X Welcome to International Affairs Forum

International Affairs Forum a platform to encourage a more complete understanding of the world's opinions on international relations and economics. It presents a cross-section of all-partisan mainstream content, from left to right and across the world.

By reading International Affairs Forum, not only explore pieces you agree with but pieces you don't agree with. Read the other side, challenge yourself, analyze, and share pieces with others. Most importantly, analyze the issues and discuss them civilly with others.

And, yes, send us your essay or editorial! Students are encouraged to participate.

Please enter and join the many International Affairs Forum participants who seek a better path toward addressing world issues.
Fri. November 16, 2018
Get Published   |   About Us   |   Support Us   | Login
International Affairs Forum
Social Media
European Ballistic Missile Defense: Competing Interests and Reluctant Partners
Comments (0)

By Elizabeth Zolotukhina During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to engage with foreign governments as partners rather than launch unilateral initiatives. Upon assuming office, President Obama has prudently resisted calls from some within the Democratic Party to undo indiscriminately his predecessor’s policies. 1 Instead, the new administration has ordered a systematic review of U.S. positions on numerous critical issues and “transformed the tone”2 of American foreign policy. One area currently being revisited is the deployment of an X-band radar station outside of Prague, Czech Republic and 10 two-stage interceptor missiles in Poland aimed at deterring a growing ballistic missile threat from Iran.3 The George W. Bush administration had championed the proposal as integral to European security; however the plan has long aroused the ire of Russian leaders and discomfort among Polish and Czech citizens. President Obama must now decide soon whether to proceed with the stationing of these elements of U.S. ballistic missile defense (BMD), and if so, how best to balance the often divergent interests of the various actors. Following complex and at times contentious negotiations with Warsaw, Bush administration officials signed an accord pledging to deploy 10 two-stage interceptor missiles and a Patriot battery operated by 100 U.S. service members–an additional source of some controversy– to augment the country’s air defense capabilities in Poland in December 2008. The Czech Republic, which had adopted a more accommodating negotiating position4, reached an agreement with Washington regarding the stationing of a X-band radar outside of Prague in July of the same year, on the eve of the Russia-Georgia war. American negotiators had warned representatives of both countries that “everything might change”5 following Barack Obama’s inauguration. Indeed, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s November 5, 2008 threat to target countries in northeast Europe with Iskander short-range missiles if Washington does not scrap the BMD deployments in Poland and the Czech Republic emphasized the seriousness of the threat perceived by Moscow. The source of that threat is hotly debated by Western analysts. The most common explanation, and the one publicly endorsed by Russian leaders, is that rather than countering an emerging danger from Iran the U.S. BMD components planned for Eastern Europe aim to neutralize Russia’s nuclear deterrent.6 This stance fails to explain Moscow’s continued refusal to cooperate with Washington on other issues which would further its security, such as collaborating consistently with Western governments in the European Union (EU) and United Nations (UN) to pressure Tehran into abandoning its uranium enrichment program and cancelling the planned sale of advanced S-300 surface-to-air missile systems to Iran.7 Moreover, some experts argue that “Russia has trumped up a phony security claim. The missile defense interceptors have no capability against Russian missiles, and the Russians know it.”8 Alternative voices, including U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, posit that Russian leaders seek to assert a greater role in international affairs by insisting that Washington consult with Moscow if the latter’s cooperation is sought.9 Yet a third outlook suggests that Russian leaders aim to pursue their perceived interests by exercising influence in what they term their “near abroad”.10 In the latter scenario, Moscow may endeavor to prevent the remaining former Soviet republics from pursuing independent foreign and domestic policies.11 This possibility has visibly alarmed Polish and Czech leaders, especially following President Obama’s letter to his Russian counterpart earlier this year. Shortly after his inauguration, President Obama sent a letter to President Medvedev suggesting that Washington would back off plans to deploy the BMD system pledged to Poland and the Czech Republic by the former Bush administration if Moscow would help stop Iran from developing long-range weapons.12 The new U.S. President, unlike his predecessor, has indicated that his administration would only support the BMD deployment if the technology is proven viable and cost-effective.13 At present, according to a Pentagon report, the project is estimated to cost at least $4 billion14 and the components would “need fresh testing” before the system could be certified effective against contingencies other than “simple… ballistic missile threats from North Korea.”15 The Government Accountability Office (GAO) concurs with the Pentagon’s assessment, adding that the system proposed for Europe “continues to experience testing problems and delays.”16 Although President Obama has sought to reassure Prague and Warsaw of Washington and NATO’s commitment to their securitysup>17 immediately after news of his letter to Medvedev became public, Polish and especially Czech leaders remain unconvinced as it is widely acknowledged that Obama is actively seeking Russian cooperation on other key U.S. foreign policy goals.18 Aims such as curbing the Iranian nuclear program, securing a new transit route for U.S. troops and materiel bound for Afghanistan, and arms control require Moscow’s cooperation or at least non-interference. Recent Russian policy regarding two of those three objectives has failed to meet either criterion. Not only has President Medvedev and other Russian leaders proved unable to adopt a consistently positive or neutral response to the Obama letter – instead vacillating between praising the missive as “completely positive” and a chance to “open a new page in our relations”19 and characterizing the communiqué as a “disappointment”20 – but Moscow has taken concrete steps to thwart American goals in Central Asia and Iran. Last month, Iranian officials publicly opened the nuclear reactor at Bushehr, built with Russian help in a deal worth $800 million. The reactor, which is due to become fully operational later this year, will utilize Russian-provided enriched uranium fuel. In February of this year, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov stated “Our stance on the Iranian nuclear program has no elements which could be interpreted as toughening of approach"22 further calling into question Moscow’s commitment to restraining Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, in tandem with Washington. That unequivocal stance may be shifting following Iran’s recent successful test launch of a satellite, which reportedly alarmed Russian President Medvedev23 and likely caused the Kremlin to delay the delivery of the advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missile system. 24 Despite an awareness that Iran’s growing military and potentially nuclear capabilities are contrary to its interests, Moscow nevertheless may choose to limit cooperation with Washington on the issue for several reasons. First, Russians perceive the Iranian issue with less urgency than Washington.25 In addition, some Russian officials argue that continued tensions between the U.S. and Iran give Moscow leverage over Washington. In any case, the Obama administration’s overtures to Russia in this regard may come to naught as some analysts contend that U.S. officials “overestimate Russia's influence on Iran and underestimate the Islamic republic's strategic value to the Kremlin.”26 With regard to the U.S. presence in Central Asia, Moscow has staked out a seemingly accommodating position. The Kremlin’s recent offer to allow the transit of U.S. non-lethal equipment bound for Afghanistan via its territory has been lauded as a key early success of the Obama administration’s foreign policy as the previously used routes through Pakistan have been subjected to increasing Taliban attacks. However, it is worth noting that the Russian proposal closely followed the eviction of the U.S. military from Manas airbase, outside of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Prior to this development, the base had supplied American forces in Afghanistan. The move, which occurred immediately after Moscow promised $2 billion in economic aid to the cash-strapped Kyrgyz government,27 “poses a formidable obstacle to Mr. Obama’s biggest foreign policy aim”28 and has granted Russia a “chokehold”29 over Afghan supply routes. Despite Russian denials of a link between the deal and the Kyrgyz decision to oust the U.S. forces from Manas, some experts suggest otherwise. For instance, Shairbek Jurayev, international politics chair at Bishkek's American University of Central Asia, stated, “I wouldn't treat this as a Kyrgyz decision. The message came from Moscow ... and for Kyrgyzstan, an unhappy Russia would be more dangerous than an unhappy U.S." Anatoly Serdyukov, the Russian Defense Minister, explicitly highlighted his country’s hostility toward the U.S. presence in Central Asia: “U.S. aspirations have been aimed at getting access to raw materials, energy, and other resources" of former Soviet nations and "pushing Russia out of the sphere of its traditional interests." 31 Washington’s preoccupation with larger strategic issues has, perhaps understandably, unnerved Czech and Polish leaders who were expecting the installation of agreed-upon elements of U.S. missile defense in their respective countries. Upon learning of the Obama administration’s plans to re-assess the U.S. BMD deployments, Warsaw and Prague sought reassurances from Washington that the agreements reached with Bush-era officials would be honored. According to U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Polish officials were “somewhat reassured”.32 This reaction might be due to, at least in part, the fact that Poland stands to gain a Patriot missile battery irrespective of whether U.S. interceptors are deployed, as a result of a separate agreement reached with the Bush administration.33 Indeed, according to some reports, Warsaw has relegated the issue of missile defense, in line with the Obama administration’s apparent priorities, but will insist upon obtaining the promised air defense system.34 Warsaw views the Patriot deployment as a symbolic security assurance against a newly assertive Russia. Polish and American diplomats have confirmed that the deal will go ahead independently on any decision on missile defense. Other sources maintain that Polish President Lech Kaczynski retains hope that the Obama administration will eventually move ahead with the interceptor deployment and has intimated that “scrapping the project to improve ties with Russia would be an unfriendly gesture towards Poland.”36 The Czech reaction was even more unfavorable. Czech leaders, unlike their Polish counterparts, had set very few conditions for accepting the U.S. X-band radar on their territory and therefore would likely have little recourse if the Obama administration decides not to go ahead with the BMD project.37 The review of the BMD deployment currently under way in Washingtonsup>38 has made Prague “very anxious”,sup>39 especially in light of the significant political capital Czech officials have invested40 in the domestically unpopular project.41 Czech commentators, seconded by some American analysts, have warned the Obama administration that a suspension of the planned BMD deployment will be viewed unfavorably in Prague, as proof of Moscow’s influence over Central Europe and as recognition of the Kremlin’s veto power regarding European security policy.43 Despite these differences, the Czech and Polish responses to Washington’s review of the planned deployments in their respective countries share several similarities. Warsaw and Prague seek American protection from what officials in both countries perceive as Moscow’s renewed desire to exert influence over its “near abroad”, thereby interfering in Polish and Czech sovereignty.43 The forcible incorporation of both nations into the Soviet Union has made such concerns particularly salient among elites in Poland and the Czech Republic, to the point that countering Moscow’s attempts to limit their autonomy or dictate their foreign policy takes precedence over mitigating a possible threat from Iran.44 Officials from both countries call on Washington to honor the agreement to deploy elements of the European missile defense system;45 however, such a move is becoming ever more unlikely. Advocates of suspending the European missile defense project in order to elicit Russian cooperation on a host of critical U.S. foreign policy issues such as, curbing Tehran’s nuclear program and transforming the war in Afghanistan46 , have received a boost recently. A report issued by a bipartisan commission of former senior American policy makers urged President Obama to “reach out to Russia” by shelving NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia and “taking a new look” at the planned European BMD system, possibly event cooperating with Moscow on the project.47 However, this option does little to guarantee the success of the administration’s overtures to Russia even if negative Czech and Polish reactions could be managed effectively. Moscow may nevertheless seek to limit closer cooperation with Washington for several reasons. The Kremlin may choose to cope with rising domestic unrest fueled by the deteriorating economic conditions by ratcheting tensions with Washington – not seeking a rapprochement.48 Moscow is likely to keep increasing the price of its cooperation, while U.S. allies in the region may increasingly question the value of American security guarantees as well as the relevance of transatlantic structures, such as NATO. The core issue – American influence in the post-Soviet space50 – is unlikely to be resolved soon. Elizabeth Zolotukhina is Head Editor of the Case Studies Working Group with the Project on National Security Reform. 1Unattributed. “Barack Obama’s foreign policy: All very engaging.” The Economist. March 12, 2009. http://www.economist.com/opinion/displayStory.cfm?story_id=13278173&source=hptextfeature. 2Unattributed. “Barack Obama’s foreign policy: All very engaging.” The Economist. March 12, 2009. http://www.economist.com/opinion/displayStory.cfm?story_id=13278173&source=hptextfeature. 3Asher, Byron. “Obama Administration Takes Softer Stance on Missile Defense System in Czech Republic.” The Miami Herald. February 14, 2009. http://news.yahoo.com/s/mcclatchy/20090214/pl_mcclatchy/3168083. See also, Schneidmiller, Chris. “Obama Moving on Nuclear Arms Control Pledges, Expert Says.” Global Security Newswire. February 17, 2009. http://gsn.nti.org/gsn/ts_20090217_6185.php. 4Dempsey, Judy. “U.S.-Russia missile deal could be a setback for Czechs.” International Herald Tribune. March 3, 2009. http://www.iht.com/articles/2009/03/03/europe/shield.php. 5Asher, Byron. “Obama Administration Takes Softer Stance on Missile Defense System in Czech Republic.” The Miami Herald. February 14, 2009. http://news.yahoo.com/s/mcclatchy/20090214/pl_mcclatchy/3168083. 6For example, see Barry, Ellen. “Russia Welcomes Letter From Obama.” The New York Times. March 4, 2009. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/04/washington/04russia.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=Russian%20Welcomes%20Letter%20from%20Obama&st=cse. 1Weitz, Richard. “Russia, Iran, and Washington Battle Over S-300s.” World Politics Review. March 10, 2009. http://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/article.aspx?id=3425. 8Holmes, Kim. “U.S. backtracks on missile shield.” The Washington Times. February 19, 2009. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/feb/19/us-backtracks-on-missile-shield/. 9Unattributed. “Gates Says Russians Seeking Role In World Affairs.” The Associated Press. March 1, 2009. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29453052/. 10Hiatt, Fred. “A Russia Reality Check.” The Washington Post. February 8, 2009. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/02/07/AR2009020701689.html. 11See Kramer, David J. “No ‘Grand Bargain.’” The Washington Post. March 6, 2009. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/05/AR2009030502825.html?sub=AR or Hiatt, Fred. “A Russia Reality Check.” The Washington Post. February 8, 2009. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/02/07/AR2009020701689.html. 13Baker, Peter. “Obama Offered Deal to Russia in Secret Letter.” The New York Times. March 3, 2009. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/03/washington/03prexy.html?_r=1&hp. 14Asher, Byron. “Obama Administration Takes Softer Stance on Missile Defense System in Czech Republic.” The Miami Herald. February 14, 2009. http://news.yahoo.com/s/mcclatchy/20090214/pl_mcclatchy/3168083. 15Hall, Mimi and Michaels, Jim. “Missile system may not be necessary.” USA Today. March 3, 2009. http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2009-03-03-missile_N.htm. 16As cited in Dilanian, Ken. “Reports question U.S. shield of Europe.” USA Today. March 15, 2009. http://www.usatoday.com/news/military/2009-03-15-missile_N.htm?loc=interstitialskip. 17Editorial. “No Deal: Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev offer welcome clarity on Iran and missile defense.” The Washington Post. March 4, 2009. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/article/2009/03/03/AR2009030303285.html?nav=rss_opinions. 18Unattributed. “Polish Leader Appeals for Missile Shield.” The Boston Globe. March 9, 2009. http://www.boston.com/news/world/europe/articles/2009/03/09/polish_leader_appeals_for_missile_shield/. 19Unattributed. “Russian President Foresees Stronger U.S. Ties.” Global Security Newswire. March 11, 2009. http://gsn.nti.org/gsn/nw_20090311_1072.php. 20DeYoung, Karen. “Obama Team Seeks to Redefine Russia Ties.” The Washington Post. March 4, 2009. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/article/2009/03/03/AR2009030301050.html 21 Tait, Robert. “Iran makes first test-run of Bushehr nuclear reactor.” The Guardian. February 25, 2009. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/feb/25/iran-reactor-bushehr-trial. 22As cited in Unattributed. “Israel Fights Covert War Against Iranian Nuclear Program, Experts Say.” Global Security Newswire. February 17, 2009. http://www.globalsecuritynewswire.org/gsn/nw_20090217_1981.php. 23Ny, Philip, P. Pan; DeYoung, Karen. “Russia Signaling Interest in Deal on Iran, Analysts Say.” The Washington Post. March 18, 2009. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/17/AR2009031703033.html. 24Ny, Philip, P. Pan; DeYoung, Karen. “Russia Signaling Interest in Deal on Iran, Analysts Say.” The Washington Post. March 18, 2009. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/17/AR2009031703033.html. 25Ny, Philip, P. Pan; DeYoung, Karen. “Russia Signaling Interest in Deal on Iran, Analysts Say.” The Washington Post. March 18, 2009. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/17/AR2009031703033.html. 26Ny, Philip, P. Pan; DeYoung, Karen. “Russia Signaling Interest in Deal on Iran, Analysts Say.” The Washington Post. March 18, 2009. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/17/AR2009031703033.html. 27Rodriguez, Alex. “Central Asia and Russia: Countries can’t afford to say no to Kremlin.” The Chicago Tribune. March 15, 2009. www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-u.s.-kyrgyzstan_rodriguezmar15,0,5695289.story. 28Barry, Ellen. “Russia Offers Kind Words, but Its Fist Is Clenched.” The New York Times. February 6, 2009. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/06/world/europe/06russia.html?_r=1&scp=10&sq=Ellen%20Barry&st=cse. 29 Editorial. “Mr. Obama and Russia.” The New York Times. February 12, 2009. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/12/opinion/12thu1.html?_r=1. 30Rodriguez, Alex. “Central Asia and Russia: Countries can’t afford to say no to Kremlin.” The Chicago Tribune. March 15, 2009. www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-u.s.-kyrgyzstan_rodriguezmar15,0,5695289.story. 31As cited in Unattributed. “Russian says U.S. plots assets grab.” The Associated Press. March 18, 2009. http://www.philly.com/inquirer/world_us/41418732.html. 32Barry, Ellen. “Russia Welcomes Letter From Obama.” The New York Times. March 4, 2009. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/04/washington/04russia.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=Russian%20Welcomes%20Letter%20from%20Obama&st=cse. 33 Editorial. “No Deal: Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev offer welcome clarity on Iran and missile defense.” The Washington Post. March 4, 2009. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/article/2009/03/03/AR2009030303285.html?nav=rss_opinions. 34See Dempsey, Judy. “From Russia, a seemingly softer tone on missile deployment.” International Herald Tribune. January 30, 2009. http://www.iht.com/articles/2009/01/30/europe/europe.1-419201.php and Dempsey, Judy. “U.S.-Russia missile deal could be a setback for Czechs.” International Herald Tribune. March 3, 2009. http://www.iht.com/articles/2009/03/03/europe/shield.php. 35Brunnstrom, David. “Poland hopes U.S. will not let it down on shield.” Reuters. March 22, 2009. http://www.iht.com/articles/reuters/2009/03/22/europe/OUKWD-UK-POLAND-US A-SHIELD.php. 36Unattributed. “Polish Leader Appeals For Missile Shield.” The Boston Globe. March 9, 2009. http://www.boston.com/news/world/europe/articles/2009/03/09/polish_leader_appeals_for_missile_shield/. 37Dempsey, Judy. “U.S.-Russia missile deal could be a setback for Czechs.” International Herald Tribune. March 3, 2009. http://www.iht.com/articles/2009/03/03/europe/shield.php. 38See Unattributed. “Missile Shield Under Microscope.” The Washington Times. March 19, 2009. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/mar/19/-41136309/ and Unattributed. “U.S. Conducts ‘Intense Review’ of Missile Defense Plans for Europe.” Global Security Newswire. March 20, 2009. http://gsn.nti.org/gsn/nw_20090320_1409.php. 39 Dempsey, Judy. “U.S.-Russia missile deal could be a setback for Czechs.” International Herald Tribune. March 3, 2009. http://www.iht.com/articles/2009/03/03/europe/shield.php. 40Editorial. “Obama’s Missile Test.” The Wall Street Journal. February 9, 2009. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123414254051961831.html. 41Asher, Byron. “Obama Administration Takes Softer Stance on Missile Defense System in Czech Republic.” The Miami Herald. February 14, 2009. http://news.yahoo.com/s/mcclatchy/20090214/pl_mcclatchy/3168083. 42Vodicka, Milan. “Russia Shouldn’t Have a Veto on Missile Defense.” The Wall Street Journal. February 11, 2009. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123431332358270821.html. 43See Vodicka, Milan. “Russia Shouldn’t Have a Veto on Missile Defense.” The Wall Street Journal. February 11, 2009. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123431332358270821.html and Pisik, Betsy. “Prague seeks out U.S. missile stance.” The Washington Times. March 10, 2009. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/mar/10/prague-looks-for-obamas-missile-stance/. 44See Vodicka, Milan. “Russia Shouldn’t Have a Veto on Missile Defense.” The Wall Street Journal. February 11, 2009. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123431332358270821.html and Pisik, Betsy. “Prague seeks out U.S. missile stance.” The Washington Times. March 10, 2009. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/mar/10/prague-looks-for-obamas-missile-stance/. 45Pisik, Betsey. “Prague seeks out U.S. missile stance.” The Washington Times. March 10, 2009. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/mar/10/prague-looks-for-obamas-missile-stance/. 46 For example, see Hall, Mimi and Michaels, Jim. “Missile system may not be necessary.” USA Today. March 3, 2009. http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2009-03-03-missile_N.htm. 47Knowlton, Brian. “Get closer to Moscow, panel urges.” The Boston Globe. March 17, 2009. http://www.boston.com/news/world/europe/articles/2009/03/17/get_closer_to_moscow_panel_urges/. 48See, DeYoung, Karen. “Obama Teams Seeks to Redefine Russia Ties.” The Washington Post. March 4, 2009. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/03/AR2009030301050.html, Pleming, Sue. “Clinton Faces Tough Task in Mending Russia Ties.” Reuters. February 27, 2009. http://www.reuters.com/article/newsOne/idUSTRE51Q10620090227 and Diehl, Jackson. “A ‘Reset’ That Doesn’t Compute.” The Washington Post. February 23, 2009. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/02/22/AR2009022202005.html?sub=AR. 49Kramer, David, J. “No ‘Grand Bargain’.” The Washington Post. March 6, 2009. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/05/AR2009030502825.html?sub=AR. 50Barry, Ellen. “Russia Offers Kind Words, but Its Fist Is Clenched.” The New York Times. February 6, 2009. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/06/world/europe/06russia.html?_r=1&scp=10&sq=Ellen%20Barry&st=cse

Comments in Chronological order (0 total comments)

Report Abuse
Contact Us | About Us | Support Us | Terms & Conditions Twitter Facebook Get Alerts Get Published

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2002 - 2018