Will Putin Push Obama to Reset His Missile Defense Plans for Eastern Europe?
By Gordon Lubold
April 23, 2014
Four years ago, the Obama administration scrapped plans to install advanced missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic that were seen as part of its efforts to reset relations with Russia. Today, with ties between Washington and Moscow at their lowest point in decades, the question is whether the White House should move new anti-missile equipment to Eastern Europe to reassure jittery allies and stick a finger in the eye of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The initial plan, which dated back to the George W. Bush administration, called for installing 10 ground-based interceptors in Poland and a radar system in the Czech Republic. Washington said the systems were meant solely to shoot down long-range Iranian missiles, but the Russians harbored deep suspicions that the systems were aimed at them.
When Obama canceled those plans in September 2009, administration officials said new intelligence showing that Tehran was making progress on shorter range missiles meant that it was important to shift to other, less advanced defensive systems that could be moved to Europe as quickly as 2015. The current White House approach calls for deploying two dozen SM-3 interceptor missiles to Romania and another two dozen to Poland by 2018. In the meantime, the Aegis combat system, mounted on Navy destroyers, would be used to shoot down Iranian missiles.
But with the U.S. scrambling to figure out how to respond to Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, some on Capitol Hill are calling for Obama to accelerate his missile defense plans and move the SM-3 interceptors to Europe as quickly as possible or to deploy portable systems like the Patriot air defense system to Poland once again.
“The Obama Administration has been unable to counter this escalation of Putin’s aggressive posture,” Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) said in a statement earlier this month that typified Republican discontent with the White House. Turner and two others introduced legislation April 9 that he said amounted to a “to-do list” for the administration on Russia and Ukraine that includes increasing missile defenses. “Instead, they have been defensive, unsure, and unable to change Putin’s course of action.”
Any such move would be risky for the White House, which has tried to figure out how aggressively to move against Putin given Washington’s clear desire to avoid any sort of armed confrontation with Russia and retain Moscow’s cooperation on Iran and Syria.
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