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Report: Obama To Abandon European Missile Defense System

by @ 7:49 am on September 17, 2009. Filed under Europe, Foreign Affairs, Iran, Israel, Middle East, Russia


The United States is apparently set to abandon plans for a missile defense shield that would have protected most of Eastern Europe:

WASHINGTON — The White House will shelve Bush administration plans to build a missile-defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, a move likely to cheer Moscow and roil the security debate in Europe.

The U.S. will base its decision on a determination that Iran’s long-range missile program hasn’t progressed as rapidly as previously estimated, reducing the threat to the continental U.S. and major European capitals, according to current and former U.S. officials.

The findings, expected to be completed as early as next week following a 60-day review ordered by President Barack Obama, would be a major reversal from the Bush administration, which pushed aggressively to begin construction of the Eastern European system before leaving office in January.

An announcement from the White House is expected about 10:30 a.m. ET.

The Obama administration’s move was confirmed by the Czech Republic interim prime minister. “Just after midnight I was informed in a telephone call by President Barack Obama that [his] administration has decided to pull out from the plan missile defense shield installations” in the Czech Republic and Poland, said Jan Fischer said at a press conference Thursday.

While details have yet to be released some on the right are already seeing this as appeasement to Russia:

This is bad news for all who care about the US commitment to the transatlantic alliance and the defence of Europe as well as the United States. It represents the appalling appeasement of Russian aggression and a willingness to sacrifice American allies on the altar of political expediency. A deal with the Russians to cancel missile defence installations sends a clear message that even Washington can be intimidated by the Russian bear.

What signal does this send to Ukraine, Georgia and a host of other former Soviet satellites who look to America and NATO for protection from their powerful neighbour? The impending cancellation of Third Site is a shameful abandonment of America’s friends in eastern and central Europe, and a slap in the face for those who actually believed a key agreement with Washington was worth the paper it was written on.

Will Collier makes a similar point:

In the East, seventy years ago, they called this kind of asinine policy the Western Betrayal. Shame on us to repeat the same shameful back-stabs now.

Here’s the problem with that analysis, though.

First, given the size of Russia’s missile force and it’s military, the relatively small defense system we’re talking about here wouldn’t have been a deterrent at all.

Second, the missile defense system was never intended to be a defense against Russian missiles; it was intended to be a defense against Iranian missiles and there’s been a reassessment of the Iranian missile threat:

For several years, the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency has been pushing for breaking ground in Poland and the Czech Republic, arguing that construction must begin so the system would be in place to counter Tehran’s emerging long-range-missile program, which intelligence assessments determined would produce an effective rocket by about 2015.

But in recent months, several prominent experts have questioned that timetable. A study by Russian and U.S. scientists published in May by the East-West Institute, an international think tank, downplayed the progress of Iran’s long-range-missile program. In addition, Gen. James Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and an expert in missile defense and space-based weapons, said in a speech last month that long-range capabilities of both Iran and North Korea “are not there yet.”

“We believed that the emergence of the intercontinental ballistic missile would come much faster than it did,” Gen. Cartwright said. “The reality is, it has not come as fast as we thought it would come.”

Where there is a threat from Iran is in the development of short and long-range missiles that could threaten it’s Middle-Eastern neighbors and, ultimately, Israel. Placing a defense system in Poland isn’t going to do much to stop that threat.

So, this really doesn’t sound like appeasement to me.

Update: Regardless of the merits of the decision to abandon the decision, though, I agree that the Obama Administration really should’ve checked a history book before deciding to announce it today:

There’s surely a better day to make such an announcement than the 70th anniversary of Stalin’s invasion of Poland.


13 Responses to “Report: Obama To Abandon European Missile Defense System”

  1. jeff says:

    Thanks–for the reality check. This whole project was a bluff and boondoggle from the start. Just more Bush swaggering and US tax dollars down the drain for show…your analysis is spot on. Pissing of the Russians was the whole point…

  2. Will Collier says:

    Doug, obviously, I disagree. This decision is an absolute sop to Putin, and it’s all the more disgraceful exactly because ten interceptors posed no threat at all to Russia. Despite that fact, Putin stomped and huffed and effectively intimidated Obama into backing down and spitting in the faces of the Pole and Czech governments who’d gone out on a limb to support the US. Wounded Russian pride (still in a snit over being demoted from a superpower to a middling autocracy) isn’t a good enough reason to do that.

    Putin has made it very clear that he wants to re-extend Russia’s sphere of influence (if not outright control) to the borders of the old Soviet empire, and that includes the “new Europe” NATO allies. After this surrender, what are those governments, and those of their neighbors going to think the next time Putin puts the squeeze on them? I can promise you it’s not going to be, “the Americans will help us.”

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  4. InfernalDisaster says:

    Since WWII the USA has been subsidizing Europes military, spending trillions defending that region of the wolrd. Europe benfitted greatly from this, allowing them to focus money on socialism instead miltary spending.

    The USSR is gone and there is no major threat facing Euorpe, it is time for Europe to take care of themselves.

  5. Will,

    There’s two problems I see with that argument.

    First, the missile defense system was never intended or designed to deter a Russian attack and, in fact, I think it’s pretty clear that, given it’s proposed size and the relative superiority of Russian missiles over anything the Iranians might launch, it arguably never would have been able to stop such an attack.

    Second, I’m not sure that anyone would’ve believed that there was ever a US military guarantee for Eastern Europe even if the missile defense had gone forward. We have no real troop presence there, and there doesn’t seem to be much consensus for American troops and money to defend Prague.

    Finally, I think Jeff has a good point. To the extent this system ever really was aimed at sending a message to Russia, it was nothing more than a giant bluff

  6. Will Collier says:

    I’d argue that a system this minimal self-evidently had nothing at all to do with Russia, and the fact that the Russians themselves loudly declared it to be a mortal threat says a lot more about their parochial politics than it does about any objective reality

    I’m not sure whether you’re right or not about a lack of consensus to defend allies who’ve stuck with us under difficult circumstances, but consensus or not, turning our backs on free nations who we’ve sworn to defend–again, unfortunately–is at the very least deeply dishonorable.

  7. tfr says:

    Even if Putin rolls tanks into former Soviet territory, the US will do diddly-squat. He just carries too big of a stick.

  8. Vast says:

    Honestly I think the missile system was more about creating an American footprint in Eastern Europe than it was about Russia or Iran.

    During the cold war our presence in Europe was necessary. Had we not been there during the blockade of Berlin for instance, the cold war could have easily gone hot and Russia would have been knocking on the Doors of Paris before we got our troops back on the ground. While I think it’s time to tone down that foot print, both in Europe and Asia, I don’t believe that we should plan on leaving completely for some time to come.

  9. InfernalDisaster says:

    Sorry for typos, sent too early.

  10. Vast,

    Poland and the Czech Republic are already members of NATO, as are Hungary, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Albania, and Croatia.

    If that’s not a presence, what is ?

  11. InfernalDisaster says:

    By the way, I’m not saying the US should abandon NATO. What I am saying is that these expensive projects can be taken care by Europe if they are needed.

    The idea that because we are allies with Europe the US should shoulder these expensive endeavors, is no longer justifiable. Europe can taken on a larger role in the defense of that region.

  12. Infernal,

    Yes, absolutely right on your first point.

    We’re long past the day when Europe was a Post-WW2 backwater and Eastern Europe was a Post-Soviet backwater. Let them ante up some money already.

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