A tragicomic story about an ammonia leak in the U.S. segment of the International Space Station (ISS) and the subsequent escape to the Russian module brought about malicious joy in our blogosphere. Among the many comments were predictions of imminent transfer of the emergency segment to sanitation status and frustrated musings about blocking access to the Russian segment.
But, fortunately, everyone is safe, ISS seems to be out of danger and possible leaks are said to be caused by, most likely, sensor malfunction. However, the fact that these events became top news on the Internet and television at a time of deep confrontation between our countries demonstrates that we still have reasons for collaboration. At least until 2017, when the U.S. has already booked seats on the Russian spacecraft “Soyuz” for its astronauts.
Trying to find out if there are a lot of these reasons left, I have come to a quite unexpected conclusion.
For many years, generations of Russian politicians and journalists have been telling the common people the same mantra about the usual reasons for international partnership: nuclear safety, nuclear non-proliferation, counterterrorism and continuing dialogue with the rogue states — North Korea, Iran and Syria.
These issues were discussed at countless meetings, and considerable sums of money were allocated to deal with them. In short, time consuming, laborious and even a little productive work was done. However, the so called “productive work” turned out to be anything but.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is considering strengthening the non-proliferation program through stepping up the disarmament of nuclear powers. This refers to the correlation between the number of warheads owned by one country and the number of such weapons owned by another country.
This ratio is more than questionable because even with one warhead, i.e., you can go ahead and market your manufacturing know-how services on eBay; your first customers will find you within an hour.
At the same time, the fact that Russia and America own thousands of warheads does not mean that someone in Uganda is going to make a nuclear bomb. Oh well. Even if this were true after all, no one wants weapons of mass destruction to end up in the hands of crazy dealers.
However, the U.S. has been working on neutralizing the threat from Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States for many years. For example, the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program has been running for 25 years. Its goal is the destruction of weapons of mass destruction and restriction of the means of delivery and transportation, as well as banishing their production in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan.
During these past 25 years, about $9 billion has been allocated and put to use. According to open source information, 7,610 nuclear warheads were deactivated in October 2012 (the plan was to deactivate 9,265 by 2017). The following weapons were destroyed:
– 902 intercontinental ballistic missiles
– 498 launching tubes
– 191 mobile launchers
– 33 atomic submarine/nuclear-powered submarines
– 684 submarine-launched ballistic missiles
– 906 surface-to-air missiles
– 155 attack aircraft/bomber aircraft
– 194 nuclear test tunnels
Kazakhstan, Belarus and Ukraine are no longer nuclear powers.
Is the world going to be a safer place because of this? Absolutely, yes, and only because of one country, the USSR and its remains. Also, for many years the U.S. has been able to gain access to secret sites and an opportunity to communicate with the staff of scientific research institutes, depots, warehouses — all under the cover of inspection authorities supervising expenditure of the allocated funds.
The enemy’s strengths and weaknesses were carefully studied. How convenient! What’s more, we considerably reduced Russia’s defense capacity with our own hands.
On the whole, the money was indeed well spent, considering the deployment of missile defense systems in Europe. But somehow, an eventful 2014 made Russia open its eyes. Sergey Kiriyenko, head of the Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency, voiced Russia’s intention to reduce its participation in joint activities to ensure nuclear safety, which were supposed to take place in 2015. So, the time has come.
The war on terrorism is a display of partnership of a different kind. Sept. 11, 2001 made regular U.S. citizens question their own security. We will not consider here conspiracy theories about the CIA or other intelligence agencies’ participation in this terrible act that cannot be proved.
But airplanes, skyscrapers, civilians and terrorists are the terrible truth of 9/11. However, we must keep in mind the role the U.S. itself played in establishing the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Additionally, the generally stable regimes of Muammar Qaddafi and Saddam Hussein fell without anyone noticing during the war with the Taliban and al-Qaida. The event turned the countries into ever-bleeding wounds on the world political map, and Iraq itself and the dying Syria were turned into the hotbed of terrorism in the 21st century — the Islamic State.
If the U.S. was, in one way or another, involved in establishing every terrorist organization of the last 30 years, what joint war on terrorism can we talk about? That would be the same as sending the wolf to guard the sheep. In this particular case, though, another saying is more accurate — hold your friends close but your enemies closer. Which is why Russia absolutely needs a close partnership with U.S.
As for Russia’s help in continuing the dialogue between the U.S. and other rogue states — North Korea and Iran — from the very beginning it was based on shuttle diplomacy. It worked on this principle: “Hey, Russians! Tell them … that if they don’t … then we …”
Of course, the role of being a back-and-forth messenger was humiliating, but up to a certain point, Russia was even proud of it; proud to play a significant role in important international affairs.
Moreover, encouraging anti-Iranian sanctions broke up a big Russian project to supply air defense systems, stalled the construction of an atomic power station in Bushehr, Iran, and slowed down trade with our maritime neighbor. Now that Russia itself is under sanctions, it can feel free to stop worrying about the pressure. As a result, an agreement was signed in August about the supply of Iranian oil to Russia in exchange for the opportunity to buy Russian goods. This program is similar to the United Nation’s Oil-for-Food program, which once operated in Iraq.
As for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, it also gets a serious opportunity to normalize its relations with the entire world. Kim Jong Un is invited to Moscow to see the Victory Day Parade in Moscow. His father and grandfather could only dream about such a chance: attending an important event together with other world leaders! Angela Merkel will be surprised with her company, though. But ignoring the event is not an option — after all, it is the 70th anniversary celebration. And you can’t forget who planted the flag above the Reichstag.
As a result, an evil thought started going through my head: something in this world has started to change. Actually, it has been since March 2014. What is going to come out of it is unclear, but for sure it is going to be something good. The only certainty is that America was really close to losing its status of being a space power.
After all, the U.S. parked its only spacecraft, the SpaceX Dragon, at the ISS just a few days ago on Jan. 12, and the prospect of another space launch is extremely vague. All the astronauts — the superpower’s crème de la crème — suddenly found themselves threatened by suffocation from ammonia vapors.
But the good Russians lent a helping hand. Not only did it guarantee space flights for Americans until 2017, but it saved the entire country from disgrace by welcoming the “homeless” fire victims. Isn’t it symbolic?