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Managing Missile Defense's Demise

16.3.2009 - Jan Jires,

The U.S. missile defense project has always been a divisive issue both at home and abroad. Domestic critics of the project, which the Bush administration vigorously promoted, have questioned the technical feasibility of the proposed system as well as its cost-effectiveness.


The real challenge now is: In case the Obama administration decides to abandon the project, it should do so cleverly and manage the process in a way that secures the political interests of the United States and its Central European allies.

There are two important things at stake. The first is the traditionally Atlanticist orientation of Central European allies. The second is the future of Russia's foreign policy, especially in the country's vicinity.

In the past two years, the Polish and Czech governments have invested tremendous political capital in supporting the missile defense project despite skeptical public opinion at home and distrustful partners in the EU and NATO. Following Czech, Polish and American lobbying, NATO unanimously, though rather vaguely, endorsed missile defense as contributing to the alliance's security. Last summer, after complicated and politically risky negotiations, both governments signed bilateral agreements with the United States allowing it to deploy missile defense components.


If he decides to abandon the missile defense project, President Obama should make sure that everyone understands it is purely because the technology does not work or because the system is objectively not needed. However, the secret U.S. proposal to trade the abandonment of the project for Russia stopping its cooperation with Iran is exactly what will make Russia, Central Europe and the rest of the world conclude that Obama's administration is relegating Central Europeans to the role of useful idiots in some cunning U.S.-Russian plot. That is hardly in America's interest.

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