Mutual Incomprehension on Missile Defence

As has been widely reported, the White House has decided to abandon the planned radar/interceptor installations in Poland and the Czech Republic and replace them with mobile land and sea based missile interception systems.  The reaction to the decision shows that different people were seeing vastly different things in what the original proposal represented. 

Writing in the Wall Street Journal Europe, Jack David and Melanie Kirkpatrick seem to believe that New York City faces a significant threat from an intercontinental ballistic missile attack originating in Iran.   It’s impossible to see the calculation on the Iranian side that would make such an attack a good idea even if it was technically feasible.  Perhaps aware of this problem, other US conservatives downplay the Iranian angle and emphasize instead that politically if not technically, the system was aimed at Russia.   Offered as supporting evidence is this summer’s open letter from the great and the good of the eastern European transition warning that the missile defence system “is a symbol of America’s credibility and commitment to the region”, with consequent adverse effects if it was abandoned. 

Maybe AFOE readers closer to the action have better insights, but this seems bewildering.   Poland and the Czech Republic already have the NATO common defence guarantee.   As every one seems to agree, the missile defence system is irrelevant to Russian offensive capabilities.  And “symbols” of support don’t amount to a whole lot when relations with Russia get really out of hand,  as Georgia found out. 

So one suspects that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are a bit confused about the uproar and will be even keener to emphasize that its foreign policy towards eastern Europe is not subject to alleged pouting by Russia until it gets its way.   This had all come in the wake of a somewhat conciliatory Vladimir Putin in Gdansk a couple of weeks ago — and one now wonders what behind the scenes negotiations went on during the World War II commemoration there. 

Anyway, the point is that somehow, the Iran situation triggered a significant headache in transatlantic relations and it’s not clear that the different sides in the controversy are really talking to each other.  Perhaps no surprise then that the new NATO Secretary General, former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, devoted his first speech to NATO-Russia relations.  It’s worth a read.

7 thoughts on “Mutual Incomprehension on Missile Defence

  1. Well, it wasn’t possible to transplant the Reagan strategy to the Middle East, Iran’s getting less threatening though possible more unstable with every green avatar on Twitter, and high oil prices as a consequence of the failed transplantation have re-energized Russia to the extent it demonstrated in Georgia, so it seems kind of natural to return to them when you’re looking for an old/new enemy.

    So interesting speech indeed. Reminds me a bit of the “NACTO” (“North Atlantic Counter Terrorism Organisation”) idea that Berkeley’s Beverely Crawford once floated (in a 2004 state of mind) as a unifying cause for the Western part of NATO (in a piece about the state of Germany in 2015)…

  2. “one suspects that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are a bit confused about the uproar”

    Does one? I don’t see any evidence for that.

    This may or may not be a wise initiative, but it doesn’t appear to be a hasty or poorly thought out one one.

    Doug M.

  3. “Poland and the Czech Republic already have the NATO common defence guarantee.”

    Somehow, it wasn’t seen as enough. On Friday the largest newspaper ran with front page headline “OBAMA SURRENDERS TO KREMLIN” announcing the decision. Even though officially it was targeted against Iran, there was always strong *wink* *wink* *nudge* *nudge* that it’s against the Evil Communist Empire. Maybe not necessarily technically, but more in a sense of geopolitical spheres of influence. If one objected against US troops, the reply was “and you want the Soviets back here?”.

    In an interview with one of the biggest proponents of the system – Alexander Vondra, former minister for the EU in Topolanek’s cabinet, headlined “Our relationship with America hit a wall”, Vondra mentions (Note: I am NOT making this up)

    – Obama is from a school which does not understand the price America paid for helping us from our troubles (WW1/WW2)

    – Doesn’t like that Obama is not committed to the signed (but not ratified) treaty regarding the Radar.

    – That maybe it will be harder to get Czech troops deployed as he is not sure whether we can rely on the US.

    – Sour that the information regarding Iran threat was consistent in the last 15-20 years, which lead to cancellation of some Bushehr construction deals in the 90ties.

    – Worried that US underestimates Russia’s appetite for influence in Central Europe.

    – Fears who is going to buy Czech petrochemical, gas and nuclear industries. Fears becoming of Russia’s gubernia in five years.

    – Mentions that Obama said the visit to Czech republic was “waste of time” (Obama arrived shorty after the Topolanek cabinet fell)

    – Agrees with his friend Sikorski that Czech republic must take seriously european defense and therefore wants Lisbon despite all the misgivings he has about it.

    And to get a taste of the way interviews are done in the second biggest newspaper around here:

    Qn: “So, when we get disappointed with Obama, we immediately run to tie to Sarkozy who, by the way, advised Obama to do exactly what he did?”
    A: “Sarkozy is certainly not the only player. A compromise between France, Germany and the UK would be always looked for”.

    Q: “Do you remember a single instance in the last two years where at least one of the three players would support us in anything?”
    A: “No. But it’s a fact that our relationship with the US hit their limits and it’d be a mistake to antagonize our allies in Europe. What would we have left? Russians in Karlovy Vary?” (a czech spa very popular with russians)

    Oh and his name was floated as a possible candidate for Commission job.

    Also, since that announcement local politicians seem to be in a competition who says the most ridiculous thing.
    The foreign minister Jan Kohout wants US to either pay for a czech astronaut or establish a branch of the West Point here. (again, I’m not making this up)


  4. jv: the hysteric reaction of the Czech press and politicians is quite understandable in the context. They cheerfully supported the radar which majority of the Czechs didn’t like and now they ritually dance and shout to save their face (parliament election is near).

  5. PV: Yeah, at least they managed to cancel the preliminary elections to give them a bit more time. (October->June).

  6. Thanks jv for all the details. As evidence that the US side feels they have to play a little catch-up now, we have Hillary Clinton adding lines to a Brookings speech, that was meant to be about the UN, about the missile defence decision and then an opinion piece by Defence Secretary Robert Gates in the NYT on Sunday. Initial reports on the day of the decision made the end of the process sound messy e.g. that Czech PM was only informed in a midnight (Prague time) phone call on eve of decision — information that probably came from Czech side to sympathetic source in Washington.

  7. Pingback: Global Voices Online » U.S., Europe: “R.I.P. Missile Defense”

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