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William Safire
The New York Times

China and Russia will adjust to American missile defense

International Herald Tribune, January 30, 2001

DAVOS, Switzerland Colin Powell's State Department, nibbling its nails about anti-globalist protests, warned Americans about traveling to the World Economic Forum in dangerous Davos, where the elite meet to not compete. But intrepid opinion mongers trekked into these Alps to learn how Chinese and Russian leaders react to Bush administration plans for a missile defense.

Political paranoia in Beijing inclines its leaders to make a deal. I asked Lee Kuan Yew why Beijing was so exercised over the exercise movement. The senior minister of Singapore suggested that when the fervor of an ideology dies, anomie sets in; gripped by the lethargy of life without meaning, people turn to new movements offering cohesion. Remembering the Boxer Rebellion, an imperfect analogy, communism's leaders see the Falun Gong as a challenge to authority. .Other Asian observers in Davos say that Beijing's leaders are foolishly making martyrs out of the Falun followers, much as the Romans did in seeking to suppress the nascent Christian movement. .Feeling weakness within, Beijing wants a temporary accommodation with the barbarians of the West. Hence a Chinese position is being explored to agree to a level of U.S. missile defense that would counter blackmail from rogue states but, in return for inspection rights given to the U.S., would not be overly effective against what China likes to think of as its own nuclear deterrent.

In Russia a similarly happy outcome is possible, but the impetus is different from China's. The Russian regime is supremely confident of its political stability. .Vladimir Putin is building a corporate state along Per?n Pinochet lines. The KGB, the army and a selection of oligarchs rule through an elected president who maintains popularity by tight control of the mass media. (The last opposition oligarch, forced out of the country, is trying to sell his television network to non-Russian media operators like Ted Turner, thought to be "untouchable" by censors.)

This command combination will maintain power so long as the people have bread. .Bread is now on Russian tables mainly because OPEC has nearly tripled the price of energy, Russia's major export. Saudi oilmen in Davos have passed the word that oil prices will be kept up around $25 a barrel for at least a year. Add this to the delayed effect of the pre-Putin ruble devaluation, which killed imports and lately revived local industry, and Russians have a sense of not so hard times.

The Chechen guerrilla war can never be won, but casualties are down and international human rights pressure is weakening. Even Russia's democratic reformers have taken to differentiating between Chechen "bandits" and suffering Chechen people. .Those reformers are dispirited because they represent less than a fifth of the Russian electorate. The only two democratic leaders left standing, Grigori Yavlinsky and Boris Nemtsov, are the best long-term hope for a peaceful and prosperous nation, but they grind their teeth as Mr. Putin visits a monument to the Stalinist Andropov in the morning and honors the dissenter Sakharov in the afternoon. .As the KGB-military-oligarch clique consolidates power behind Mr. Putin, it faces a new U.S. president with firm ideas about a national missile defense. Neither bluster about the ABM Treaty, nor visits to Cuba or North Korea, nor arms deals with Iran will block the new American policy. Mr. Putin will now have to deal with an inexorable Bush decision, not a forlorn Clinton hope. .And his current stability means that he will be able to negotiate major revision of the ABM Treaty or its replacement with little internal dissent.

Russia's president can gain points with Americans by deploying reformers, thereby jump-starting arms control, or he can string out negotiations by demanding that the U.S. abandon NATO coverage of the Baltics, which Washington won't buy. Thus do insecure leaders in Beijing and too secure leaders in Moscow approach the changed American defense policy. Expect posturing and jockeying, but their policies must adjust to America's missile defense - the new fact on the strategic ground.

International Herald Tribune, January 30, 2001

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