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For a president who promised to mend our relationships with our allies, President Barack Obama is doing a pretty lousy job of it in Central Europe.
In a story in the Wall Street Journal, a spokesman for the Pentagon has confirmed that American plans to install a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic have been indefinitely shelved. According to the Journal,
“The U.S. is basing its move on a determination that Iran’s long-range missile program hasn’t progressed as rapidly as previously estimated, reducing the threat to the continental U.S. and major European capitals, according to current and former U.S. officials.”
As the story notes, this decision is a complete reversal from Bush-era policy, when the Republican administration invested heavily in the missile defense program initiated by President Bill Clinton.
The Obama administration, putting on its best realpolitik face, is insisting that the policy shift is a response to new information about the status of Iranian nuclear weapons capabilities, ostensibly making the central European defense shield obsolete and wasteful. There is no doubt Obama is also hoping the move will placate the Russians, who continuously criticize the American plan as a threat to Russia. A member of the UN Security Council, Russia has been stubbornly opposed to sanctioning Iran for that country’s pursuit of a nuclear program.
Obama likely believes this gesture will endear our position on Iran to Putin and Medvedev, and perhaps Russia will be more conciliatory when the Security Council meets with Iranian negotiators in two weeks. Since Russia has economic interests with Tehran, including exporting nuclear reactors to Iran, the likelihood of this development is slim. More likely, Russia will continue to prevaricate on the issue of a nuclear Iran.
With the dissolution of the missile defense project, we have given Russia a critical diplomatic victory in exchange for continued stalemate with the Iranian question. This leaves Poland and the Czech Republic, two key allies in Central Europe, high and dry, and it leaves America potentially weakened against a future nuclear attack from Iran.
As I pointed out in an article last year, missile defense would help distance countries like the Czech Republic from Russia. Indeed, an official in the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs told me the program is integral to the plan to move the influence of the West “further east” and away from Russian influence. These former Soviet bloc countries have done much in the way of this over the past few years, culminating in the acceptance of Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia and the Baltic states into the EU in 2004. This has infuriated a jealous Russia, whose influence in the region has obviously diminished since the Cold War. The acceptance of the missile defense program was an act of defiance on the part of Poland and the Czech Republic, and America should be lending support to these capitalistic democracies.
Instead, this capitulation to Russia severely damages American interests in Central Europe. The first sign that Obama might do so came with his weak response to Russian aggression in Georgia during the 2008 campaign. It’s disappointing but not surprising that the president would sacrifice goodwill with key allies for empty hope in a nation hostile to democracy and sovereignty.
Michael Warren is a senior at Vanderbilt University.
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