Seventyyears ago, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt announced to the nation in one of his famous «fireside chats» that America must be «the great arsenal of democracy.» It was a visionary and, at the time, controversial declaration that a nation dead-set against becoming entangled in the war then consuming Europe must nonetheless help arm democratic nations fighting for their survival. This initiative proved critical to Britain’s defense in the run-up to Pearl Harbor, at which point the United States became decisively not just the Free World’s armory, but its savior.
Today, we find another country putting its formidable military-industrial complex in the service of others around the globe. The arsenal is Russia’s, the recipients are virtually without exception the world’s most dangerous enemies of freedom. This practice is making a mockery of President Obama’s much-touted «reset» of relations with the Kremlin – including, notably, the new, bilateral START treaty. It also increases exponentially the dangers associated with his policy of «engaging» rogue states, a practice that is simply affording them time to buy ever more advanced and deadly weapons from Moscow.
Consider just a few examples of the Arsenal for Roguery at work, and its implications for our security, and that of what’s left of the Free World:
c Even as the president continues to claim that the Russians are willing to be more helpful in getting tougher United Nations sanctions on Iran, the Kremlin is allowing the nuclear reactor it previously sold Tehran to be brought online. It is pledging to complete the transfer of advanced S-300 air-defense systems, which will greatly complicate – if not effectively preclude – aerial attacks by the Israelis or U.S. forces aimed at destroying that facility and others associated with the Iranian nuclear weapons program.
c Russia is also selling the S-300 to Syria. This is important because the Syrians have justly been put on notice by Israel that they would be subjected to retaliatory strikes in the event Russian-designed (and perhaps supplied?) Scud missiles transferred recently by Damascus to Hezbollah in Lebanon are used against the Jewish state. Such Russian protection may embolden Syria to think that it can unleash with impunity death and destruction on Israel (perhaps by using Scud-delivered biological or chemical weapons) via its terrorist proxies – and Iran’s.
c The Russians have also been marketing to international customers a family of deadly sea-skimming anti-ship cruise missiles with air-, surface- and submarine-launched variants. These Brahmos rocket/ramjet missiles were jointly developed with the Indians and can fly at up to 2.5 times the speed of sound. The proliferation of such missiles constitutes a serious threat to American naval and other vessels, given the difficulties of defending against a weapon with these flight characteristics.
c Then, there is the up to $5 billion in arms sales that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin claims to have concluded with our hemisphere’s most dangerous dictator, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. What exactly is on offer is unclear. But the purchase reportedly includes T-72 tanks and S-300 missiles. This comes on top of Mr. Chavez’s earlier acquisitions of 100,000 Kalashnikov automatic rifles, helicopters, fighter jets and submarines. Evidently, a Russian nuclear reactor is also being promised.
But, not to worry. According to the Associated Press, Mr. Putin declared during his most recent sales visit to Caracas earlier this month: «Our objective is to make the world more democratic, make it balanced and multipolar. The cooperation between Russia and Venezuela in this context has special importance.» Feel better?
c If any further evidence were needed that the Russians are enabling through their arms sales a grave new threat to American interests and those of other freedom-loving peoples, there’s this: The London Sunday Telegraph reported on April 25 that Moscow was marketing a new «Club-K container missile system.» For just $10 million, one can acquire a launcher and four sea- or land-attack cruise missiles concealed in what otherwise appears to be a standard shipping container.
The newspaper reports that «Iran and Venezuela have already shown an interest in the Club-K, which could allow them to carry out pre-emptive strikes from behind an enemy’s missile defenses.»
As President Obama is fond of saying, let me be clear: Vladimir Putin’s Russia – yes, he still runs the place – is cynically exploiting the U.S. administration’s fecklessness in blindly pursuing improved relations. So far, this has gotten Moscow, among other things: the cancellation of a near-term deployment of U.S. missile defenses in Europe; American acquiescence to increasing Russian aggressiveness in re-establishing a sphere of influence in the «near-abroad»; and no objection to the Kremlin’s acquisition of a French amphibious assault ship well-suited for that purpose.
Worse yet, Russia has pledged it will abrogate the START accord should the United States improve «qualitatively or quantitatively» the sorts of missile defenses Moscow’s arms sales to rogue states (and perhaps others) are making ever more necessary.
History will show that the metastasizing danger of the Russian arsenal for roguery’s worldwide operations has been greatly compounded – if not fundamentally enabled – by the assiduous application of the Obama Doctrine: «Embolden our enemies. Undermine our allies. Diminish our country.» If the latter doctrine is not swiftly corrected, and the former not effectively thwarted, America and the rest of the Free World may soon find themselves confronting threats even greater than those at large when first we rose to the challenge of being the indispensable arsenal for democracy.
Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. president of the Center for Security Policy.