Kaplan on Missile Defense

More from our Bob — abridged below.

The Bear Still Has Teeth

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.

About Curzon

Lord George Nathaniel Curzon (1859 - 1925) entered the British House of Commons as a Conservative MP in 1886, where he served as undersecretary of India and Foreign Affairs. He was appointed Viceroy of India at the turn of the 20th century where he delineated the North West Frontier Province, ordered a military expedition to Tibet, and unsuccessfully tried to partition the province of Bengal during his six-year tenure. Curzon served as Leader of the House of Lords in Prime Minister Lloyd George's War Cabinet and became Foreign Secretary in January 1919, where his most famous act was the drawing of the Curzon Line between a new Polish state and Russia. His publications include Russia in Central Asia (1889) and Persia and the Persian Question (1892). In real life, "Curzon" is a US citizen from the East Coast who has been a financial analyst, freelance translator, and university professor; he is currently on assignment in Tokyo.
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4 Responses to Kaplan on Missile Defense

  1. SJPONeill says:

    The decision to not go ahead with the bases in Poland et al was probably a good one…maybe someone had a twinge regarding the natural response for Putin to reciprocate in Cuba…?

  2. TS says:

    It’s not fair to say that Poles and Czechs were “eager to host” the US missile defense scheme. The governments were eager to kiss our butts, sure, but many — arguably most — of the citizens were very pleased at the news of its cancellation. Having American military bases on their soil is not the same as having Russian/Soviet bases, but it’s not any more palatable to a huge percentage of central/eastern Europeans, who haven’t been truly independent for very long. Just because we’re the “good guys” doesn’t mean that everyone views our intentions as benevolent or non-imperialist. Given the history of those countries, *any* foreign troops or military installation on their soil is to be viewed very warily.

  3. T. Greer says:

    I wrote a rather lengthy post on this subject for my own site. I think Kaplan misses (or does not give enough emphasis to) two major points. The first is the leverage Russia has over America because of the latter’s perilous position in Afghanistan. A relevant excerpt from my own piece details this well enough:

    The central problem was one of logistics. A secure supply chain is the first rule of expeditionary campaigns; NATO’s supply chain was nothing of the sort. Landlocked, underdeveloped, difficult to traverse, and containing few safe points of entry, Afghanistan is the nightmare of every man in the Quartermaster Corps. Deteriorating regional dynamics made this situation even worse. Ammunition, supplies, and fuel could not enter Afghanistan through the West as long as the Americans remained opposed to Iranian nuclear ambitions, while new found tensions between Islamabad and Washington, as well as the collapse of state control in many parts of Western Pakistan, closed the East to large scale logistics operations. The only way to sustain NATO’s forces was to build a supply chain in the North, straight through Russia and her satellite states.

    Just how tenuous of a situation this was become apparent on February 3rd, when Kurmanbek Bakiyev, President of Kyrgyzstan, announced hat the United States must close down Manas Air Base. Bakiyev made this announcement from a podium in Moscow, a day after securing deals writing off Kyrgyzstan’s $180 million debt to Moscow, and the promise of a $2 billion discounted loan and $150 million in financial aid. It was a great coup for the Russians; Manas was a central supply hub for NATO forces, and its loss would strangle the war effort. A few days after President Bakiyev’s announcement, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov announced that Russia had negotiated a deal with the United States to allow the transportation of non-weapon supplies to Afghanistan. In the course of one week Russian leverage over the United States was magnified to heights unseen since the Afghan war began.

    The priorities of the Obama administration were quite clear from this point on. A rapprochement with Russia was of cardinal importance; the process of “resetting” relations between the two countries was about to begin…

    The efforts of the Obama administration were not wasted. On September 5th, the Pentagon announced that they had reached a deal with the Kremlin. The previous agreement allowing for the transportation of non-lethal supplies to Afghanistan was being supplanted by an agreement that allowed NATO forces to use Russian airspace to transport troops and arms. Six days later President Bakiyev stated in his 9/11 memorial address that Kyrgyzstan would allow the United States to continue using Manas Air Force base for logistical operations in the fight against terror.

    On the 17th the cause of Russia’s change of heart became apparent. The White House released a press report on American missile architecture in Europe. The press report, followed by an address by the President himself, made clear that land-based missile architecture was to be no more. To continue her expedition in Bactria, America gave Russia the missile shield.

    The second point downplayed by Kaplan is the difficulty American statesmen will have drafting agreements with middle and weak powers across the globe from this point on. The agreements signed with Poland and the Czech Republic were non-binding. I would not be surprised if no such agreements were signed over the course of the next two years. There are simply no guarantees that the next administration will not reverse the decisions made by the current negotiating team.

    On the other hand, Kaplan expressed the gist of this whole affair quite brilliantly – “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. This is all too true. But it does leave two lingering questions — who else do the Russians think matter less than they do? The next time the Russians come a-knocking, shall we be able to provide them with something as dispensable as an imaginary missile shield?

  4. feeblemind says:

    The Democrats have opposed missile defense since it’s inception. Canceling the agreement with Poles and Czechs was a forgone conclusion with Obama’s election. There will be no new ships built to provide missile defense for anybody. Alternate supply routes are merely political cover. Obama is uninterested in Afghanistan, as he is with all foreign policy. He just met with his commanding general for all of 25 minutes yesterday after the important job of promoting Chicago for the Olympic games was over. He will find an excuse to bring the troops home before long. Obama is only interested in amassing power at home. If I were the Chinese right now and possessed a competent military, I would invade Taiwan. No one will stop them.