Reports in the Polish media strongly suggest that the Obama
Administration is about to abandon its plans for "third site"
missile defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Abandoning the third site would represent a huge turnaround in
American strategic thinking on a global missile defense system and
a massive betrayal of two key U.S. allies in Eastern and Central
Europe. Such a move would also significantly weaken America's
ability to combat the growing threat posed by Iran's ballistic
missile program and would hand a major propaganda victory to
President Obama's Lukewarm Approach to
Since taking office, President Obama has conditioned his support
for the third-site deployment of 10 missile interceptors in Poland
and a radar in the Czech Republic on a number of factors: its
workability, its cost-effectiveness, and a demonstrable Iranian
nuclear threat. Yet despite this pledge of conditional support to
third-site deployment, President Obama has seemingly gone out of
his way to distance himself from the missile defense deal, which
was concluded with Prague and Warsaw in the final months of the
For instance, on a visit to Prague in April, President Obama
gave a keynote speech focusing on total nuclear disarmament whereby
missile defenses would be completely unnecessary. Additionally, it was
revealed that President Obama "secretly" offered Moscow a grand
bargain whereby America would sacrifice the third site in exchange
for Moscow's help in discouraging Iran's nuclear program.
A Naïve Deal with Moscow?
This shift in U.S. policy is intricately linked to a naïve
deal struck between Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry
Medvedev in Moscow last July, when the two leaders established a
framework to reduce their countries' respective nuclear stockpiles
by a third over the next seven years. The deal, expected to be
concluded in December, also significantly cuts both sides' nuclear
delivery systems, such as long-range bombers, thereby leveling the
playing field for Russia (the U.S. currently has superiority in
Russia favors the agreement as its strategic conventional
weapons capability remains weak, and the technological ability to
rejuvenate its nuclear weapons arsenal is limited.
Obama has made progress toward a "nuclear free world" a priority
of his presidency and is clearly willing to sacrifice U.S.
interests, as well as those of its allies in Europe, on the altar
of political vanity. Moscow has made it abundantly clear that any
steps toward nuclear disarmament have to involve the abandonment of
missile defense installations in Central Europe--what Russia
considers its own backyard--including former Soviet satellites that
are now members of NATO and the European Union. Russia has,
however, expressed interest in basing missile defense sites in
Azerbaijan (Gabala radar station) and in the south of the Russian
Federation, closer to the Iranian border.
Missile Defense Works
President Obama and his Administration, including Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden, have repeatedly
hinged the Administration's support for deployment of U.S. missile
defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic on the proven workability
of the ground-based system. This caveat, however, has already been
satisfied--missile defense technology has been repeatedly proven to
For example, in a December 2008 test, the Missile Defense Agency
successfully intercepted and destroyed an incoming ballistic
missile. In September 2007, the U.S. missile defense system
destroyed a mock warhead mounted on a long-range missile. Since
2002, 37 of 38 ground, sea, and air missile defense intercept tests
have been successful.
Alternatives to the third site include the deployment of
sea-based or mobile theater-based missile defense systems.
However--due to President Clinton's gutting of the program and
President Bush's unwillingness to fully restore it--as they stand
at present, these alternatives do not provide a level of defense
comparable to that of the third site, especially against Iran's
rapidly developing long-range ballistic missile threat.
The Congressional Budget Office states: "None of the
alternatives considered by CBO provide as much additional defense
of the United States [as that offered by the third site]."
Although sea-based alternatives may provide effective defenses
against intercontinental ballistic missiles, such effectiveness
would be subject to future testing and development which is
currently underfunded in both the House and Senate's version of the
2010 National Defense Authorization Act.
The Iranian Threat
There is little indication that the Obama Administration's risky
policy of engagement with Iran is actually working. With every
passing day, Iran grows closer to acquiring nuclear capability, and
according to Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff, it has already amassed sufficient uranium to build an atomic
bomb. Mullen's statement at the beginning of April followed a
February report by the International Atomic Energy Agency that
revealed that Iran had already stockpiled over a ton of
low-enriched uranium, far more than previously estimated.
Iran is also making significant progress with its ballistic
missile program. On May 20, Iran successfully test-fired the
Sajjil 2 solid-fuel missile, which has a
1,200-1,500 mile range, putting Israel within Tehran's reach. Israel's Space Research
Center also reports that Iran intends to accelerate its production
of even longer-range ballistic missiles and their delivery systems
in the near future. And in
April, the National Air and Space Intelligence Center stated that
Iran could develop a missile capable of reaching the U.S. as early
Congress Must Speak Out
If the Obama Administration drops the planned third-site
installations (due to be deployed by 2013), such actions would
represent an accommodation of Russian demands and the shameful
appeasement of an increasingly aggressive regime that is openly
flexing its muscle in an effort to intimidate its neighbors and
revise existing European security architectures.
Cancelling the third site would also send a clear message to
America's allies in Europe that Moscow's bullying will be tolerated
and even tacitly encouraged. Furthermore, it would be a dangerous
signal that the U.S. is unlikely to stand up to Russian demands
that Georgia and Ukraine be barred from becoming full members of
the NATO alliance.
In the coming days it is vital that those in Congress who
believe that the transatlantic alliance still matters--and that
U.S. agreements with its allies are worth the paper they are
written on--speak out against any attempt to abandon plans for
missile defense in Europe. Constitutionally mandated to ratify or
reject treaties, the U.S. Senate should make it clear to President
Obama that it will not sacrifice missile defense in exchange for a
new treaty with Russia reducing strategic nuclear weapons.
The Poles and the Czechs know what it means to live under the
boot of Russian domination. The third-site issue is of huge
symbolic importance to both nations, and if Moscow emerges the
victor, with an effective veto over U.S. policy in Europe, it would
represent a massive surrender of American strategic influence and a
betrayal of two of its closest friends in the region.
Ph.D. is the Director of, and Sally
McNamara is Senior Policy Analyst in European Affairs in, the
Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at the Heritage Foundation.
The authors are grateful to Baker Spring, FM Kirby Research Fellow
in National Security Policy, and Ariel Cohen, Senior Research
Fellow, at the Heritage Foundation, for their advice and