Reports the Obama administration intends to cancel plans to establish a missile defense base in Poland and an accompanying radar base in the Czech Republic has defense analysts worried.
They say backing away from building the bases under Russian pressure would fail to improve relations with Russia because it would show the U.S. is weak and unwilling to take a stand against what they call its intimidation tactics.
The suggestions first came to light last week after the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza reported a senior missile defense industry lobbyist had told it the administration is “searching for other solutions than the previously [named] bases in Poland and the Czech Republic.”
The lobbyist, Riki Ellison of the Alexandria, Va.-based Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, told the Polish newspaper the top U.S. generals who spoke at last week’s missile-defense industry conference in Huntsville, Ala. never once mentioned the Czech and Polish bases.
“This is the first time that I have been at these conferences in the last seven or eight years that, that has not occurred,” Ellison told Newsmax. “That has always been a constant staple of when they talk to the industrial complex on missile defense stuff. They have always presented the case for the third site [in Poland], and that case was not presented for the first time this year.”
This led Ellison to the conclusion a major policy shift likely is in the works.
The Polish paper suggested the Obama administration would prefer to base missile interceptors on ships and in bases in Turkey, Israel and somewhere in the Balkans.
”The administration has been sounding out for a couple of weeks now how the Congress will react when plans for building the missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic are dumped,” Gazeta Wyborcza quoted an unnamed congressional source as having said.
In March, the Guardian of London reported President Barack Obama had made a secret offer with Russia to scrap the bases in exchange for Russian help with getting Iran to end its nuclear program.
The Obama administration said Tuesday it hasn’t made its decision yet, but it stopped short of explicitly saying it would keep the bases during a meeting between National Security Adviser Gen. Jim Jones and Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski.
Russia has long opposed U.S. plans to build the bases in the two former Warsaw Pact, now NATO, nations and threatened last year to place cruise missiles in its Kaliningrad region — located adjacent to Poland — in the wake of the war with Georgia to counter the proposed U.S. base. The Russians believe the missile defense bases are aimed at them because they are the only nation in the region that has a strategic missile capability, and they have expressed concern the proposed system would upset the nuclear balance between themselves and the U.S.
“Backing off will not make Moscow any easier to deal with, and in fact it will make things worse,” said Gary J. Schmitt, resident scholar and director of advanced strategic studies at the American Enterprise Institute. “The truth is anytime a bully threatens you and you do what the bully wants you to do, you encourage the same behavior.”
Schmitt said the small number of American missile interceptors that would be placed on Polish soil present an insignificant threat to the nuclear balance between the U.S. and Russia.
John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, agrees, saying nixing the bases rewards Moscow’s policy of intimidating those nations that were under its control at one point and amounts to recognition that Russia has residual hegemonic control over the areas it once controlled.
“Giving the Russians a veto over where we are going to put our missile defense bases doesn’t seem to me to be a very good way of reassuring Nato members or other countries in that area,” Pike said.
The suggested move also has them worried about the message it would send to America’s allies around the world — namely the U.S. cannot be trusted to keep its commitments when a change of power happens.
“If you establish a precedent of undoing everything a previous president has done it’s going to be really hard to do anything because a lot of nations will be like: ‘Why should we make any agreements with the Americans if they are going to just back out on everything as soon as they get a new guy in?’” Pike said.
Placing missile interceptors in Turkey or Israel would be far more problematic than the Polish site due to the trajectory of any missiles that might be launched into Europe by Iran because they would be easier to hit than from alternate sites in the Middle East or at sea.
Defenders of the administration such as Larry Korb of the Center for American Progress, who served as an assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration, say the proposed missile defense platform is unnecessary and dispute the idea canceling the missile bases will encourage further Russian bad behavior.
“It was a bad idea to begin with,” Korb said. “Obama said he would review it during the campaign because you are deploying a system that has not been prove to work against a threat that doesn’t yet exist.
“And you antagonize the Russians, needlessly.”
The administration will deliver its final report sometime next month.
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