More from our Bob — abridged below.
From a strategic perspective, the Obama Administration’s decision, earlier this month, to scrap America’s Poland- and Czech Republic -based missile defense plans in favor of a sea-based approach makes eminent sense. The new system will better protect America’s allies against Iranian missiles. Moreover, we need Russia’s cooperation on matters of geopolitical importance right now, and can’t afford to antagonize the country with new military bases in the midst of its perceived sphere of influence. But announcing our decision on the 70th anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Poland was a strategic communications failure—suggesting to Eastern Europe that it is once again being deserted by its allies and left to the mercies of the Russian bear.
Understandably, some Poles and Czechs reacted to Obama’s announcement with outrage. They’ve backed the United States in most of the wars and deployments of the past decade. Now their reward turns out to be continued exposure to the designs of Russia. Such a rebuke to trusted allies is bound to make not just the Baltic states, but other allies – like Israel—feel more lonely and isolated, thus increasing the chances of precipitate action, like an Israeli strike on Iran (which could be disastrous).
The Poles and Czechs were eager to host the missile defense system not so much because of concerns about a potential missile threat from Iran, but because U.S. military bases on their soil would give them diplomatic and psychological protection from Russia… From the U.S. perspective, we need Russia’s help—to put pressure on Iran, to help us with supply routes into Afghanistan, and, perhaps, to balance against China. Russia remains the great Eurasian land power, with considerable ability to effect outcomes in Eastern Europe, the Greater Middle East, Central Asia, and the Far East.
When it comes down to it, then, Russia simply matters more to the U.S. than do Poland and the Czech Republic, despite Poland and the Czech Republic being friends and Russia not.
Thus, in significant ways, the Old World remains intact. The Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of 1939, for example, still sends shivers down the spines of Poles, because it raises the prospect of an economically powerful Germany joining forces with a militarily powerful Russia, both of which border Poland on opposite sides, with no geographical barriers.
All of this suggests that in some sense, the collapse of the Berlin Wall didn’t completely liberate the former communist states of Eastern Europe. Indeed, if the furor over our scrapping of the missile plan is any indication, the geopolitics that reigned while the Cold War was in effect still remain very much in play.