During a recent missile defense conference in Moscow, Russian Chief of General Staff Nikolai Makarov stated, “A decision to use destructive force pre-emptively will be taken if the situation worsens.” Makarov was referring to U.S. plans to deploy its missile defenses in Europe to protect allies and forward-deployed troops.
Russia’s threat exemplifies why the U.S. and allies need missile defenses: to protect themselves from such blackmail. Makarov’s outrageous threat raises questions about Russia’s seriousness as a partner for President Obama’s hallowed “reset” policy. It should give a pause to the State Department’s efforts to advance missile defense cooperation until Russia is prepared to approach the matter in a more constructive matter.
The Obama Administration has been consistently misreading Russia’s intentions. In the past, Russia has repeatedly threatened to deploy its nuclear-capable Iskander missiles close to NATO member states’ borders. Yet the Administration continued to pursue “reset,” which translated into a set of concessions to the increasingly authoritative regime in Kremlin.
This policy has not brought any tangible benefits for the U.S. While the Administration speaks the language of cooperation on missile defense and provides transparency regarding its program, Russia is ultimately interested in keeping European populations and U.S. forward-deployed troops as hostages to their nuclear blackmail.
Russia demands legally binding limitations on U.S. missile defenses. In reality, quantitative or qualitative limitations on missile defenses would weaken them against Iranian or North Korean ballistic missiles. Both countries continue to vigorously advance their ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs. In addition, there is no compelling reason not to shoot down a missile en route toward its target just because its launch trajectory happens to be over Russia.
The Obama Administration appears less than concerned about a threat possessed by ballistic missiles. It cancelled some of the most promising missile defense programs, such as the Multiple Kill Vehicle and the Kinetic Energy Interceptor, and failed to advance space-based missile defenses, the most efficient mean to defend U.S. homeland and allies.
President Obama indicated his willingness to placate the Russians just recently when he asked that Russia “give me space.” As Heritage’s Baker Spring observes, “It is likely that whatever commitments President Obama makes to the American people regarding ballistic missile defense in the coming months will be jettisoned in favor of commitments to the Russian government to curtail U.S. and allied missile defense capabilities following the election.”
As ballistic missile threats continue to grow qualitatively and quantitatively, this is not the time to limit U.S. missile defense options.