American missile defense has long bothered Russia, which relies on its nuclear capability to project power and strength on the world stage. Although Russian conventional forces are being modernized and in some ways being brought close to Western standards, Russia’s nuclear forces are its ace in the hole. Hence the reason why Russian Vladimir Putin continually reminds the world, “Don’t forget we are a nuclear power.”
From the recent comments out of Moscow, I reckon that one of the Russian goals of the Iranian nuclear negotiations, was to remove the American missile defense threat from Europe. After all, President Obama, as well as President George W. Bush, repeatedly said that the system was not aimed at Russia and only meant to stop rogue states like Iran from threatening Europe with ballistic missiles. In hindsight, it now seems obvious that Moscow intended to use these statements and the Iranian negotiation as an opportunity to remove American missile defense from such close proximity to Russia once and for all. Mr. Obama declared years ago, “As long as the threat from Iran persists, we will go forward with a missile defense system that is cost-effective and proven. If the Iranian threat is eliminated, we will have a stronger basis for security, and the driving force for missile defense construction in Europe will be removed.” I am sure that both Presidents meant what they said when they made their respective statements on the issue. However, since then, the strategic situation in Europe has completely changed, and Russia has been at the forefront of these changes.
Russia is not the same player on the geopolitical chessboard that it was even several years ago. The West is now facing a Russian Federation that is much more nationalistic and aggressive than in the past. The conflict over Russian annexation of Crimea and the war in East Ukraine notwithstanding, Russia is behaving very threateningly in the Baltic Sea, the Arctic and elsewhere. You don’t buzz civilian aircraft with military aircraft with transponders turned off if you are trying to be neighborly. Let’s all admit that.
Seemingly, Russia now is attempting to walk back the clock to calmer days of missile defense. It is quite possible that the Western agenda for missile defense should be changed and not targeted specifically just against Iran, but other threats as well.
The simple fact is that Iran will have nuclear weapons in a finite period of time. The agreement does not stop this in the out-years. This is all the more reason to continue developing and deploying missile defense technology.
“We don’t see any reason to continue with the program, let alone at such an accelerated pace and with a clear aim at the Russian nuclear potential,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters, according to Reuters. “So I conclude that the U.S. administration is artificially stitching arguments together behind a decision to continue and increase the pace of creating the European missile shield that was in fact taken for different reasons.”
Russia is really concerned about the ability of America to effectively neutralize its deterrent, as things should be. After all, Ronald Reagan was right. The Strategic Defense Initiative, or as the media called it, “Star Wars,” was successful in the long run in ensuring America’s national security. There is an argument to be made that SDI was instrumental in the fall of the Soviet Union, as the Soviets realized they could not keep up in the technological race. The Russians know this. I wonder if the Left in this country will admit it?
The question for the administration now is, will President Obama appease Russia and remove American missile defense from Europe in its new form? As he did with the old systems George Bush had put in place in Poland and elsewhere? Unfortunately, I think the answer will be yes.
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