Within hours of Barack Obama’s presidential election victory, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev made a national speech where he stated his government’s intent to deploy short range missiles near the Poland border. Needless to say, Medvedev and the Russian government are upset with the US-Poland-Czech missile defense agreement (Missile Defense System MDS). This of course comes just a month after Moscow announced it was to begin a ‘wholesale renovation‘ of their nuclear deterrence capabilities.
The Bush Administration’s decision to install these missile defense systems in Eastern Europe and the Russian response have so far, and should continue to be, intriguing great power vs. great power behavior to watch. The situation begs many questions: Why is the US doing this? Can the missile shield system even work? How should/are the Russians viewing this? What effect will this have on Iran’s nuclear policy, as the missile shield is largely aimed at them? What’s in it for Poland and Czech? Will Barack Obama continue this policy? I cannot tackle all of these today, but in due time, my friends.
On the technical side of the issue, aka whether or not the Poland-Czech, or any other, MDS will actually work, is not my expertise. I have been informed that many in the physics and science (a little broad) community argue that the MDS have never shown an ability to work in a real-time situation and are mainly just a waste of tax dollars. Here is a quote by Frederick K. Lamb, who co-chaired a 2003 American Physical Society study on boost-phase intercept systems for missile defense.
“Not a single test of this system has ever been carried out under realistic combat conditions,” said Lamb. “To assume it is going to work under realistic conditions with only a few minutes warning is like assuming a gun that has only been fired against a single, carefully arranged target in a brightly lit firing range is going to be successful in a fast-moving night battle against many enemies.”
On the other hand, the US military has argued that the shields show great promise and have actually worked, only they (thankfully) haven’t been put into play in a real life situation.
But putting aside the MDS actual capabilities, why would the US want to do this? The Bush administration has not been shy in arguing that they will help protect or deter the use of nuclear or conventional attacks on Europe from rogue states, mainly Iran. Another explicit and implicit reason would be that the systems pull Czech Republic and Poland closer to the United States. Now these states are already in the NATO alliance and for the most part are not in danger of moving into Moscow’s sphere, but in international politics, nothing is forever, and one can view this as the US doubling-down on the partnership. While, how could this be positive with Medvedev and Putin’s rhetoric and recent provocative moves, as in, isn’t the US just getting Moscow anger and forcing them to push back for very little gain? Good question. Moscow is indeed gaining strength and have not been afraid to show it, Georgia, Venezuela, Central Asia, and many have argued that this MDS is still treating Russia like the weak country it mainly was for the last fifteen years. But I would challenge this assumption. Russia is indeed much stronger today, and their successful military moves in Georgia require respect, but the US should not feel the need to pull back, and this includes in deep Eastern Europe. Russia may be moving missiles closer to Poland, but they will not dare to actually do anything. The MDS agreement with Poland was basically a security pact, calling for the US to come to its aid if under attack. Moscow’s power has largely risen from a booming economy and those days are largely over with gas and oil prices starting to plummet.
Medvedev and Putin have proven themselves to be adept geopolitical players and the US must be careful in all their moves in Moscow’s sphere, for instance, the US should back off from Georgia’s admittance into NATO, but since the fall of the Soviet Union the US has made amazing inroads into Eastern Europe, Eurasia, and Central Asia and it should not relinquish these easily. We all know that Russia plays hardball, and by standing tall on Poland and Czech’s missile system the US is crowding the plate, so we’ll just see if Russia’s down to throw one high and inside.