Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

Blog-On-Blog: Obama’s Missile Defense Shift

Posted by K.E. White on September 18, 2009

Nukes of Hazard and PONI offer fresh analysis on Obama’s bold move to scrape missile defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Both blogs show how the move isn’t that drastic. Nukes of Hazard emphasizes that Poland and the Czech Republic face no greater susceptibility to Russian aggression owing to Obama’s missile shield shift. PONI, on the other hand, emphasizes the alternate methods America holds to provide missile security to Poland and the Czech Republic. Both are, in effect, saying ‘chill out’ to critics who see Obama’s shift as abandoning Eastern Europe to menacing Russian designs. (And so is the White House, releasing their four-phase plan for European missile defense)

While I agree with tboth blogs, neither pay much attention to the greatest consequence of Obama’s missile shield shift. The Bush administration pursued a policy of nuclear dominance, pushing for American arms superiority as the best way to promote American security. The Bush White House viewed other powers security interests chiefly determined by their own needs, not contingent on US actions. As such any attempt to scale back nuclear superiority only put American security in the untrustworthy hands of nuclear rivals.

Obama has—to some degree—rejected nuclear dominance as a workable approach to America’s security concerns. Instead he seems to see cooperation with nuclear rivals like Russia and China key to preventing further nuclear proliferation and WMD terrorism. As such, placing bounds on America’s power projection—to allay Chinese and Russian security concerns—is actually in the interest of the United States. Why? Because we can’t have it all: without convincing—i.e. brokering a deal—with other nuclear powers (read: China and Russia) to isolate nations (read: Iran and North Korea) pursuing nuclear programs, stopping these nuclear aspirants will be impossible.

Now, of course, Obama isn’t ushering in complete restrictions on America’s nuclear hand. (Just like Bush didn’t simply reject international cooperation, as shown by PSI) Obama still supports the US-India nuclear deal, and is still willing to push back on creeping Russian influence in Eastern Europe. But he is making it clear certain U.S. actions are off the table.

Will this foster great power cooperation on today’s global dangers? Or merely be used to scale back American influence while yielding no progress towards nonproliferation? Only time will tell.

From Nukes of Hazard:

While supporters of the European proposal are attempting to characterize the Obama administration’s decision as a sign of a slackening U.S. commitment to Eastern European allies or NATO, this is false. First, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen labeled the Obama administration’s decision “a positive first step.” The U.S. relationship with its NATO allies is crucial for European security, restraining Russian aggressiveness, and retaining support for U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The United States is not abandoning missile defense in Europe; it is restructuring capabilities to better counter threats that currently exist.

Second, while Poland and the Czech Republic sought the system in order to secure U.S. support in the face of recent Russian assertiveness, the system was not designed, and the Bush administration reiterated over and over again that it was not intended, to defend these countries against Russia. The United States pledged earlier this year to provide Poland with a Patriot missile battery that will help defend against Russia. The United States also has agreed in recent years to provide Poland and the Czech Republic with F-16 fighters and unmanned aerial vehicles, a sign of Washington’s commitment to their security.

And from PONI, who just unveiled a snazzy new website:

Therefore, the effect of Obama’s decision on our alliance commitments is still up in the air.  If Russia becomes more assertive and bullies our allies (as described in the Reuters article above), without any response from the US, then certainly, our commitment to defending allies will be questioned.  However, if Obama takes other actions to show that the US is committed to the defense of Eastern European allies, it could easily reverse the perception.  This won’t be an easy task…

US commitments to reestablish assurance are underway.  First, Obama’s speech mentioned that the US would continue to work on advancing NATO missile defenses. In the future, this could include NATO capabilities placed in countries like Poland and the Czech Republic.  Second, the United States is not withdrawing all missile defense systems…

According to Lukasz Kulesa of the Polish Institute of International Affairs, these are the types of commitments that the US has to make to assure Poland that we are committed to their defense:

From the perspective of Central Europe’s, the greatest danger…would be to create the impression that NATO has somehow gone soft where its primary function of defending the territories of the member states is concerned…Therefore, such a move it is – if it is agreed within the alliance, would probably need to be somehow balanced by a set of decisions giving credible reassurances on the value of Article V…it’s about putting the physical infrastructure of the alliance within the member state…some of the allies would most probably expect the United States to increase its presence on their territory, though not necessarily by building new bases or new installation. I think the arrangements might be made between Poland and the United States on the nonpermanent deployment of the Patriots anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems in Poland… is an example of such an approach of seeking additional U.S. presence

Kulsea also argues that shifting control of missile defense to NATO could reduce the stigma attached to the system and reduce Russian objections.

The US could make similar commitment [Patriot anti-aircraft] to the Czech Republic or explore other options such as NATO exercises or temporary deployments of US troops that would provide tangible evidence of our commitment to their defense.

The point is that there are still options for assurance.  Obama is already starting to make commitments to make up for the “scrapped” installations.  In the next few weeks and months, Obama must continue to take concrete steps.  The US will need to make other tangible commitments and prevent Russian bullying.  If Obama follows this course, the US will appear as resolved as ever.

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