Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Special Commentary: Don't Be Stubborn, Scrap the Interceptors

Today at the Walter Duranty Report, we are publishing a special commentary from our friend Mac Broderick on the Obama administration's decision to cancel the ballistic missile interceptor program in Eastern Europe. We encourage our friends and readers to contribute any articles or commentary they find interesting or relevant to the wide range of topics we discuss here on our site, and as always, feel free to add your comments about anything you read here.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- When analyzing the Obama administration’s decision to scrap missile defense bases in the Czech Republic and Poland, one characterization seems to have trumped all others: “It is a system that doesn’t work, designed to counter a threat that doesn’t exist, designed for a people that don’t want it.” Analysts and politicians should keep this variation on former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski’s original description of the proposed system in mind while debating the merits of the system.

First and foremost, the system did not work, nor did it show the promise of working anytime soon. Second, neither the Western Europeans the system was designed to protect, nor the Eastern Europeans who would be hosting it, seemed particularly enthused about it. Third, Iranian missiles do not currently have the ability to reach Western Europe, and probably will not until 2018, according to most estimates. These circumstances gave the Obama administration more than enough reason to cancel the Czech and Polish interceptor stations.

So why was the decision so contentious? The reactions provide a microcosm of the political attitudes towards Russia. Those opposing the administration's decision, the “Russia hawks”, cite two arguments: 1) Demonstrating our commitment to our Eastern European allies, and 2) The notion that we need to “get tough on Russia.” The first point is a valid one. Examples abound of Russia’s belligerence towards its neighbors. At best, it can be described as an irritable neighbor with a tendency to overreact to the most petty slights. In an area where concrete actions carry more currency than diplomatic gestures, NATO would be wise to reaffirm its commitment to the defense of Poland and its neighbors in some manner other than speeches. The deployment of the Patriot missile battery originally planned to defend the missile installations would be a good start. Moreover, several politicians in the region, especially on the Polish side, have staked considerable political capital on supporting the system, and should not be punished for their decision to do so. The Obama administration’s communication of the decision did not show any sensitivity to the situations of Poles and Czechs; hopefully its further actions will demonstrate otherwise. However, this commitment to our allies does not require the US to spend irrationally on projects with little ability to confront temporal problems; rather, a pragmatic approach to the security, integrity, and stability of Eastern Europe will serve not only our allies, but ourselves well in the long term.

As for the idea of getting tough on Russia, this has become the national security equivalent of being tough on crime: it’s the low hanging fruit for establishing your national security bona fides. There is no lobby to contend with, you appear to bask in some sort of Reagan-esque glow, and you may convince a few people that you have some grasp of international politics. Unfortunately, Russia bashing is too often the result of knee-jerk politics, as opposed to a carefully thought-out decision on how to deal with this country.

This does not mean to minimize the Putin administration’s lack of respect for democracy or the sovereignty of its neighbors. However, Putin and Medvedev’s actions do not mean that opposing Russia for the sake of opposition should be the US’ default position. This is especially true when the leaders in question have a tendency to foment nationalist sentiment for domestic benefit. Careful engagement, complemented by constructive reinforcement of our allies and the clear delineation of how we expect Russia to act if it would like to be treated as a valuable member of the international community, should bear more fruit. Let’s leave stubborn petulance to the Russians.

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