U.S. Scraps Eastern Europe Missile Shield Plan and Sparks Controversy

In what it is already proving to be a controversial decision, President Barack Obama announced that he is scuttling the Bush administration’s plans for a Poland and Czech missile defense system and insteady opting for a different “redesigned plan” — a major foreign policy reversal for an administration that has been both praised (mostly on the right) and criticized (mostly on the left) for conducting a foreign policy most notable for its general continuity.

The decision has already become controversial abroad and particularly at home where reaction is largely breaking along highly predictable party and ideological lines (just check out the reaction on memeorandum). The

New York Times reports it this way:
President Obama announced on Thursday that he would scrap former President George W. Bush’s planned missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic and instead deploy a reconfigured system aimed more at intercepting short- and medium-range Iranian missiles.

Mr. Obama decided not to deploy a sophisticated radar system in the Czech Republic or 10 ground-based interceptors in Poland, as Mr. Bush had planned. Instead, the new system his administration is developing would deploy smaller SM-3 missiles, at first aboard ships and later on land somewhere in Europe, possibly even in Poland or the Czech Republic.

“President Bush was right that Iran’s ballistic missile program poses a significant threat,” Mr. Obama told reporters at the White House. But he said new assessments of the nature of the Iranian threat required a different system that would use existing technology and different locations. “This new approach will provide capabilities sooner, build on proven systems and offer greater defenses against the threat of missile attack than the 2007 European missile defense program.”

The decision amounts to one of the biggest national security reversals by the new administration, one that has caused consternation in Poland and the Czech Republic and pleased at least some officials in Russia, which had adamantly objected to the Bush plan. But Obama administration officials stressed that they are not abandoning missile defense, only redesigning it to meet the more immediate Iranian threat.

CNN earlier reported:

Vice President Joe Biden earlier refused to confirm to CNN that the George W. Bush-era plan was being shelved.

But he did explain the logic of doing so, saying Iran — a key concern for the United States — was not a threat.

“I think we are fully capable and secure dealing with any present or future potential Iranian threat,” he told CNN’s Chris Lawrence in Baghdad, where he is on a brief trip.

“The whole purpose of this exercise we are undertaking is to diminish the prospect of the Iranians destabilizing that region in the world. I am less concerned — much less concerned — about the Iranian potential. They have no potential at this moment, they have no capacity to launch a missile at the United States of America,” he said.

Here’s Obama’s announcement:

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Here’s the text of his statement.
One Reuters account says Obama’ handed Russia “a gift” and notes the partisan split on his action:

President Barack Obama essentially handed Russia a gift on Thursday with his decision to roll back a planned U.S. missile defense in eastern Europe.

The Russian government had loudly protested U.S. plans begun by Obama’s predecessor, Republican George W. Bush, to deploy an anti-missile system in eastern Europe that the United States insisted had been aimed at defending against a potential missile attack from Iran.

Obama’s decision to shift the focus to defending against Iran’s short and medium-term missile capabilities instead meant there would be no need to deploy the missile shield systems in the Czech Republic and Poland that so alarmed Russia.

His move drew praise from fellow Democrats and some arms control advocates who saw the Bush plan as aimed at a Iranian missile threat that did not yet exist.

“The Obama administration is restoring American credibility while protecting our national security and that of our allies by canceling a failed, ideologically driven program,” said the pro-Obama National Security Network.

But Republicans and missile-defense advocates called the move misguided and short-sighted and said it could weaken U.S. and European security.

Senator John McCain, ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, called Obama’s move an abrogation of an agreement between the United States and its allies.

“What signal to we send to our friends in eastern Europe, and what signal do we send to (Russian Prime Minister) Vladimir Putin, who most vociferously announced on numerous occasions his opposition to this plan?” McCain told Reuters.

There’s more so go to the link.

Another NY Times analysis says the move will cause a shift in Europe:

After watching President Obama’s pragmatic maneuvering over missile defense, staunch Eastern European allies like Poland and the Czech Republic appeared likely to become more realistic and less idealistic about United States foreign policy going forward, not to mention a lot less liable to fall in line behind the United States.

The decision to suspend plans for placing missile interceptors in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic did not come as a tremendous surprise after months of signals from Washington. But for politicians who backed the American plan, it was a disappointment and even an embarrassment.

“It’s a U-turn in the U.S. policy,” said Alexandr Vondra, the former Czech deputy prime minister for European affairs and a staunch supporter of the missile-defense system. “It must not undermine security guarantees in Central and Eastern Europe. Otherwise the United States may have a problem in generating support for out of area missions in this region,” Mr. Vondra said.

The hasty phone call after midnight from President Obama to Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer stood in stark contrast to Condoleezza Rice’s very public trip to Warsaw shortly after Russia’s invasion of Georgia, barely over a year ago, to sign an agreement in August 2008.

But Poland does not appear to be emerging empty-handed from the missile defense merry-go-round. Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski announced that the United States would still deploy Patriot missiles as promised. And Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said the United States would base smaller SM-3 missiles on Polish soil if the Polish government still wants them.

Another theory: U.S. firms could gain financially by this decision, although there are notable risks.

And Obama will be taking a lot of political heat for this decision .David Kramer, a senior transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, who served as assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor as well as deputy assistant secretary of state responsible for Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova in the George W. Bush administration, blasts Obama in the Washington Post. Here is part of it:

Russian leaders never liked the idea that the United States, Poland and the Czech Republic were cooperating on missile defense to confront an emerging Iranian threat. The notion that two former Warsaw Pact states that Moscow used to control would be hosting 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a corresponding radar facility in the Czech Republic was unacceptable. Kremlin leaders alleged that the system was meant to target Russia, not counter Iran, and they had threatened to scuttle unrelated arms control negotiations with the United States unless Washington backed down.

With the Obama administration’s announcement Thursday that it is indeed abandoning the Polish and Czech sites, Moscow’s complaining appears to have worked. Yet the administration’s capitulation to Russian pressure is a serious betrayal of loyal allies in Warsaw and Prague whose governments pursued politically unpopular positions at the request of the Bush administration to help confront a rising threat from Iran. (Announcing this policy change on Thursday, the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland, added unnecessary insult to injury.)

During the 2008 campaign, Barack Obama showed little enthusiasm for the missile defense plans of President Bush. After his election, however, Obama appeared to take a firmer position, one closer to his predecessor’s thinking. “Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile activity poses a real threat, not just to the United States, but to Iran’s neighbors and our allies,” he said in Prague on April 5. “The Czech Republic and Poland have been courageous in agreeing to host a defense against these missiles. 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.”

Whatever the official explanation now for not moving forward, many — including the Kremlin — will read this shift as an effort to placate Moscow. Announcing the decision ahead of Obama’s meetings with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev next week reinforces such thinking.

Go to the link to read it in its entirety.

The Christian Science Monitor steps back and offers this analysis:

President Obama’s decision to abandon a planned missile defense system in Eastern Europe reflects a cost-benefit analysis by an administration that was skeptical of the program from the start, concluding the system posed more hurdles – both diplomatically and in implementation – than it resolved….

…The decision reflects not only the administration’s policy review but also consultations with European allies since Obama took office.

An ongoing discussion among NATO allies on how the objectives of such a system could be achieved at a lower cost was stepped up under the Obama team, a senior European diplomat in Washington says.

“There were long discussions about how it could be done less expensively and more efficiently,” he says. “I think this decision reflects that.”

The decision has potentially far-reaching diplomatic impact.

Much of the snap reaction to Obama’s announcement interpreted it as reflective of the administration’s desire to pursue less confrontational and more productive relations with Russia on issues ranging from stopping Iran’s nuclear program to disarmament.

Some observers caution that it would be a mistake to view the decision primarily as a bow to Russia.

“This is not really a concession [to Russia],” the senior European official says. It’s “really [the result of] a technical assessment of the pros and cons of such a system.”

But others worry that the decision could pose problems for the US, especially in Eastern Europe, if it is not fully explained to all partners.

There’s a lot more so read it in its entirety.

CBS adds some more details:

The White House’s announcement that it would abandon the Bush administration plan for a long range missile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic and instead deploy a more portable system of land and sea based interceptors is really the result of intelligence that Iran is advancing is capacity to launch short and medium range missiles, CBS News’ National Security Correspondent David Martin said on “Washington Unplugged” Thursday.

“The buried lede here is that there is this new intelligence estimate which says that Iran is progressing much more quickly than previously thought on developing its short and medium range missiles,” Martin said. “Where previously the U.S. had thought maybe they would have to contend with a launch of four or five Iranian missiles, now they are talking about a capability for Iran to launch hundreds.”…

….Martin added that the standard missile which will be used as part of the new Obama plan has the “advantage of costing one tenth of what those large interceptors they were going to put in Poland cost. So now it’s financially possible to deploy hundreds of these standard missiles.”

CBS News’ Chief White House correspondent Chip Reid said “critics have immediately seized on the idea that what they are doing is basically throwing Poland and the Czech Republic under the bus here…and they are doing it to basically improve relations with Russia.”