Tags: obama | missile | shield | russia

Obama Administration Caves to Putin on Missile Shield for Europe

By Kenneth Hanner   |   Sunday, 17 Mar 2013 10:23 PM

Buried in the news made late Friday made by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that the U.S. planned to deploy missile interceptors in Alaska and California was the equally important news that the Obama administration was going to stop long-held plans to fully deploy a missile shield in Eastern Europe.

The Pentagon insisted that the change in deployment had nothing to do with trying to assuage Russia and everything with the threat from North Korea, which in recent months has sent a long-range missile into space, detonated a nuclear device, and, last week, sent a barrage ofmissiles into the Sea of Japan.

But the issue of the missile shield has long been seen as a sign of NATO's commitment to protect Europe and former Soviet satellite states against a potentially belligerent Russia, which has made the anti-missile deployment a key target in their diplomatic efforts with the U.S.

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The U.S. plan had called for interceptors in Poland and Romania, complemented by deployed U.S. naval ships outfitted in the Mediterranean. Hagel said the first three phases would be fully implemented, but the fourth, the deployment of a large interceptor warhead, would not go forward.

At a meeting last March in South Korea, Obama told then-Russia President Dmitri Medvedev in remarks picked up by a live microphone that he would have “more flexibility” on the missile shield issue following an election victory.

Hagel's decision Friday confirms that Obama may be trying to live up to the promise, resolving a key part of the issue in Russia's favor early in his second term. The Obama administration reportedly believes the move may encourage Russia to additional nuclear arm cuts.

The Obama Administration recently offered an olive branch to Russia, indicating it planned to de-activate one-third of the U.S. nuclear arsenal unilaterally and without Congressional approval.

The Pentagon said if the fourth phase deployment of the missile shield in East Europe, if re-started, would not take place earlier than 2022.

Russia and the United States have been at odds over a Central Europe-based missile defense system since first proposed by President George W. Bush to protect against missiles from Iran.

NATO has argued the system's placement is not solely based on Russia's strategic arsenal, but places interceptors close to the treaty organization's southern flank, able to deflect Iran's growing missile capabilities.

Russia has maintained that the system is meant to counter its own missile arsenal. Russia maintains the world's largest nuclear arsenal and continues to modernize and upgrade its missile capabilities.

The shift has so far failed to change Russia’s opposition to first three phases of the Europe-based system that has already been completed, although Moscow has yet to make any official pronouncements about Hagel's announcement.

Influential Russian lawmaker Alexei Pushkov said on Sunday that Moscow still opposes the missile-defense system in Europe, Reuters reported.

“It would be premature to say that something has fundamentally changed,” said Pushkov, who heads the foreign affairs committee in the Russian State Duma and is an ally of President Vladimir Putin. “The United States is readjusting the missile defense system due to financial and technology issues—issues not related to the Russian position.”

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Russia's press services were also critical of the move. And Russia's RT news service said Moscow remains concerned about U.S. efforts to build a radar station in the Czech Republic. RT said the station will complement the deployed interceptors.

Hagel also said there were technical difficulties with the system that was set to be deployed in Poland and Romania by early next decade and cited the $1 billion cost of the new North Korea defense system as playing a key role in his decision.

Hagel made no reference during the Pentagon announcement to Russia’s objections to the system in Central Europe, but said that the U.S. commitment to missile defense there “remains ironclad.”

Republicans in Congress criticized Hagel’s announcement on both fiscal and national security grounds.

“President Obama's reverse course decision will cost the American taxpayer more money and upset our allies," GOP Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama, chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee that has oversight over the program, told the Associated Press.

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