Feature

Backtracking on missile defense

Last week, the U.S. announced that it was canceling its plan to build a missile defense system in the Czech Republic and Poland to protect against a nuclear attack from Iran.

“Russia has won,” said Teodor Marjanovic in the Czech Republic’s Mlada Fronta Dnes. Faced with Russian objections, the U.S. last week announced that it was canceling its plan to build a missile defense system in the Czech Republic and Poland to protect against a nuclear attack from Iran. When the Bush administration announced the project, in 2007, the Czech and Polish governments did all they could to persuade their reluctant citizenry that the system would make them more secure by sheltering them under the American nuclear umbrella. But now, President Barack Obama has “destroyed our prospect of a safer future in one move, as if flicking a crumb from his desk.” For us, the missile shield wasn’t just a defense against Iran. Since it would be manned by U.S. troops and in effect require U.S. bases in our countries, the shield was “a vital insurance policy against Russia’s expanding imperial appetites.” So much for that. When Obama came to Prague last spring, he promised that the U.S. “would never turn its back on the people of this nation.” But that’s exactly what he just did.

Let this be a wakeup call to Eastern Europe, said Kamil Durczok in Poland’s Polska. In Poland, in particular, we’ve been unquestioningly subservient to the United States ever since we shook off communism. We had “become a kind of American outpost,” to the detriment of our relations with Western Europe. Yet for Obama, Eastern Europe is obviously “not a top priority.” Rather than placing all our hope in a missile shield “that was always more virtual than real anyway,” we “may want to learn how to build alliances with our neighbors.”

That would be the best outcome, said Richard Werly in Switzerland’s Le Temps. The proposed defense system “symbolized the unilateralism” of the Bush administration and was therefore unpopular across Europe. Bush offended NATO by skirting the alliance to create his own missile shield, and he drove a wedge between Eastern and Western Europe by enlisting the Easterners in his plan. Worse, he insulted Russia by placing his proposed new bases on former Warsaw Pact territory. Obama’s wise decision to abandon the project can allow those “wounds” to heal. The question now is “whether this lucidity will be copied in Russia.” Will the Russians accept Obama’s overture and “return to a less aggressive position”?

Scrapping missile defense is hardly a concession to Russia, said Victor Litovkin in Russia’s Nezavisimaya Gazeta. Missile defense has never been proved to work, and besides, it is very expensive. The U.S. had already poured $50 billion into research, and at least $60 billion more would have been required to install the system in Eastern Europe. That’s probably why it was a favorite of U.S. defense companies and the Pentagon officials in their pockets. But with the current financial crisis, Obama can’t afford to “waste money” on a system that is just “ethereal propaganda.” In short, it was in the U.S.’s own interest to backtrack on missile defense—which is why Russia certainly has no need to make any concessions in return.

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