Missile Shield Decision as Europe Reset

Two compelling analyses of the missile defense decision, one here by Robert Haddick and another here by Jeffrey Lewis. From everything I’ve read, the consensus across the board, with the exception of religious missile defense supporters and partisan opportunists, is that this was the right decision from a military hardware perspective. And both Haddick and Lewis fall into this camp.

Haddick argues, though, that the politics are wrong, mainly because the reconfigured “adaptable and flexible” system does not represent the same kind of commitment to allies that an American presence on the ground does. Meanwhile, Lewis argues that contrary to conventional wisdom, the move does not represent a political concession to Russia, but rather the removal of the political (i.e., a confrontational stance toward Russia) from the decision-making process to the benefit of the military-technical considerations.

I think Haddick is underestimating the degree to which the permanent presence of American military assets on the ground was problematic, not just to Russia, but to Czech public opinion, as well as to French and German political leadership. And not just because both favor a more cooperative security relationship with Russia of the sort proposed today by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, for instance, has long argued that this type of security policy should be as broadly based on a European consensus as possible, something he repeated today in his reaction to the decision.

In other words, this was more than just part of a Russia reset, it was also part of a Europe reset. Whether it represents the Obama administration abandoning New Europe to realign back with Old Europe, or an effort to lay that divisive approach to rest remains to be seen. But I think that Lewis is underestimating the degree to which thetechnological logic was not only sensible, but politically convenientas well.

On the other hand, Haddick makes the good point that the as-yet-unnamed location of theradar station (“somewhere in the Caucasus”) essentially kicks thethorniest political sticking point downfield. But the intervening time will allow the necessary review period to see whether the conciliatory policy has paid off or not.

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