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Default Geopolitical consequences of scrapping the missile shield

September 20th, 2009, 13:54
President Obama decided to quietly scrap Bush's project to install ABM batteries in Poland and the Czech Republic, ostensibly to protect Western Europe against Iranian missile attacks. This will have some quite interesting geopolitical consequences, which I thought might be worth discussing here.

The missile shield had nothing, really, to do with Iran. ABM's work best the closer they are to the originating point, and they don't work all that well even so. The countries they were supposed to protect never asked for them, and were, in fact, opposed to them. IOW, the reasons for the project were somewhere else.

Specifically, it was intended as a Cold War style gambit against Russia on the one hand, and those European countries that were opposed to the American invasion of Iraq on the other.

Permanent installations such as this would give the host countries strong implicit security guarantees — and, of course, while they'd be useless against Iranian missiles, they might be of some limited use against Russian ones. IOW, they were intended as a signal to Russia that the USA would not tolerate any attempts of theirs to extend their sphere of influence back into their "near abroad."

Second, the intention was to divide Europe: the New Europe, with their largely pro-American, pro-Republican leaderships were to be split from Old Europe, who were strongly anti-Republican and at least moderately anti-American. This would strengthen America's hand in Europe, neutralize opposition to it, and prevent the emergence of a coherent European security and foreign policy, i.e., castrate the EU as a player on the global stage.

It didn't work.

Russia responded by making all kinds of low-key mischief for Americans: supporting Ugo Chavez's government in Venezuela, selling him weapons, blocking international action on Iran and North Korea, selling Iran weapons, (almost certainly) selling Hezbollah weapons, selling Syria weapons, and so on and so forth. The Georgian war dispelled any remaining doubts about Russia's ability to direct events in its neighborhood.

With Europe, things didn't go quite as intended either. The "New European" countries did become allies, but their resolve started to falter as Iraq sank into a quagmire. Elections removed the pro-Republican/pro-American governments and replaced them with pro-European/pro-Democrat ones, who were much more ambivalent about the whole project. And "Old Europe" — especially Germany — cheerfully built closer bilateral relations with Russia. What Russia lost in influence over Poland and the Czech Republic — such as it was, i.e., not all that much to start with — it gained with Germany and France.

So, now the USA decided to scrap the initiative. What does this mean?

First, the upside.

For the USA, this opens the door for turning a genuinely new leaf in USA/Russian relations, which means that, for example, concerted action with regards to Iran or North Korea becomes a real possibility. The proposed alternative to the shield — missile cruisers stationed in strategically significant seas and oceans — is technologically much better than the stationary shield of the original plan (although still of limited military value). The "Old European" countries will like this, and will find it easier to cooperate with the USA. NATO is suddenly looking more like a viable alliance, with one major internal point of disagreement removed.

For pro-Europeans in the EU — East and West —, this is a major win. It's clear that the USA cannot be trusted to extend and maintain special privileges to some EU countries, which means that the remaining sensible option for Poland, Czech, Hungary etc. is a European orientation. This (as well as the problems they're facing because of the financial crisis) will make them much more cooperative members, and opens the door to deepening European integration on the security, foreign policy, and military dimensions. The EU is still a very, very long way from being a global power player in itself, but those who wish to turn it into one have now seen one major obstacle removed — now, the security and foreign political agendas of all the major EU countries are aligned in most significant ways.

For "Old Europe," this is a clear win. Their line was vindicated, they didn't have to lift a finger about it, and they still have all options open — pursuing deeper European integration, pursuing closer relations with the USA, or deepening relations with Russia, or all of the above. Their freedom of movement has been significantly improve.d

For Russia, this is a huge win. The USA blinked. The way they see it, the Putin/Medvedev tough line worked. They know they won this round, and they will make sure everyone else notices it too. They are now free to pursue their own agenda in their "near abroad," and the US has precious little to say about it.

Then, the downside.

For "New Europe," this is a loss. Their pro-American bloc has been discredited, they no longer have cards they could play to run an independent line in the EU, and they didn't get anything at all in compensation for going with the (highly unpopular in Old Europe) Bush government. People will be asking why the hell they spilled their blood in Iraq, if the US treats them like that. They'll have to play along with the EU, because they have nowhere else to turn, and are still too weak to stand for themselves.

For the US, the biggest loss is in prestige, with Russia, and with the special relationship they had with the Central Eastern European states. Those cards are now gone, and the American position is significantly worse than it would have been had the whole idea never been floated. On balance, the USA comes out a winner, though: it needs Russian cooperation on Iran, the greater ME, and the DPRK, and with this out of the way, they're in a position to get it. Russia will be more cooperative and will stop actively causing trouble for the US, too, which are also clear gains. But it did come up looking weak, inconsistent, and untrustworthy — but such are the consequences of reversing any major policy direction, however badly it has failed.

On balance, I feel very good about the decision. It was a damn stupid idea to start with, and had either already failed in, or would have been unable to achieve, any of its objectives — containing Russia, deterring Iran (or intercepting its missiles), or permanently dividing Europe. The only question, really, was how and when it would be scrapped, and with bad ideas, sooner is usually better.

Second, I believe the geopolitical map looks much better now. One major policy difference has been removed between the USA and Old Europe on one hand, Old Europe and New Europe on another, and between all of the above and Russia. That means that Europe will be strengthened, and cooperation between the US, the EU, and Russia will be a good deal easier.

It would've been better had the whole thing never happened, but scrapping it now is better than scrapping it later.
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September 21st, 2009, 13:06
A useful analysis, thank you

It bodes well that he's willing to look at things like this, most presidents wouldn't even dare to stir up this kind of hornets nest. His approval ratings do seem to be getting back up a bit anyway which is a relief. I guess the healthcare speech won back a few people.
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September 21st, 2009, 13:14
Good riddance to bad rubbish in the case of the missile shield. Since I always were very skeptical about the technical feasibility of the thing (the only use against anyone would be to provide an early warning system, but that can be achieved by other means) I am extremely happy to see the project crash and burn.

Not that I object to confronting the Russians every now and then, but then it should be over issues that actually provide some tangible benefits…
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September 21st, 2009, 22:40
Yep, great analysis, as usual.

I wonder if any of our local republican will show up to disagree…
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September 21st, 2009, 23:16
Why would I disagree with him?
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September 22nd, 2009, 01:46
Well, there are plenty of reasons why a fervant republican might disagree. Because he scrapped something that was very dear to the last republican president, because it's a pretty important change in american politic and he might well be the antichrist, you know, and everything he does can be suspected as "evil" :-)
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September 22nd, 2009, 02:09
I have only read the prelude to your analysis, then I got bored. A simple guy as I am, I got an analysis with less words, so not so boring but maybe right. More convenient to read for sure.

1. If this turns out to be a good move in retrospect, Obama will have done anything right and we are now happy -> Blame Bush, praise Obama.

2. If it turns out to have been a bad move, it's Bush's fault to have it planned in the first place -> Blame Bush, praise Obama.

All hail the messiah, Obama, Obama!
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September 22nd, 2009, 02:28
Guess I can't even comment on the international threads either. Games only for a while, then.
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September 22nd, 2009, 02:52
I can't agree. The missile shield went part and parcel with protecting Georgia and the major policy trying to get a pipeline through the Caucuses. We know what Russia is capable thanks to its new energy wealth as it held Eastern and Central Europe hostage with its embargo.

Keep in mind, while major portions of a noisy media establishment may complain, or even a general population who feels disenfranchised, the governments of Europe not only understand their obligations to NATO but they fear Russia after centuries of invasion and very recent occupation. This removes a barrier arbitrarily.

Keep in mind historically that the United States didn't break Russian Communism by stepping across the aisle and accepting Gorby's flower, to paraphrase Ray Krok, the US shoved a hose down a drowning man's throat by continuing the pressure military buildup (which was also a type of stimulus package).

Scrapping this project may save money it also removes influence. Money and influence the President obviously intends to transfer to Afghanistan and perhaps to a $900b health care package.

This scrapping of the missile shield simply emasculates my adopted country arbitrarily. As well, if it doesn't have anything to do with Iran then why are talks with Iran on schedule right after?

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September 22nd, 2009, 09:21
The big difference between the Nabucco pipeline (which I wholeheartedly support as the "energy weapon" is the nastiest card in Kremlin's deck when it comes to Europe) and the missile shield is that the former is useful in it's own right. The missile shield was expensive symbolism.
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September 22nd, 2009, 10:51
From the European side of things i believe that this missile shield was not popular among citizens plus it was a potential threat to our relations with Russia .
I remember some tv reportage from Prague claiming that 99% of the citizens were against the missiles while 100% of the political parties were supportive.
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September 22nd, 2009, 12:38
IIRC the Czech public was pretty much unanimously against it, but the right-wing coalition in power at the time was in favour. Poland has much stronger anti-Russian sentiments (due to a much longer shared history) but even there a majority was against. At the time Poland was ruled by the (pretty far-) right Kaczynski twins who make a point of taking a stand at Russia (and Germany, and in deed anyone who wronged Poland in the last 1000 years) at every opportunity. The current center-right government isnt quite as keen on the missile shield.

And of course both countries saw support of the US, be that on missile shields or on Iraq, as a way of obtaining informal security guarantees.
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September 22nd, 2009, 14:04
Originally Posted by Lucky Day View Post
I can't agree. The missile shield went part and parcel with protecting Georgia and the major policy trying to get a pipeline through the Caucuses. We know what Russia is capable thanks to its new energy wealth as it held Eastern and Central Europe hostage with its embargo.
Absolutely. And the policy failed. Georgia's and Ukraine's NATO membership is now somewhere back of the back burner, and it is crystal-clear to everybody who calls the shots in the Caucasus. The missile shield was not capable of exerting meaningful pressure on Russia, but it was capable of irritating it enough to cause it to become uncooperative or downright antagonistic on any number of fronts, from Venezuela to Iran.

Keep in mind, while major portions of a noisy media establishment may complain, or even a general population who feels disenfranchised, the governments of Europe not only understand their obligations to NATO but they fear Russia after centuries of invasion and very recent occupation. This removes a barrier arbitrarily.
Which governments? There was a major split over this issue within Europe: the formerly Socialist countries (people and governments) wanted the shield specifically as another deterrent against Russia; the Western European countries didn't want it, because they felt secure enough to prefer building cooperative relations with Russia instead. Western Europe doesn't fear Russia, not even Finland anymore — Eastern Europe does, and it will certainly take at least a generation or two for that to change — however rational or irrational that fear is. (IMO it's irrational — Russia has neither the will nor the wealth nor the demographics to start offensive wars in Central Europe, and the latter two are things that will not change in the foreseeable future.)

Keep in mind historically that the United States didn't break Russian Communism by stepping across the aisle and accepting Gorby's flower, to paraphrase Ray Krok, the US shoved a hose down a drowning man's throat by continuing the pressure military buildup (which was also a type of stimulus package).
Actually, the United States didn't break Russian Communism, full stop. It collapsed of its own accord. It didn't collapse because it couldn't afford its military spending (which never came close to US levels in any case); it collapsed because it had a deeply dysfunctional economy, a deeply disillusioned populace, and a deeply corrupt, inefficient, and unpopular form of government.

Scrapping this project may save money it also removes influence. Money and influence the President obviously intends to transfer to Afghanistan and perhaps to a $900b health care package.
True, it does. Especially in Central Eastern Europe. OTOH, it will make it possible to gain influence with Russia. As I said, reversing course on a major foreign policy initiative always carries costs — however badly failed and/or misguided the policy may have been to start with.

This scrapping of the missile shield simply emasculates my adopted country arbitrarily. As well, if it doesn't have anything to do with Iran then why are talks with Iran on schedule right after?
Because Iran is a major geopolitical problem. It would be near the top of the agenda no matter what else went down; these things aren't necessarily connected at all.
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September 22nd, 2009, 14:07
Originally Posted by Zaleukos View Post
And of course both countries saw support of the US, be that on missile shields or on Iraq, as a way of obtaining informal security guarantees.
More importantly, the US dimension gave them more cards to play within the EU: they could use that to put pressure on EU structures and other EU members. Their position is significantly weakened now that it's gone.
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September 22nd, 2009, 14:21
Originally Posted by Prime Junta View Post
More importantly, the US dimension gave them more cards to play within the EU: they could use that to put pressure on EU structures and other EU members. Their position is significantly weakened now that it's gone.
The nutty Kaczynski government may well have been thinking along those lines (especially as Polands size makes it one of the bigger EU states, warranting a more influential position than they have), but I am more skeptical about the Czechs. As a relatively rich country in the heart of Europe their interests are much closer to old Europe.

Foreign policy is normally fairly consistent regardless of the administration in power, but the K brothers were an outlier and exception with their extremely chauvinist confrontational policy (on anything from foreign policy to agricultural subsidies). PO and Tusk winning the last Polish election is as far as I am concerned one of the best election results in the last decade
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September 22nd, 2009, 14:25
Hear hear. Tweedledee and Tweedledum had me wishing there was some kind of protocol in place to boot countries out of the EU…
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September 22nd, 2009, 14:38
Yep, clowns of the first degree.

The Euro Parliament group they formed together with the tories (and an assortments of one-parliamentarian nutter movements) should offer some comedy for those who miss these toad-like fellows. Reconciling tories that want a lean EU with a reactionary party that wants as much money as possible to their country (and damn the rest) will be great fun, not to mention the slightly different stances on social issues…

On a side note I agree that this helps bring Europe together, but I am not all that happy with the loss of trust between Eastern Europe and the US. I prefer stronger rather than weaker transatlantic ties. Bad or not it's likely the least bad outcome tho…
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September 22nd, 2009, 17:06
I'm not missing the shield. Did they ever even start building it? All the talk about the missile shield that took place sure lasted years, but I never recall hearing anything about the progress of its compilation.
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September 22nd, 2009, 17:31
Originally Posted by Zaleukos View Post
On a side note I agree that this helps bring Europe together, but I am not all that happy with the loss of trust between Eastern Europe and the US. I prefer stronger rather than weaker transatlantic ties. Bad or not it's likely the least bad outcome tho…
What about the loss of trust between Western Europe and the US?

I would prefer stronger rather than weaker transatlantic ties, *if* we can trust America to behave in a reasonably sane manner. Trouble is, GWB made a rather a big dent in that trust. Obama seems sane enough, for sure, but who's to say they don't elect Palin/Tancredo in 2012 or 2016? If *that* happens, I would very much prefer not to be all that dependent on the US for security matters; i.e., strong transatlantic ties are just fine as long as we keep a big pair of scissors handy… just in case.
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September 22nd, 2009, 17:33
Originally Posted by Surlent View Post
I'm not missing the shield. Did they ever even start building it? All the talk about the missile shield that took place sure lasted years, but I never recall hearing anything about the progress of its compilation.
It was only supposed to be ready in 2017, if then.
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