at the accession of both Georgia and Ukraine to Nato will neither increase regional nor Russian security. In our assessment of the possible consequences of Georgia's admittance to Nato, we recognize parallels in the less-than-encouraging experiences of previous waves of enlargement. Estonia and Latvia serve here as exemplary precedents.

Security interests of all sides have to be taken into account

Before the accession of these countries, our Nato partners assured us that their membership would ''accelerate democratization in these nations,'' advance the process of normalization regarding their relations to Russia, and alleviate persisting fears of their mighty neighbor.

But everything occurred in an exactly opposite way. Even the ''democratization'' within these Baltic states has assumed a distorted character. Through slogans and actions, the reputation of Red Army soldiers, who saved the world from the ''brown plague,'' is being reviled. Absurdly, fascist and nationalist ideas are being propagated, and the Russian-speaking - particularly the ethnic Russian - population discriminated against. In regards to this question, the political blindness of the alliance arouses, to put it mildly, incomprehension on our part.

To make things plain: The Russian side greatly appreciates the work that has been jointly achieved. We genuinely hope that our concerns will be resolved in the near future. However, this is only possible in a process of continuing negotiations - and when the security interests of all sides are taken into account.

Sergei Ivanov is minister of defense of the Russian Federation.

(Süddeutsche Zeitung, 8.2.2007, in cooperation with American Academy Berlin)