As Wired’s Nathan Hodge explains, Barack Obama is completely reconfiguring US missile defense plans in deference to Russia’s self-proclaimed right to point loaded and ready-to-fire weapons of mass destruction at neighboring European countries.
President Barack Obama yesterday announced that he would scrap George W. Bushâ€™s plan to park missile-defense interceptors in Poland and place an X-band radar in the Czech Republic. Speaking yesterday to reporters, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates offered the new rationale.
â€œOver the last few years, we have made great strides with missile defense, particularly in our ability to counter short-and-medium-range missiles,â€ he said. â€œWe now have proven capabilities to intercept these ballistic missiles with land-and-sea-based interceptors supported by much-improved sensors. These capabilities offer a variety of options to detect, track and shoot down enemy missiles. This allows us to deploy a distributive sensor network rather than a single fixed site, like the kind slated for the Czech Republic, enabling greater survivability and adaptability.â€
In addition, Gates noted the Navyâ€™s considerable test success with the missile-shooting Standard Missile-3 (pictured here), which has seen eight successful flight tests since 2007. Sea-based interceptors, he said, offer a much more flexible option than a fixed site.
Intriguingly, the new plan might include deploying an X-band radar to the Caucasus â€” the region sandwiched between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea â€” to keep an eye out for missile launches from Iran. Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright said stationing a radar in the Caucasus might reassure Russia, which was vehemently opposed to the Bush administrationâ€™s plan to place assets in Eastern Europe.
â€œThe X-band radar is a single directional,â€ he said. â€œIn other words, when you put it down, it points in a single direction. And it will be very clear that it is pointing south towards Iran.â€
Itâ€™s easy to speculate about which countries in the region could potentially host an X-band radar. The United States has close military ties with Georgia. And neighboring Azerbaijan, which shares a border with Iran, has received U.S. funding for the construction of radar installations.
The idea of stationing an X-band radar in the Caucasus, however, is not new. Back in 2006, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) published a fact sheet that said mobile sensors for ballistic missile defense might be placed in an unnamed country in the Caucasus. The agency subsequently scrubbed the fact sheet to remove any mention of possible locales, although MDA spokesman Rick Lehner told me at the time that the region would be a â€œgood location for a small X-band radar to provide tracking and discrimination of missiles launched from Iran.â€
Ben Smith, at Politico, says: There has to have been a behind-the-scenes deal here, involving a major change in Russian policy toward Iran in return for so enormous a concession, doesn’t there?
Republicans talked of President Obama â€œappeasingâ€ Russia,â€ â€œbetrayingâ€ Poland, and bringing back the Carter administration. They didnâ€™t like his decision Thursday to scrap plans for a missle defense system in Poland and in the Czech Republic, and they dusted off some vintage Cold War anti-communist rhetoric and endorsements of missile defense to express it.
Obama and his aides cast the decision as almost a technical one. But for a president who has said repeatedly that he wants to return U.S. foreign policy to the hard-headed pursuit of national interests rather than scoring ideological points, it was also tangible evidence that he meant what he said.
Some members of Obamaâ€™s own party, however, had a simple question for the administration: if this was a return to realism, and a concession to Russiaâ€™s long and vocal opposition to the missile program, what, exactly, was the U.S. getting in return for fundamentally changing it?
And almost certainly, the answer leads back to Iran.
â€œIf it turns out that the Russians now are willing to take a very tough stand on the next round of sanctions on Iran â€“ for instance, in the Security Council â€” then you can say , â€˜Hey, itâ€™s a trade and itâ€™s a good trade,â€ said Walter Russell Mead, the Henry A. Kissinger senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. â€œIf the Russians donâ€™t deliver something pretty substantial back, it does raise questions about what do they think they were achieving.”
But Barack Obama, while he was at Columbia, was an enthusiastic supporter of the nuclear freeze movement, organized internationally by a variety of Soviet front organizations, as this article published in a student newspaper in 1983 attests.
He liked unilateral disarmament back then, and it would not exactly be surprising to find that he likes it now, too.
In fact, Russian press statements, with a certain ill-concealed glee, actually dismiss the idea of some kind of bargain with contempt.
Russia’s NATO envoy has cautioned against “childish euphoria” over recent Washington’s decision to scrap plans for a missile shield in Central Europe. …
“We are already hearing voices in the West…that it is a huge concession to Russia. But I wouldn’t want us to become overwhelmed with some kind of childish euphoria,” Dmitry Rogozin said in an interview with the Vesti television late on Thursday.
The diplomat said Washington had simply corrected its own mistake and had chosen a more flexible and efficient approach to its global missile shield allegedly aimed against the ballistic missile threat from Iran.