Russia announced a broad plan to rearm and modernize its army and navy on Tuesday.
While Russia and the U.S. have been taking some first steps toward improving relations under President Obama, the prospects of an expanding NATO and a possible U.S. missile defense system have the Russians on edge.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said his country would improve the combat readiness of its forces beginning two years from now — first and foremost its long-range nuclear weapons — adding that despite the economic crisis, Russia has the resources to modernize its military.
The “Proliferation Press” blog points to several varying media reactions to the announcment, concluding that the meaning of Russia’s decision will become more clear but that the U.S. should tread carefully:
The NYTimes portrays it as a mix of diplomatic posturing for Medvedev’s meeting with Obama and the response to Russian military weaknesses shown in the recent Georgia-Russian war. The Guardian heralds the new arms race, putting blame squarely on America’s maximalist foreign policy. And Canda.com views the announcement as geared more towards the Russian public.
In short, the move is not welcome news—but it’s not entirely unexpected. And its meaning will take form over this year. Medvedev has drawn various lines in the sand: moves towards having airbases in Cuba, setting up bases in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, helping rid of an American base in Kyrgyzstan, and now a rearmament announcement. Keep in mind, Russia has for years protested expansion of NATO in Eastern Europe–and drew a bloodly red line in Georgia.
And let’s not ignore another possible cause of this announcement: the economic crisis. Russia may be signaling that current economic woes will not change their strategic objectives.
But one thing is clear: The US-Russian relationship is entering a critical phase, and the Obama administration must tread carefully.
Welsh blogger Alan Davies argues that the move will provoke a response from the West and lead to further conflict:
This is in response to what is seen as NATO expansionism and also to a poor ground force performance in Georgia. Whatever the reason, it is potentially destabilising as there will no doubt be a counter response from the West. Then instead of focusing the power of East and West on addressing fundamentalism we will face a new arms race which will fail to address the greatest threat to the globe at the moment.
The “Totalitarianism Today” blog downplays the level of threat, giving several reasons why Russia might have made the decision to rearm:
Russian rearmament needn’t be perceived solely with the Cold War interpretive lens. In fact, there are many possible reasons for Russian rearmament which should be entertained in the current multipolar world, as Russia’s perception of security threats has expanded to include more than “capitalist encirclement”. A few considerations which might also have played into the decision to rearm:
> Rearmament has been traditionally used to deal with economic slumps by governments who subscribe to supply-side theories of economics. The US under Reagan and Bush is a classic example.
> A generalized declaration of rearmament provides Russia with leverage vis-a-vis the United States and other allies on smaller matters, like the question of Viktor Bout’s extradition and the issue of the Nabucco oil plans which challenge Russia’s own South Steam plans.
> Russia is working on establishing a career military which will make national service appealing and honorable to its citizens. Increasing military spending could be associated with such an endeavor, especially given the Russian forthrightness about modernizing its military.
> The Russian government seems to be attempting to forge a more cohesive, powerful national history narrative which minimizes the negative effects of historically powerful leaders like Stalin. Such an attempt is consistent with an effort to increase national identity and solidarity in a multipolar world.
> The EU’s recent actions undermine a Russian bid for great power status, so the Russian government feels the need to continuously reassert its relevance vis-a-vis European states and its neighbors.
> The Russian government is aware of American desire to build a stronger relationship, so it can afford to rearm without immediate economic or military consequences. The fear of a “slide into hostility” animates the Obama administration’s Russia policy.
The next few weeks will provide a richer context in which to understand the Russian decisions to rearm. In the meantime, everyone should sit back, take a few deep breaths.