Heritage’s recent event “Open Microphone: What’s Behind President Obama’s Missile Defense Comments,” hosted by Kim R. Holmes, highlighted some of the concerns regarding President Obama’s recent comments to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he will have more “flexibility” after the election. Obama went on to say, “On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this—this can be solved, but it’s important for him [former and new president-elect Vladimir Putin] to give me space.”
According to Heritage Visiting Fellow Rebeccah Heinrichs, Obama’s comments mean that he is not as committed to missile defense as he pretends to be and that he is willing to bargain it away as soon as he gets a chance. It is likely that Obama understands the American people would not look kindly on his willingness to trade away missile defenses and that their votes would not support such a policy.
President Obama’s comments must be viewed in the context of his arms control policies, according to Heritage’s Baker Spring. The Administration’s position on negotiations regarding the disparity between the tactical nuclear weapons arsenals of Russia and the United States has not been made public yet, despite the President’s certification that he will seek these negotiations pursuant to the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty’s (New START) resolution of ratification.
Ballistic missile defenses are one source of concessions the Administration has to offer, since Russia enjoys a 10:1 advantage over the U.S. in tactical nuclear weapons. Due to past difficulties that New START has faced in the Senate, the President may seek to sign an agreement and bind the United States without submitting it to the Senate for its advice and consent.
Jeff Kueter, president of The George C. Marshall Institute, offered insight into a somewhat overlooked area of arms control—in space. The United States today is tremendously dependent on space for the conduct of its day-to-day civilian and military affairs. Consequentially, U.S. adversaries are trying to find and exploit vulnerabilities in U.S. space systems. Their effort is demonstrated in two areas: first, by procuring space systems, anti-satellite weapons, and cyber capabilities to deny the United States advantages stemming from its superiority in space. Second, by engaging in arms control in space.
The Administration is seeking to join the European Union Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities without the Senate’s advice and consent. This agreement could threaten the dominant U.S position in military and intelligence space capabilities. The code lacks definitions regarding what constitutes a space weapon and opens up the United States to the criticism of creating debris when it tests missile defenses or launches space vehicles.