Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

Obama Scraps Eastern-European Missile Plan

Posted in European-Russian Relations by Dan on September 19, 2009
President Obama's decision to eliminate a proposed U.S. missile shield in Eastern Europe is a victory for pragmaticism

President Obama's decision to eliminate a proposed U.S. missile shield in Eastern Europe is a victory for pragmatism

What is really behind President Obama’s plans for scrapping a U.S. missile defense shield in Eastern Europe?  This question has been repeated many times over the last two days, so much so that Republicans inside Congress have begun to cry foul over the president’s “real” intentions.  Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the second-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, vowed that he would “work to overturn this wrong-headed policy,” while Senate Republican Jon Kyl labeled the decision “dangerous and short-sighted.”  Is this just another instance of partisan rhetoric on Capitol Hill, in an attempt to delegitimize the Obama administration’s record on national security?  Or do Republicans actually have a convincing case?

Readers of this blog know quite well that I am frequently opposed to many of President Obama’s foreign-policy decisions; engagement with Iran, de-escalation in Iraq, and a lack of priorities in Afghanistan to name only a few.  Yet, while a registered Republican, I cannot help but support Mr. Obama in this specific case.  However valid Mr. Cantor and Mr. Kyl’s press-releases are, their views are based on an outdated version of the international order; a philosophy that takes on a Cold War attitude at a time when multi-polarity is creeping up in significance.

The main objective of the U.S. missile shield was to protect Europe against a possible Iranian attack, most likely from long-range ballistic missiles.  The Czech Republic and Poland, two countries that are still recovering from decades of Soviet occupation, perceived this same program as a military deterrent against a resurgent Russian power.

As ridiculous as this may sound, the missile shield would have had that exact effect: showing Russia that the United States will not tolerate aggressive behavior towards its European allies.  Of course, none of this would have been an issue if Russia decided not to invade Georgia in the summer of 2008…a campaign that lasted a few months and reeked significant damage on Georgian infrastructure.

Certainly, a buffer-zone against Moscow would have been beneficial to Eastern and Central Europe, further enhancing their security in the face of the “Russian beast.”  Yet, there is no basis for arguing that the defense program would have protected American interests in the wider region…despite consistent claims by anti-Russian hawks that this would have been the case.  Russia, while authoritarian in many respects, is not a direct descendant of its former Soviet past.  Russian institutions have changed markedly during Boris Yelstin’s tenure, taking a more democratic turn at the expense of the old autocratic traditions of coercion and forceful repression.  Obviously, there is still work to be done…Moscow is still heavily authoritarian in its political process, and the Communist Party is still regarded as one of the most legitimate parties in parliament.  Yet, this does not dismiss the fact that the Cold War is long gone; another piece of history that we can all learn from.

The Czech and Polish governments will be especially angry at this decision.  Eastern European officials have waited a long time for a missile defense deterrent against Moscow, only strengthened by President George W Bush’s proposed plan during his second term.  Yet, anger aside, common-sense dictates that the Czech and Polish people have nothing to worry about.  Their fear is the equivalent to a child scared of a monster in the closet.  We are currently living in the 21st century, an era where a major economic or political catastrophe would have worldwide effects.  A Russian “invasion” on its eastern flank is just as impractical as suicidal; such an act would surely provoke the wrath of the United States, Europe, and the international community all at the same time.  Taking its position in the system today, I severely doubt that the Russians would sacrifice their future as a major power on an issue as trivial as Eastern European control.

-Daniel R. DePetris

-Information from Anne Gearan and Desmond Butler from the Associated Press contributed to this blog.  The full article can be found here: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090917/ap_on_go_pr_wh/us_us_missile_defense


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: