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Filed under: Iran, Politics, The Long War — Rick Moran @ 9:48 am

There seems to be a little overreaction to President Obama’s change in policy with regard to missile defense in Europe.

First, it is apparent there should have been better preparation before just dropping this in the Poles and the Czech’s laps. While there had been talk for months about altering the deal that would have set up radar and interceptors in both those countries, the reversal yesterday apparently caught the two nations nearly flatfooted:

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk confirmed today that he declined last night to take a call from the U.S. informing him of the decision to scrap planned missile-defense bases in his country.

Two U.S.-based sources close to the Polish government said Thursday that Tusk also rejected a call from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — on the grounds that, as the head of the government, he should speak to the president.

“Hillary called — and the reason he turned it down was because of protocol,” said a source.

Questions about the exchanges surfaced in the Polish press after Obama reached the Czech prime minister late last night to warn of the policy change, but did not speak to the Pole until this morning. And the static offers a glimpse at the distress beneath the diplomatic facade being offered by Eastern European leaders.

The interceptors will be replaced with upgraded Patriot-type missile batteries (SM-3) stationed aboard ships originally and then deployed on the ground - possibly in Poland and the Czech Republic anyway.

Both President Tusk and Prime Minister Klaus put their political hides on the line, bending over backward to accommodate Washington’s plans for missile defense on the continent. To cut their legs from underneath them no doubt didn’t sit well with either man.

And this unilateral sop to Russia smacks of appeasement. Every move we make to strengthen the security of former USSR states is met with blustering from Putin. Now the Russian strong man has gotten what he wanted without giving up anything at all in return.

It seems to me that in Iran, Venezuela, and now Russia, the president seems perfectly willing to make these unilateral gestures without asking for anything as a quid pro quo. No doubt it pleases our adversaries that they receive these gifts without having to reciprocate. But it begs the question of why this eagerness to throw away perfectly good bargaining chips?

I understand it is necessary at times to make these kinds of unilateral moves but with Obama, it seems to be a habit - and a bad habit at that. In his eagerness to begin dialogue with these states, he apparently feels that we must atone for our former enmity by making unilateral gestures of “goodwill” that will encourage talks. There are other, smaller and less important things we can give up rather than something like Missile defense that is roiling the capitols of Europe as I write this, or as with Iran, a virtual guarantee that we will not attack.

As for the policy change itself, I am not convinced it is a catastrophe or anything close. At Arms Control Wonk, Jeffrey Lewis links to an explanation for the change by Gates:

Since [2006], two important developments have prompted a reassessment of our approach in Europe. First, a change in our intelligence community’s 2006 view of the Iranian threat: The intelligence community now assesses that the threat from Iran’s short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, such as the Shahab-3, is developing more rapidly than previously projected. This poses an increased and more immediate threat to our forces on the European continent, as well as to our allies.

On the other hand, our intelligence assessment also now assesses that the threat of potential Iranian intercontinental ballistic missile capabilities has been slower to develop than was estimated in 2006.

The second development relates to our technology. Over the last few years, we have made great strides with missile defense, particularly in our ability to counter short-and-medium-range missiles. We 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.

We have the right system being deployed that matches the threat. That should be the bottom line, shouldn’t it? I see the strategic implications of the Bush plan but are those considerations paramount? Or is the whole idea of missile defense really just for show?

Lewis has an excellent backgrounder on the development of the Iranian medium range missile and how North Korea and China are assisting them. He describes some secret Iranian memos that detail how this cooperation is benefiting them in their quicker than expected progress on perfecting the medium range Shahab 3:

The memos cover, in a somewhat sketchy way, a lot of ground. Perhaps the most important aspects are those that deal with how several countries collaborate in either developing missiles or selling missile technology to Iran. The memos use codes for the different collaborator countries but I think I know the meanings of the codes. If my understanding is correct, they indicate that representatives from North Korea and China have been present at all phases of production and flight testing. Iran has also gotten important help from Russia, though Russians do not appear to have been as ubiquitous as the Chinese and the North Koreans. The evidence from the memos indicates that this help is on the governmental level rather than “rogue” individuals. This includes Russian help though Russia has been particularly vocal in its denials of such assistance. Despite these denials, the evidence of foreign assistance, both images of engines and turbopumps that are obviously of Russian origin—either their actual production or at the very least their designs—and these internal Iranian memos, make the case overwhelmingly.

The strong implication in the memos is that this assistance was sought by Iran to reduce the risk of project failure. (See my discussion, on paths proliferators might take.) However, the exchange of technology is not automatic, as it would be in a shared development program. Iran appears to have decided that it will try to solve problems as they come up in an effort to develop indigenous capabilities. Under this acquisition strategy, transfer of technology or know-how, even the exchange of opinions, must be approved on what appears to be a case by case basis by a central authority. This could be an explanation for why North Korea’s U’nha-2 failed during its third stage even though it appears to use the Safir’s second stage; a stage that Iran had problems with but eventually got to work. The solution to that problem under this type of collaboration would not have automatically been shared and either North Korea did not ask for it or Iran refused to share it.

So the immediate threat to Europe does not come from any ICBM the Iranians might develop years from now but rather their short and medium range missiles they are making good progress in perfecting. That makes the deployment of the SM3’s a logical and prudent change in plan.

Lewis doesn’t see us doing Russia any favors by deploying the SM-3 but the obvious gloating from Moscow would seem to belie his sanguine analysis. Perhaps from a strategic standpoint, Moscow could care less but the idea that the American president has caved in to their constant demands to not deploy in Poland or Czech Republic might make Putin much more difficult to deal with in the future. That seems to be the analysis of some

The Administration’s likelier motive for scrapping the interceptors is that it hopes to win Russia’s vote at the U.N. Security Council for tougher sanctions on Iran. Maybe the Russians have secretly agreed to such a quid pro quo, though publicly they were quick to deny it following yesterday’s decision.

And as Russian opposition leader Garry Kasparov has noted, Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin benefits by keeping the Iranian crisis on a low boil, because the threat of a Middle East crisis drives energy prices up while putting U.S. interests at risk. Russia also likes spooning out dollops of diplomatic help at the U.N. in exchange for material Western concessions. This time, the concession was missile defense. Next time, perhaps, the West can be seduced into trading away the pro-Western government of Georgia, or even Ukraine.

That’s hardly an idle fear. It has been the tragic fate of the countries of Eastern and Central Europe to be treated as bargaining chips in the designs of their more powerful neighbors. Their inclusion in NATO and EU was supposed to have buried that history, but Russia’s new assertiveness, including its willingness to cut off energy supplies in winter and invade Georgia last year, is reviving powerful fears. Officials in Warsaw surely noticed that President Obama cancelled the missile system 70 years to the day that the Soviet Union invaded Poland as part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with Nazi Germany.

They may have noticed it but reading anything into Obama’s action that would smack of betrayal? Certainly on the political level that might be true. But it would be wrong to say that Poland is any less secure with the SM-3’s than they would have been with the interceptors.

I agree on one level this is a bad decision, and was handled badly by the State Department and the White House. But looking at it from the standpoint of advancing our interests and protecting our allies, I see little to fault.


  1. Didn’t Iran recently launch a satellite that achieved orbit. It takes an ICBM to do this.

    They used a modified Shahab 2 which is a medium range missile. The reason they got it into orbit (it only lasted 10 days or so in orbit) was that it weighed only around 12 pounds. A nuclear warhead weighs around 1500 pounds - quite a difference.


    Comment by Ronald Earl — 9/18/2009 @ 11:07 am

  2. My God you can miss the obvious. The point of the “missile shield” wasn’t the stated “reason,” i.e., to deter Iran. It was to send a message to Putin and his puppet that the Poles and Czechs would not be sacrificed like the Georgians.

    Well, that message has been signed, sealed and delivered. If I were a Czech or Pole, I would be terrified of the current occupant of the White House. Both have been abandoned by the United States at various times (1968 and 1939), so it is little wonder they distrust us, particularly when this nation’s leader is a left-wing appeaser.

    The “message” would not have improved their security one iota. To make the argument that Polish or Czech security is worse today is incorrect.

    Putin doesn’t care about “messages.” Obama did himself no favors with Putin by this action but what makes you think Putin would have been impressed if we had gone ahead and deployed the interceptors. Stop thinking “message” and think “security.” A radar and 10 interceptors would not have protected Poland against a Russian missile threat. Period.


    Comment by obamathered — 9/18/2009 @ 11:09 am

  3. Rick:

    “Period?” Not even close.

    I simply will note that the mere presence of American troops in Western Germany, which military experts estimated would have been over-run in a matter of days by the Red Army, were put there to send a
    “message.” The same applies to our troops on the DMZ today. The message isn’t a subtle one, now is it?

    The message Obama sent was one of weakness. The Czechs and Poles wouldn’t have given a good goddamned unless they realized they are viewed as expendable–which, frankly, they would be fools not to apprehend. I not only won’t stop thinking in terms of messages, I recommend you start to do so. No, a radar and 10 interceptors wouldn’t have done a damned thing. But the message was their presence meant we would commit the required force if Poland were invaded. This is too obvious almost to write.

    There is no way to disentangle “message” from “security” in this case. You would be well advised to think about whether or not “message” vs. “security” is a distinction without a difference. It certainly was or is the case in Seoul and Bonn.

    Comment by obamathered — 9/18/2009 @ 1:27 pm

  4. Sorry to add, but since you posed a serious question I need to make one more point. Compared to most Soviet dictators, in particular Andropov, Putin is a relative dove. The message our troop presence in West Germany sent, as vulnerable as it was, was enough to deter even Andropov.

    We have received the responses from Prague and Warsaw. Again, they have seen this for what it is.

    Comment by obamathered — 9/18/2009 @ 1:34 pm

  5. The “presence” of American boots on Polish and Czeck soil is what these governments wanted. It would be nice if you had the perfect missile shield in place along with the presence of the troops but that is a secondary requirement. The fact that the US would stand with the Poles and Czecks with troops on the ground is the commitment these governments wanted.

    True - the missile system would be just a facade. But unless you were prepared to put hundreds of missle launchers in place, 10 is not much of a shield in any situation except possibly an Iranian incursion - and, trust me, Iranian missiles will be pointed at their true enemies, Israeli targets, for some time to come.

    The governmwents of Eastern Europe want their security garunteed by flesh and blood - that is the only true shield worth the effort.

    Comment by SShiell — 9/18/2009 @ 2:25 pm

  6. I fully expect to see a living and breathing Bigfoot before Patriots are placed on the ground in the Czech Republic and Poland.

    I hear and read constant comparisons of Obama to Carter. That may be unfair to Carter. Even he respected the suffering of Eastern Europe at the hands of the Russians and later the communists. I can’t even describe Obama’s foreign policy as “leftist,” which would have been applicable to Carter. “Nihilist” is more appropriate. There are even a few left-of-center Democrats who won’t take this betrayal of Eastern Europe lightly.

    What should frighten us most is not that this happened on the 70th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, but that no one in the Obama Administration seemingly cared. This really is a sad day for American diplomacy. What wasn’t mentioned in your blog and the comments is that there are Marxist–”neo-communist”, if you will–parties throughout Eastern Europe. Voters who live in the shadow of the Bear may turn to them in upcoming elections since Russia will dominate those nations regardless of what democratic forces claim. That was the lesson learned today. Memories of the Prague Spring, Hungarian Uprising, and the Gdansk Invasion mean nothing to Obama, but to those who lived through those horrors, the West’s past betrayals are fresh insults compounded by Washington’s signal to Moscow today.

    Comment by jackson1234 — 9/18/2009 @ 2:34 pm

  7. Nice piece. A minor nit, the “secret memos” piece on ACW was by Geoffrey Forden. (The comments to that piece are sharp/edgy and appear (to this amateur) to be informed.)

    As to peoples’ comments that (paraphrased) “the point of the ‘missile shield’ in Poland/Czech Republic was to piss off the Russians”, well, yes, duh. This was GWBush-style diplomacy. But exactly *why* do people want bad relations with the Russians? Russian cooperation in anti-proliferation and anti-terrorism efforts is important to our security, for starters.

    Comment by Bill Arnold — 9/18/2009 @ 3:46 pm

  8. “They may have noticed it”

    I personally feel “they” may have this date uppermost in their minds. To do this on the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Poland is either symbolic or really stupid. I don’t think “they” are at all inclined to believe “really stupid”.

    And we are making this big change based on “intelligence” about Iran’s missile capability? Are these the same guys who told us that Iran’s not working to build a nuclear bomb?

    In January President Obama promised the Polish government they would get the missile shield. The WH did try to walk it back but I believed the Polish guy.
    Are we still questioning whether Obama lies?

    Comment by Harry O — 9/18/2009 @ 3:52 pm

  9. Bill Arnold:

    “As to peoples’ comments that (paraphrased) “the point of the ‘missile shield’ in Poland/Czech Republic was to piss off the Russians”, well, yes, duh. This was GWBush-style diplomacy. But exactly *why* do people want bad relations with the Russians?”

    Are you deliberately obtuse, a partisan hack or what? This isn’t to “piss off the Russians.” This largely symbolic missile shield was meant to reassure our allies. Despite all his failings, even Bush would not have fucked up this badly, and he, too, tried to play footsie with Putin. We have scared the hell out of some of our best allies and got…well, exposed as weak. In the meantime, East Europe knows it has or soon will be thrown to the wolves by another ineffectual, feckless president.

    It has been noted in Britain that Secretary of State Clinton was cut out of the loop on this one. My guess is Secretary Clinton already has thought, to paraphrase the great Mae West, “who do I have to fuck to get out of this Administration?” She will leave this Administration rather noisily, in all likelihood. For all her failings, like Bush she would not have made this huge of a mistake.

    Comment by obamathered — 9/18/2009 @ 4:01 pm

  10. I remember not many people were happy when missiles were on their way to Cuba. Why do most of the commentators itch for a confrontations with the Russians? Is Poland in immediate or not so immediate danger? No. Is that in the American interest? No. Believe it or not the Russians mistrust the motives of the US as much as you do theirs.

    Comment by funny man — 9/18/2009 @ 4:37 pm

  11. Obama is the most pathetic attempt at being a president and also a pathetic liar.

    Here is my piece on Obama’s missile catastrophic strategy:

    Comment by Josephine — 9/18/2009 @ 4:40 pm

  12. funny man: Look at a map, please. Poland isn’t the Ukraine. No one is itching for a fight with the Russians. But everyone, including you, should hope they leave Poland alone. What happened with the missile shield is for all intents and purposes a signal to Russia to have its way with Poland, again. And you know what? They will.

    Comment by obamathered — 9/18/2009 @ 5:28 pm

  13. Russia is going to have it’s way with Poland. Based on what? That’s BS.

    Comment by funny man — 9/18/2009 @ 6:06 pm

  14. Obamathered,
    BTW, the Georgians weren’t sacrificed. They were egged on in part by the neocons, Russia just had to wait until they made their stupid move and that was it. That is exactly the policy that the United States should not pursue and that is the traditional conservative position. The Russians were in the Caucasus since the Czar but why should they now invade Eastern Europe. Just because you want Obama to look bad doesn’t mean every world event has to be looked through that lens.

    Comment by funny man — 9/18/2009 @ 6:42 pm

  15. busboy: maybe if you read history a bit more and the DailyKos a little less, you would be less inclined to spit out partisan hackery. The Russians have had their way with the Poles since the time of Catherine. They have received the signal now from the Obama Administration that the United States will not interfere if they revert to their historical inclinations. The Obama Administration doesn’t need any help from me or anyone else for that matter to look bad. The note has been delivered from POTUS to Warsaw: drop dead.

    As for Georgia, yeah, no doubt the Neo-Cons were responsible. My God dem dam Jews always cauz truble!

    There were no neo-cons prior to the 1950s.

    You display such a profound ignorance on this subject you aren’t worth the time but you do show enough grasp on others that I did reply out of previous respect.

    Comment by obamathered — 9/18/2009 @ 7:08 pm

  16. I don’t know what poor busboy has to do with this but you appear to think you have all the facts. I’m not going to accuse you of ignorance like you do but I know this history pretty well because I was born and raised in Germany. You probably think we are going to team up with the Russians again (smile). Just a suggestion, if you want to read opinions agreeing with me you might want to check the American Conservative. However, if instead you want to indulge in the DailyKos and continue to think the world is all about Libs and Cons I’m not going to stop you.
    Where is my ‘profound ignorance’; seriously where am I wrong?

    Comment by funny man — 9/18/2009 @ 7:25 pm

  17. My apologis to busboy.

    As for you, you could have been born in a library but you didn’t pick up much.

    I won’t even start.

    Comment by obamathered — 9/18/2009 @ 7:31 pm

  18. I have been reading some history lately. Perceptions, messages, or the lack of them it seems, are historically important. Two or three come to mind. One is the message given to Saddam that the USA was not interested in the relations of Iraq with its neighbours. Saddam took this as an indication that the USA would not intervene if he invaded Kuwait.

    Dean Rusk (or some other individual) made a speech about the USA being protective of Asian countries. He left out South Korea. South Korea was invaded shortly thereafter by North Korea.

    WWII may have been prevented and Hitler even deposed if France and Britain had resisted the German army’s enterance into the Rhineland.

    Maybe the world has changed and these lessons are no longer applicable. I sure hope so. If not the future may be far worse the the years since WWII.

    And one other thing. The WH and SD sure could have handled this better. The Czechs and Poles could have been kept informed with the changes in missile defense technology and the perhaps all could have been notified that, while the proposed agreement was being changed, the intent was to be maintain by the new system. (Do you really think the Russians would not object to the new system being installed in the Balkans?)

    Comment by Steve WH — 9/18/2009 @ 8:57 pm

  19. obamathered:
    not exactly a sign of intellectual prowess to dismiss people with other opinions as ignorant. I’m pretty sure I understand both Poland and Russia a bit better than you (unless you take the time to prove me otherwise). However, so be it.

    Comment by funny man — 9/18/2009 @ 10:30 pm

  20. funny man: not worth the time. The fact you Googled “Caucasus” and responded marginalized you.

    Steve: Pretty close. The American Left is fairly well gobsmacked today. And if you think about it, why not? The light flashes green but you are dressed in camo. Blaze orange is so close to red, isn’t it?

    Comment by obamathered — 9/19/2009 @ 12:25 am

  21. Obamathered:
    just because you can recite Ann Coulter doesn’t make you a conservative.

    Comment by funny man — 9/19/2009 @ 12:21 pm

  22. It is hard to imagine how a diplomatic situation could be messed up worse. The missle defense system was designed soley to defend against the threats posed by Iran and North Korea. As the nature of the Iranian threat became more acute, it became clear that this system would be inadequate and it made sense to scrap it. The system as proposed would offer no protection against Russia and only served to inflame the situation. A plurality of Poles and Czechs understood this. That is why Poles at least opposed the system by a 47-39 percent margin. Obviously in return for their assistance to America against Iran they expected some consideration. Specifically they wanted help in modernizing their militaries. This no longer makes sense to America. How can we modernize or upgrade Poland’s miliary? We need someone to help us modernize ours. I expected this system to be scrapped. If we hadn’t scrapped it, Poland and Czechoslovakia would have eventually after they were done extracting all they could out of America. This is why their glum. They hadn’t finished taking advantage of America.

    Comment by B.Poster — 9/19/2009 @ 2:46 pm

  23. American security is enhanced by the removal of this system. Continuing witg it would have only increased the likelyhood of war witg Russia. Right now a war with Russia would mean almost certain defeat for America. Even if the American military were capable of successfully engaging the Russians right now, which there not, the American people are ynprepared for the kind of sacrifices that would be necessary to win such a conflict. Even if the American people and the milirary were preapred, we can’t afford it financially. Ultimately America should support liberty where and when it is possible but it can only guarantee its own.

    Comment by b.poster — 9/19/2009 @ 3:57 pm

  24. Here is a link with the actual numbers showing that the majority of Poles were against the missile shield.

    You mean the Czech republic right? Czechoslovakia hm. The Russians and Americans fighting it out..My hunch is just that neither the Russians nor the Americans are ready for mutual destruction. Just a thought.

    Comment by funny man — 9/19/2009 @ 11:56 pm

  25. @obamathered:

    Thanks for the apology . . . although it did give me a warm feeling to think I’m haunting someone’s thoughts.

    Comment by busboy33 — 9/20/2009 @ 12:38 am

  26. Funny Man,

    Thanks for supplying the link on the poll regarding lack of support for Poles on the proposed missle defense system. The figures I quoted were from an older poll. It appears opposition to the proposed system had increased. This isn’t surprising. The proposed system was not deesigned with Russia in mind and would have done nothing to defend against Russia and was making the situation worse with regards to Russia. Apparently the majority of polls are smarter than some pundits.

    As a result of cancelling the system, Russia has appareently said they will not deploy Iskander missles. Using Iskander missles against the proposed system is a bit like using a jack hammer to squash a bug. As such, I’m left wondering what the Russians are up to but not having these weapons in action is better for security for Poland and the Czech Republic. Now follow up will be needed to ensure Russia follows through.

    It seems every one wins by scrapping this system, however, what disturbs me is the scathing attacks the Aemrican government has come under in the Czech and Polish press, as well as by certain pundits here in America. The parliments of the Czech Republic and Poland had not even ratified the construction yet. They were never going to. Presumably they want to get reelected.

    Apparently the plan of the Polish and Czech governments was to string the Americans along and extract all they could from America and its taxpayers before cancelling the project. Then along comes the US government and upsets the apple cart so to speak.

    As for the American pundits who are carping, you are not bright enough to figure out you and your country were being played by the Polish and Czech governments. As for those pundits in Poland and the Czech Republic, if you expect us to assist you, which we probably would if we could, you make it less likely by your disgusting actions in response to America acting in its best security interests while not harming yours one iota.

    Finally, in order to “sell” either of these countries as some have suggested, we would need to actually own the countries in question. We don’t own them. As such, selling them would be impossible. On a side note, American power is often overestimated. If one’s power is overstated, they become much eaiser to vilify.

    Comment by B.Poster — 9/22/2009 @ 9:50 am

  27. As a survivor of the Carter years in the Corps, I’ve heard this blather before. As Carter withdrew, our enemies became bolder. When the US Ambassador was assassinated by Russians in Kabul, normally an act of war, all Carter could do was wring his hands. He crippled our military, encouraged our enemies, and betrayed our allies. When he let the Shah fall, he brought about the necessary ingredient for a state sponsor for global terrorism discussed in “Milestones.” Obama is nothing but Carter times ten.

    Comment by Gunny G — 9/22/2009 @ 5:39 pm

  28. Guuny G,

    It’s to early to tell what the results of Obama’s foreign policy will be. We should all hope and pray for his success. After the disaster of Prrsident Bush, the country cannot afford another failed presidency.

    What is clear is missle defense system being proposed for Poland and the Czech Republic was not designed for Russia and was completely inadequate to defend against Russia. The system was designed with Iran in mind. As the nature of the Iranian threat changed, it made perfect sense to alter the systems designed to defend against Iran.

    In addition, it needs to be understood by all Americans that the American military as it is currently constituted, is no match for Russia at any level. Given the massive debt the country has, there is no realistic hope of building a military that can compete with Russia. American military planners are no doubt aware of this reality and have advised the President and his team accordingly.

    While America should support liberty every where, we can only guarantee our own. As such, we cannot guarantee the liberty of Poland, the Czech Republic, or any other former Eastern Bloc country. To try and do so is unwise on many levels. Most importantly it risks an un winnable war with Russia.

    If we were to set out to build a military equal to the Russians it would take at least decade and probably longer. This assumes we could afford it and the Russians would largely stand pat.

    Most importantly we should act to upgrade and expand the nuclear arsenal and the delivery systems. This could be done right now, possibly by ending our deployments outside of the country. The resultung savings could go to these programs. It’s certainly better tgan what we are currently doing. It would give us a fighting chance to defend ourselves.

    Comment by b.poster — 9/23/2009 @ 9:48 am

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