Daniel Korski

Mr Obama, tear down these missile sites

Mr Obama, tear down these missile sites
Text settings

Today Barack Obama publicly tore down the missile installations that George W Bush put up in the Czech Republic and Poland. The system was ostensibly meant to counter threats from Iran, but given the swift creation of missile sites in Poland and the Czech Republic in the wake of Russian’s invasion of Georgia, Moscow’s elite never bought into this rationale – and perhaps rightly so. The strength of Russian feeling has always been clear. The latest Russian National Security Strategy states that the “ability to maintain global and regional stability is being significantly aggravated by the elements of the global missile defence system of the US”.

So if Obama wanted to have Russian support for tougher sanctions against Iran and cooperation on a follow-on to START II as well as nuclear disarmament, the missile system, in its current form, had to go. In truth, it’s not a great loss for the White House. Democrats have always been sceptical of the Bush-era missile defence system – of both the technology and the benefits of a future system when set against antagonising Russia in the short-term. During President Obama’s visit to Moscow, US and Russian leaders issued a joint statement on missile defense directing experts to jointly analyse and make recommendations on ballistic missile challenges. Today’s announcement is a logical follow-on.

But it will be crucial that NATO allies are brought on board, especially since the best long-term result would likely be a joint US/NATO/Russian system. As far as possible, NATO allies should be offered to participate in the expert deliberations on a future to ensure that key allies are satisfied with the end result.

Failure to do so could inflame concerns about a US-Russian strategic condominium. NATO is already hampered by internal division between allies who see Russia as a threat and those who do not. Poland and the Czech Republic, in particular, will need to be reassured; one way to do so could be through a credible NATO presence on their soil, which will not be seen as provocative by Russia. Establishing a NATO School for Post-Conflict Reconstruction in Warsaw could be one option. It time, this could develop into a joint NATO-Russian initiative, but to start off it is worth keeping as a NATO-only institution.  

Obama was right to double back on the Bush-era initiative, but will needs to be clear that he expects Russian support on a number of open files, including Iran, while the US must take care of its allies, especially Poland and the Czech Republic, but also others who feel exposed to Russia’s whims. Tomorrow’s speech on Russia by NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen will be one to watch.