Today, President Obama reneged on a long-standing agreement with
America's allies and formally abandoned the "third site" missile
defense plan. The U.S. will no longer be deploying 10 missile
interceptors in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic, a plan
formerly regarded as necessary for defending America's friends and
allies as well as the homeland from intercontinental and
intermediate-range ballistic missiles.
The decision runs contrary to U.S. strategic interests and will
undermine security commitments to America's allies. The new plan to
focus on the short- and medium-range threats from Iran:
- Represents a major reversal in American strategic thinking on
- Leaves America more vulnerable to the emerging nuclear threat
from Iran and North Korea, and
- Betrays key allies in Eastern and Central Europe.
Only Russia has expressed satisfaction with the announcement,
which is a public relations victory for Moscow and a green light to
Russian aggression and interference in the region. Congress should
reject this revised plan, which is based on no new intelligence,
and amend the pending 2010 defense spending bill to fully fund
missile defense capabilities--including those for the third site.
America can indeed afford to spend what it takes to counter all
potential Iranian nuclear threats, from short- to long-range.
Encouraging Iranian Nuclear
Obama's decision may further encourage Iran, which continues to
defy the West and expand its nuclear program in the hopes of
achieving regional hegemony and projecting its power across the
globe by wielding the threat of nuclear attack. With the third-site
plan altered, there will be a gap in security. Iran will be one
step closer to having the far-reaching destructive capabilities it
seeks. Further, the U.S. is scrapping its plan while there is no
evidence that Iran has stopped its long-range missile program.
The third site commitment was designed as a primary means of
halting an Iranian nuclear missile attack. If the President's goal
in abandoning this capability was to secure Russian support for
other means of containing Iran--such as imposing newer, tougher
sanctions--the initiative has already failed. The Russians have
said clearly that they will not cooperate with the U.S. on any new
sanctions during United Nations discussions.
The Administration has proposed an alternative program that
currently provides less capability: the Navy's Aegis-based missile
defense system. The Pentagon is billing the system as an
improvement on third-site capabilities, claiming it will be
"stronger, smarter and swifter" and "counter the current threat
more effectively." There is reason to be skeptical about the
strength of this commitment. The alternative may go the same route
as third site as soon as outrage over third site dies down.
Abandoning America's Allies
The Obama Administration has abandoned Poland and the Czech
Republic, both of whom have been stalwart partners in the wars in
Afghanistan and Iraq. The Poles have fought side by side with the
Americans in both theaters, and they recently sent more troops to
Afghanistan to help with the election. Similarly, the Czech
Republic is running a large Provincial Reconstruction Team and
advising the Afghanistan Air Corps. Both countries have a painful
history of being abandoned by the international community to the
totalitarian ambitions of belligerent neighbors.
As Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) stated this morning, the Obama
Administration's betrayal "turns back the clock to the days of the
Cold War, when Eastern Europe was considered the domain of Russia."
He expects that this will be perceived as "a bitter disappointment,
indeed, even a warning to the people of Eastern Europe."
Arms Control Agenda Trumps All
Today's announcement clearly places an arms control agenda atop
U.S. foreign policy priorities. After making drastic cuts to
missile defense already this year, the Administration will be left
with a choice of two possible strategies: (1) multilateral
application of the Cold War policy of mutually assured destruction
(MAD), or (2) disarmament.
The President appears to have abandoned MAD and placed all of
the U.S. eggs in the disarmament basket. President Obama has
already made numerous commitments to reduce U.S. nuclear stockpiles
and sign onto expanded disarmament treaties while doing nothing to
shore up the nation's missile defenses.
As Representatives Howard
"Buck" McKeon (R-CA), Ileana Ros-Lentinen (R-FL), Michael Turner
(R-OH), and Elton Gallegly (R-CA) recently wrote in a September 8
letter to the President:
Another area of deep concern is the limitation on missile
defenses and conventional forces that the Administration appears to
be considering as part of the START [Strategic Arms Reduction
Treaty] follow-on agreement. Although Administration officials have
testified that defensive systems will not be covered, the Joint
Understanding states that START will include, "a provision on the
interrelationship of strategic offensive and strategic defensive
arms." Russian leaders have suggested that Moscow may not sign the
treaty unless the U.S. abandons its European missile defense plans.
We are concerned that the Administration may be considering any
such limitation on U.S. missile defense and are opposed to its
inclusion in any agreement.
A High-Stakes Gamble
Obama appears to have traded away the third site as part of
START follow-on negotiations. If so, the U.S. is giving away too
much without getting anything of value in return. Further, the
President is waging a risky bet with Members of Congress as he
ignores requests by Senators that START should not compromise
missile defense; for urgent nuclear modernization; and for U.S.
defense capabilities in space.
Congress should be very skeptical of the President's plan to
abandon the third site and demand access to all updated
intelligence. Further, Congress should insist that the U.S. not
give away one capability (long-range) at the expense of another
(short- and medium-range). With the U.S. broadcasting a lack of
investment in necessary long-range capabilities, Iran is more
likely to put additional money and resources into long-range
missiles. The U.S. can fully afford to keep its security
commitments and to develop capabilities designed to counter a range
of short- to long-range threats. Congress should restore missile
defense funding when the Senate takes up the fiscal year 2010
defense appropriations bill later this month.
Spring is F. M. Kirby Research Fellow in National Security
Policy and Mackenzie
M. Eaglen is Research Fellow for National Security in the
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a
division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for
International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.