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.