9.21.2009

Foreign Affairs Monday: Missile Defense

I could have written this in its normal Friday slot, since the news I discuss hit last Thursday. However, I was lazy. But I wanted to mention this before too much time elapsed, so here's a special Monday edition of FAF for you.

Last week, President Obama scrapped President Bush's plan to place a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. Instead, the US will deploy a different type of missile, based at sea. This new system will be aimed at short- and medium-range missiles from Iran, instead of the long-range missiles the old system was designed for.

There are many that saw this as a bad security move, and a cave-in to Russia. Russia really did not like the old plan. From a defensive standpoint, though, I can see the benefit of this. As SecDef Gates explained, the new system will employ proven technology to defend against a more likely threat. Also, our government really needs to start reducing spending, and the old system was quite costly (of course, we need to cut other things besides defense spending).

Much of Bush missile defense system was a symbol, though. It was a symbol of alliance to Eastern Europe, especially Poland and the Czech Republic, who fear that Russia would like to regain its past dominant position over them. To Russia, it was a symbol of a powerful West encroaching on "their" neighborhood, as well as a symbol of US military might. As such, reaction to this move was negative in Eastern Europe and positive in Russia.

Since Russia was so adamant against the old system, our giving it up looks like a big win for them. And that is OK, as long as we get something out of it from them. Even if switching to the new system was a good idea on its own, we shouldn't be giving up that bargaining chip for free. We could use help from Russia on issues like Iran, Afghanistan, North Korea, weapons sales, and natural gas. Hopefully, Obama made this move based on more than just hope that Russia would take it as a nice gesture.

One thing Obama might have been hoping for was progress in talks on a new nuclear treaty with Russia. I hope this is not the case, because I don't think such a treaty is that important to us. Russia would love to see us make big cuts in our arsenal, because they probably can't afford to keep the missiles they have now. If they have to make cuts anyway, best for them if we do it too. But not best for us.

Also, we need to send some new signal to Eastern Europe, and not just words, that we won't sell them down the river in exchange for better relations with Russia. I'm not sure what options we have, but I'm sure we could come up with something.

So, to conclude, I don't automatically think Obama's move was bad. If we can get something worthwhile in return from Russia, it won't hurt our position in the world, and it may help solve some difficult problems . Otherwise, this change in priorities will only make us look like pushovers.

1 comment:

Rachel said...

The Polish public is in favor of Obama's move. But more importantly, Bush's bizarre Cold War-mindset missile shield idea was nonsensical in the first place. I and millions of other people voted for Obama so he would undo bad Bush decisions, so I'm glad to see this happen.