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Still committed to missile defense?
The U.S. is sending mixed signals about its plans for a missile defense system in Central Europe.
 

The Obama administration is sending mixed signals on missile defense, said Matus Kostolny in Slovakia’s Sme. Under George W. Bush, the U.S. signed treaties with the Czech Republic and Poland to build radar facilities and missiles on their territory for a system that would shoot down nuclear missiles coming from Iran. Russia, which sees former Warsaw Pact countries as its sphere of influence, vehemently opposes the move. Now that Obama is in office, though, those plans are in doubt. At the Munich security conference two weeks ago, Vice President Joe Biden said the U.S. was “open to the possibility of new forms of cooperation” with Russia on missile defense. Then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. would consider dropping the program if Iran abandoned its nuclear efforts. When pressed, U.S. officials said that Washington had not decided to cancel the plan outright. But they were cagey on whether the missile system would still be built in Central Europe or somewhere else. Apparently, Washington believes “that calm in relations with Russia is more important than the freedom and independence of its former satellites.” Obama may bring “change and hope,” but he “also brings uncertainty.”

Let’s not get hung up on the word “change,” said Lithuania’s Lietuvos Rytas in an editorial. Obama’s foreign policy may indeed be more focused on “diplomacy, not military might.” But that shift doesn’t necessarily mean a new approach toward Russia. “After all, even under George W. Bush, the U.S. never considered the possibility of going to war against Russia.” The media has focused on the single sound bite of Biden saying that Obama would “restart” the Russian relationship. But Biden also said the U.S. would continue to support the territorial integrity of former Soviet republics such as Georgia and would continue to support the expansion of NATO into Georgia and Ukraine.

The problem is that much of this discussion has been “very vague,” said Marcin Wojciechowski in Poland’s Gazeta Wyborcza. The only thing that seems clear is that the Obama administration is not as committed to the missile-defense program as the Bush administration was. Both the Czech and Polish governments are heavily invested in the program, having forced it on their unwilling peoples at some political cost. But Obama would not lose face if the program were scrapped, because he had nothing to do with it. He may well be willing to “abandon the shield as the price of a compromise with Russia”—especially given that the Obama administration “sees global affairs as more important” than relations with Central Europe.

That’s because they are more important, said British scholar Anatol Lieven in Germany’s Die Tageszeitung. It would be in the U.S. interest to scrap missile defense, and Obama knows it. The U.S. needs Russia’s help to rein in a nuclear Iran as well as to stabilize Afghanistan. To get this help, it will have to offer Russia some concessions. The missile-defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic is an obvious choice, since it is an unproved defense “against a threat that doesn’t yet exist.” Killing it would be “a good first step” toward better relations with Russia.”

 

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