Obama & Russia: The Consequences of Cowardice

Writing on the Foreign Policy website A. Wess Mitchell, president of the Center for European Policy Analysis, a Washington-based policy institute dedicated to the study of Central Europe, and Jamie M. Fly, executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative, who served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and on the U.S. National Security Council staff from 2005 to 2009, warn the world about the consequences of Barack Obama’s repugnant cowardice towards Russia:

Late last month, a Polish newspaper revealed that the Barack Obama administration plans to discontinue the deployment of U.S. ballistic missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic. In their place, the White House reportedly wants to build a modified, short-range version of the program in the Balkans or Turkey. This relocation, the administration assumes, will assuage Russian concerns while continuing to provide an effective defense against the threat of Iran’s growing missile program. Proponents of such a move argue that the result will be increased Russian cooperation abroad, newfound favor with anti-shield Western European allies, and — best of all — freedom to divert U.S. attention from Europe’s contentious east to bigger problems elsewhere.

If the administration is aware of the political costs of this new approach, it seems to think they will be limited to a minor abrasion in U.S.-Polish and U.S.-Czech relations — to be cleared up easily with some careful PR and a consolation prize. After all, what are a few hurt feelings among two small allies compared with improved relations with Moscow? Isn’t the prospect of a “reset” relationship with Russia worth the cost of U.S. disengagement from Central Europe in general and backpedaling on missile defense in particular?

Actually, no. These costs are very real, and they stretch well beyond PR to involve primary, long-term U.S. strategic interests. Consider just these four:

1. A destabilized eastern flank. Since the Russian invasion of Georgia, Central European countries have found themselves sitting on a reactivated strategic frontier. Missile defense assuages their predicament by providing visible evidence of U.S. security patronage– evidence they would be less eager to obtain if NATO had created contingency plans for the region’s defense in the 1990s. Scrapping the shield won’t make the regional insecurity complex go away; it will simply manifest itself in louder demands for NATO territorial defense, increased regional defense spending, and access to advanced U.S. weapons systems — all of which are just as likely to provoke Russian ire as missile defense.

2. A more contentious NATO. There is a widespread belief that a U.S. backtrack on missile defense would reduce friction within NATO by mollifying anti-shield members such as Germany. Actually, it will only divert Central European political energy into the pursuit of new and perhaps more controversial forms of reassurance. Imagine the German response to a Polish call for higher defense outlays or a Baltic request to move NATO bases eastward. In addition, the potential alternatives for the missile defense sites are limited and the administration’s plan might require that facilities be constructed in countries, such as Germany, where public opinion is even more opposed to missile defense. The net effect is more, not less, tension in an already strained alliance.

3. An emboldened Russia. Moscow is unlikely to interpret a repositioning of missile defense the way Obama hopes — as a trust-building measure to incentivize Russian cooperation on other fronts. Instead, Russian leaders will learn a simple lesson: that when America and its allies are threatened, Washington backs down. Already, Russia has watched as the Obama administration has softened U.S. support for Georgia and backed off the push for Ukrainian membership in NATO. A third retreat in less than a year would likely trigger the typical Russian response to retreat: additional aggression. A Moscow that sees its repeated demands for a sphere of influence met tacitly today will be bolder in pushing for recognition of that sphere explicitly tomorrow.

4. Cheapened alliances. Perhaps the severest long-term cost of the new plan will be its effect on America’s alliances. On a per capita basis, the Poles and Czechs have provided greater material and political support for U.S. policies than most U.S. allies twice their size, giving the lie to the old argument that NATO’s newest members would become free riders on U.S. security. Leaving pro-shield politicians holding the bag could lead other Atlanticist leaders to think twice before taking political risks on America’s behalf — not only in Central Europe, but in other small and mid-size states, including those threatened by rogue regimes such as Iran and North Korea.

For all of these reasons, relocating missile defense away from Central Europe would not serve U.S. interests. For more than two years, leaders in Warsaw and Prague have labored, in good faith and often through difficult negotiations, to provide secure and politically reliable territory on which to build a missile defense system that would protect U.S. allies and enhance U.S. homeland security. Nothing would do more to erode America’s international credibility than the appearance of the U.S. president alongside Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at the U.N. meeting later this month in New York announcing a gentleman’s agreement to relocate missile defense.

Like every other occasion in which the United States has forsaken Central Europe in pursuit of great-power bargains, such a move would set in motion geopolitical consequences that U.S. diplomats will still be working to undo a decade from now. Before Obama takes this precipitous step, let’s hope that he will pause to contemplate the costs.

11 responses to “Obama & Russia: The Consequences of Cowardice

  1. Strange, here I thought the whole point of the anti-missile program was to guard against Iran and not Russia. I thought the Russian fears were overblown because they could easily overwhelm the system (which they could). Now I’m learning that it was supposed to guard against Russia all along eventhough it wasn’t going to be nearly large enough to do that….assuming it proved to be technologically feasible.

    • The Poles didn’t care for the counter-missiles, they wanted (and want) modern weapons, training and American soldiers. And respect.

    • Perhaps in the phase it is in now, but eventually, it will have to deal with the Russian threat. Moving in NOW allows us to build a baseline from which to expand to counter a potential Russian threat.

      After all, our naval base at Norfolk was originally designed to guard against British or Spanish interference in the region. But that hardly meant that it was restrained for all eternity to that role thanks to a few well-timed upgrades to meet the evolving situation.

      The Kremlin knows this, and they aren’t happy about it.

  2. MLP wrote:
    > Now I’m learning that it was supposed to guard against Russia all along

    MLP, come on, everybody knew from the very beginning that this was aimed at Russia. Certainly everybody in Europe and Russia did. (The only people who didn’t know this, were those ignorant Americans who didn’t know where on the map are Iran and Europe. ) . For many reasons:

    1. The most reliable way to intercept an enemy missile is early, right after it has been launched. If the defences were aimed to intercept Iranian missiles, they would be built close to Iran: in Turkey or Azerbaijan. In fact, Russia and Azerbaijan jointly invited USA to use the Russian radars in Azerbaijan, but USA refused to change its plans.

    2. Iran has no plans to attack Europe. None whatsoever, unless you count the brief anger at the Danish cartoonists, in which the Danes were “punished” by Iranian demostrators by burning the flags of Israel and burning the Ameircan KFV restaurant.

    The only potential target of Iranian nukes would be Israel, and placing defences in poland and Czech R would not help to defend Israel one bit. Look at the map!

    So, now average people all over Europe – including Poland and Czech R – are junilant at the news that Obama has dropped these plans.

    Turtler wrote:
    > The Kremlin knows this, and they aren’t happy about it.

    It may surprise you, but Kremlin is quite happy about it now. Quite happy. As happy as Germany, France and the rest of Europe.

    • So, the Kremlin is quite happy by the attempt to create a missile shield, and showed this happiness by massing some rockets in Kalingrad and rattling some vague sabers?

      Hardly.

      Get your story straight.

    • @So, now average people all over Europe – including Poland and Czech R – are junilant at the news that Obama has dropped these plans.

      Poles, Czechs: US missile defense shift a betrayal

      http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/eu_eastern_europe_missile_defense

      “Betrayal! The U.S. sold us to Russia and stabbed us in the back,” the [largest] Polish tabloid Fakt declared on its front page.

      (…)

      “No Radar. Russia won,” the largest Czech daily, Mlada Fronta Dnes, declared in a front-page headline.

      (…)

      Neighboring Lithuania, a small Baltic nation that broke away from the Soviet Union in 1991 and is now a NATO member, also expressed regret over Obama’s decision.

  3. Polish Public Supports Missile Defense in Their Country

    WARSAW, Poland, September 12 /PRNewswire/ —

    Fifty-eight percent (58%) of adults in Poland support the deployment of a missile defense system in their country. Two in three adults (67%) believe that a missile defense site in Poland would be a contribution to strengthening NATO and 70% think their country should continue negotiations with the United States to establish a site. The vast majority of people in Poland, eighty-nine percent (89%), are aware of Russian President Putin’s opposition to a missile defense system in Poland. Providing security for Poland is the top reason missile defense supporters in Poland support it, with only half as many citizens saying European security is their most important consideration.

    http://www.prnewswire.co.uk/cgi/news/release?id=207078

    So Phobophobe lies again

  4. By the way Phobodunce, the AMD system would never have been effective (nor was it intended to be) against Russian ICBM’s which would follow and “over the pole” trajectory towards the US.

    From 2001 onwards the US government tried to involve Russia in the program, but Russia refused.

    “Cooperation with Russia

    The U.S. is willing to explore cooperation with Russia across the full spectrum of missile defense activities. U.S. Government officials have discussed U.S. missile defense plans and offered to cooperate jointly since 2001. These discussions have been transparent and conducted at all levels, including between the two Presidents, as well as at the NATO-Russia Council (NRC).
    On March 29, 2007, USNATO released a public statement reiterating our previous offers of cooperation, as well as seeking enhanced cooperation with both Russia and NATO on missile defense.
    U.S. missile defense plans are neither directed at nor a threat to Russia. Due to the location and capabilities of the European missile defense assets, the proposed system would have no capability against Russian ICBMs.”

    http://www.state.gov/p/eur/rls/fs/83123.htm

    Once again, Phobokapo lies.

  5. Turtler, FYI:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-Ballistic_Missile_Treaty

    The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM Treaty or ABMT) was a treaty between the United States of America and the Soviet Union on the limitation of the anti-ballistic missile (ABM) systems used in defending areas against missile-delivered nuclear weapons.

    Signed in 1972, it was in force for the next thirty years until the US unilaterally withdrew from it in 2002.

    ////////////////////////

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