If President Obama thinks that signing his prized arms control treaty with Russia on Czech soil will repair the damage he’s done to relations with Central and Eastern Europe, he’s wrong. Cutting a deal with the Russian bear in Prague is hardly the way to tell your allies that it’s not all about Russia.
Although cheering crowds greeted Obama a year ago when he told adoring Czechs of his vision for a world without nuclear weapons, Europe now is much more cautiously embracing the President’s risky and naïve agenda. The new U.S.-Russian START Treaty – reducing deployable nuclear warhead by a third – has come at a very steep price for the U.S. It sacrificed the Third Site missile defense deployments in Poland and the Czech Republic, and the President now looks set to announce that America’s existing nuclear arsenal will not be sufficiently modernized. In a humiliating slap-down, Moscow announced this morning that it will summarily withdraw from START if it deems future U.S. missile defense plans unpalatable. Romania, Bulgaria and other European nations in line to work with America on missile defense should be expecting the same treatment that Warsaw and Prague got when on the 70th anniversary of the Soviet’s invasion of Poland, President Obama ripped up the Third Site agreement.
Obama has been outplayed and outfoxed by Putin and Medvedev. But this isn’t just a game of politics; as the leader of the free world, President Obama has America’s security in his hands, as well as the future of the Atlantic Alliance. Engagement with Europe’s great powers has had mixed blessings for the Czechs in the past. They will keenly remember the ‘engagement strategies’ of 1938 and 1968 which saw German and Soviet tanks respectively roll into their proud nation.
Negotiations are often a good thing, but as President Reagan advised: always negotiate from a position of strength. Iran, North Korea and other malign actors will continue to seek and increase their nuclear arsenal regardless of President Obama’s ‘vision’. The letter that 21 Central and Eastern European leaders sent to Obama last July, advising him against unilateral concessions to Russia, should remind Obama that he still has a long way to go if he wants a genuinely strategic relationship with his European allies which ensures transatlantic safety and security.