Friday, September 18, 2009

US scraps plans for missile defence shield in central Europe.

At the time, I said I thought it was "yet another example of the reckless unilateralism at the heart of the neo-con agenda" which made "the world a more dangerous place whilst promising the opposite".

It seemed to me to be idiotically insensitive to the Russians at a time when they were co-operating in the War on Terror. Indeed, I thought Bush was acting as if the Cold War had never ended.

So I am delighted at Obama's latest decision.

Barack Obama today reversed almost a decade of Pentagon strategy in Europe, scrapping plans to deploy key elements of a US missile defence shield.

Instead, he said, a more flexible defence would be introduced, allowing for a more effective response to any threat from Iranian missiles.

The U-turn is arguably the most concrete shift in foreign policy from that of the Bush administration, which spent years negotiating to place silos and interceptor missiles in Poland, and a radar complex in the Czech Republic.

The Bush administration always behaved as if the rest of the world simply had to accept whatever America gave them, ignoring the lessons of both Iraq and Afghanistan: that this theory worked much better on planning boards that it ever did in reality.

In reality, for every move, there is a possible counter move. And when Bush attempted to pull off this particular one there were many who thought he was in danger of setting off a new Cold War on European soil.

President Dmitry Medvedev described today's announcement as a "responsible move ... We value the US president's responsible approach towards implementing our agreements," he said. "I am ready to continue the dialogue."

Obama could never hope to get any Russian agreement when it came time to discuss what to do about Iran whilst he was effectively holding a gun to Russia's head. So, he has done the right thing, and put the gun down.
The decision was welcomed among Nato allies in western Europe, which had viewed the earlier project as an unnecessary provocation to the Russians.
No-one, not even the eastern Europeans, thought that this was a clever move by Bush. Indeed, 70% of Czechs were opposed to this deployment. The rest of Europe thought it incendiary and unnecessary. In truth, it had Dick Cheney written all over it.

The Republicans will no doubt have a seizure, claiming that Obama has capitulated to Putin and that America's defences have been left wide open, but it's a pile of old tosh.

Robert Farley points out the contradictions in the Republican case:

The decision to deploy a US ballistic missile defence system to eastern Europe was, at its core, a political manoeuvre. The military arguments in favour of the deployment were confused and contradictory. Advocates initially argued that the system was intended to deter Iran, and that it could not defend against Russian missiles. Later, as concern about the Iranian missile threat ebbed, supporters argued that cancellation of the programme would represent appeasement of Russian aggression.

The technical case for the system was never terribly compelling, as sea-based ballistic missile defences have proven to be more mobile and more capable than the system that was proposed for Poland. The real reasons for the decision to deploy the system were the happy nexus of defense industry financial interest and an ideological commitment on the part of the Republican party. The former requires no explanation. As for the latter, one foreign policy analyst described it thusly: "Cancelling missile defence is like denying communion to Reagan cultists." Since the Reagan administration, missile defence has stood as an unchallenged article of faith in Republican foreign policy circles. The eastern European system was a logical culmination of these two forces.

These people were denied power because of the way they behaved over the last eight years and the state in which they left the United States after two terms of their rule.

There is simply no reason why anyone should listen to them now as they squeal about Obama surrendering to the Russians. One need only remind them that they had previously argued that this missile defence system had nothing whatsoever to do with the Russians in the first place.

Overall, this is a tremendous victory for a sane foreign policy and a responsible defence policy. The US will save money, and avoid needlessly antagonising Russia. While neither the Obama nor Medvedev administrations have characterised the decision as part of any quid pro quo on Iran or any other aspect of US-Russia relations, Russia and the US have been exploring co-operation on several issues, including the war in Afghanistan and policy towards Iran. Russia has recently taken steps to open up its airspace, making resupply of Nato forces in Afghanistan much easier.

Even if Obama didn't win specific concessions from the Russians, he still made the right decision. Saving money and avoiding needless antagonism of Moscow are victories in and of themselves.

It's extraordinary, but one can make the case for cancelling missile defence without even going into the fact that it doesn't actually work.

Click title for full article.

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