When Vice President Joseph Biden spoke in Munich over the weekend, he pledged that the United States would be more appreciative of its European allies, but he also suggested that it would pay greater heed to Russia’s opposition to initiatives to protect them.
“We will continue to develop missile defenses to counter a growing Iranian capability, provided the technology is proven to work and cost effective,” Biden said. “We will do so in consultation with our NATO allies and Russia.”
Not exactly a resounding endorsement. Biden’s watery language must have been music to the ears of Russians seeking to curb American influence in their near-abroad. The proposed U.S. missile defense system in Eastern Europe, which would deploy new radars and interceptor missiles to the Czech Republic and Poland, may not have a future under the new administration. President Obama has questioned the need for what he describes as “unproven” missile defense technology and signaled that he will revisit the plan before any building begins.
Despite Washington’s declarations that the shield is solely a defensive measure against rogue states like Iran, and offers to invite Russian military observers to monitor the operations at a proposed radar in the Czech Republic, the Kremlin remains vehemently opposed to the system.
Since the moment the Bush administration began negotiations over the program, Russia has been scrambling for alternatives in hopes of checking the U.S. advance in Eastern Europe. Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin suggested that other NATO members such as Turkey or even Azerbaijan host the missile system. Poland signaled its distrust of Russia by signing its agreement to host the U.S. system mere hours after the Russian invasion of Georgia, prompting Russian officials to hiss that Poland had become a military target.
Last week’s announcement that Kyrgyzstan would no longer allow the U.S. to use Manas Air Base, a critical link in the supply chain for American troops in Afghanistan, is a sign of Russia’s strong-arm tactics to rein in the U.S.
Russia’s friends in the EU are right that the Cold War is over, but still they cozy up at their own peril. None of Russia’s current defenders endured Russian occupation behind the iron curtain. Russiaphiles Silvio Berlusconi and Nicolas Sarkozy have too much at stake economically to get exercised about Russia’s aggressive overtures. The Poles, on the other hand, ran to Georgia’s side after the Russian invasion earlier this summer because they remember what it was like to suffer the consequences of global indifference to Russian steamrolling. Russia’s allies in Western Europe granted another free pass when they quickly normalized relations after the invasion.
Naturally, the Russians are uneasy about the U.S. pursuing military alliances with the states on their doorstep, and supporting former Soviet states like Ukraine in their bids to join NATO. As President Obama tries to distance himself from President Bush’s policies, he will not likely engage in confrontations on these issues. If he is as shrewd as everyone says he is, Obama will hopefully manage to chip away at Russian hegemony while still satisfying our needs in Afghanistan and Iran. The Russians may yet prove willing to pacify the U.S. to prevent it from pushing past their comfort zones and planting a big American footprint in a former Soviet vassal state.
The Poles shouldn’t lose heart. Obama didn’t go running into the arms of “Old Europe” as soon as he was elected. The missile shield will be put on hold, but probably not indefinitely. In some form or another, missile defense has been a tenet of U.S. global security strategy for decades. Nor will the new administration deny Poland’s service as a standout ally in a sea of European discontent. Poland contributed troops to both Iraq and Afghanistan.
President Obama’s goal in Afghanistan is to finish what Bush started. To minimize the costs, he will likely have to court Russian cooperation to preserve northern access routes to the country, but he will not have to cash in all his bargaining chips.
Obama will likely move forward on other promises, such as modernizing the Polish defense forces. He can win both a diplomatic and strategic victory by providing Poland the military assistance it has been promised, such as Patriot missiles, which will make the Poles happy, and the Russians wary.
The U.S. should get back to building the missile shield as soon as it has the financial and political resources to do so. It will strengthen our position against rogue states, and weaken Russia’s check on American defense policy. While Obama tries to wrap up Iraq and Afghanistan and soothe our alliances, the future of the U.S. alliance with Poland is uncertain. Poles fear that they will once again be sacrificed to the Russian machine.
Just how much is Barack Obama willing to bargain away?
-Aleksandra Kulczuga is a writer living in Arlington, Va.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | James Velasquez
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond