President Obama’s decision to abandon plans for basing elements of the U.S. missile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic is entirely a political one – in order to appease Russia. This decision is a strategic victory for the Kremlin, which is determined to have a sphere of privileged interest in its near-abroad. It represents the shameful abandonment of two of America’s closest allies in Central and Eastern Europe, and in future, America’s allies will have cause to question the integrity and credibility of American promises.
It also leaves the U.S. and Europe more vulnerable to the threat of ballistic missile attack. The Third Site installations proposed for Poland and the Czech Republic – Ground-Based Midcourse Defense interceptors in Poland and radar in the Czech Republic – were cost-effective, proven technologies which offered protection from long range missile attack to both Europe and the United States. The alternative deployments which President Obama has said he will now pursue will not satisfy those criteria.
Neither has Washington secured any great concession from Russia. There is scant evidence that Moscow intends to deliver anything credible in return for Washington’s abandonment of the Third Site, especially with regard to the growing Iranian threat. There is equally little indication that the Obama Administration’s risky policy of engagement with Iran is working either.
The decision – to concentrate resources defending against short range missiles and not field defenses against long range missile attacks – makes no sense. To be truly strategic about national and international security, the United States must defend against current and future threats. Presenting a choice between defending against short or long range missile attack is a false one. Ballistic missile threats can emerge with little advanced warning, and as Admiral Mike Mullen (chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) recently stated, Iran has already amassed sufficient uranium to build an atomic bomb.
Defending against short-range missile attack is hugely important. But it can not come at the expense of protecting America and Europe from other threats. At present Europe has no capacity to defend itself against long-range missile attack while America only has limited defenses against such an attack. This undermines the concept of indivisible transatlantic security and enervates NATO’s Article V security guarantees.
This is a loss-leader for President Obama: a strategic loss, a security loss, a diplomatic loss and a major loss for America’s prestige on the world stage.