The Russians’ worries in this regard would seem to be misplace, given the great concessions President Obama has already made. He has already unilaterally cancelled deployment of a missile shield for Poland and the Czech Republic. The agreement to deploy the system had been reached by President Bush and both countries had based their future defense posture on possessing the missile shield. “This is catastrophic for Poland,” said one Polish defense official. The fact that Obama got absolutely nothing in return from Russia for this gesture was extremely troubling to many American officials. Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ), the minority whip, brought up the cancelled missile shield deployment as evidence that we simply don’t know what Obama’s plans are for a second term when it comes to missile defense.
“But what we don’t know,” Kyl said, “is what President Obama has in mind for after the election, when he would gain some ‘flexibility’ in negotiating with the Russians. Perhaps the Russians, in whom President Obama recently confided, could shed some light on his missile defense plans for the American people who otherwise have been left in the dark by this president.”
In addition to the concession to Russia on the Polish and Czech missile shield, the president also is seriously considering the option of giving classified information to the Russians, including the vital “velocity at burnout” data that would basically help the Russians to defeat the system. It should be noted that giving classified data during arms control negotiations is not unheard of. But the process usually involves an exchange of data between the two sides.
In return for giving the Russians this vital data, they apparently would deign to consider signing an agreement. This doesn’t sit well with Republicans in Congress, especially Rep. Mike Turner, chairman of the Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces who released a statement to Reuters saying, “[I]t is important Congress insist on protecting our classified missile defense information, and our right to deploy missile defenses without concern for Russia’s posturing.”
Indeed, Russian “posturing” over the issue of a missile shield for Europe is little more than Putin throwing his weight around. A few anti-missile sites are not going to stop a Russian barrage aimed at any country in Europe, as Putin well knows. The shield is designed to intercept a missile fired from Iran or North Korea and poses no threat to Moscow with regard to its nuclear deterrent.
Putin has suggested that the missile shield be run jointly by both the US and Russia. He has also said that Russia should have veto power over any use of the missile defense system. Obama has resisted this pressure so far, but what happens when he has more “flexibility” in a second term? The president has weakened our negotiating position with his unilateral concessions already. And since he really doesn’t believe in missile defense, is it really unreasonable to believe that he might give in to Russian demands that would neuter the shield just to sign an agreement?
President Medvedev was clear in his demand that US assurances on the missile shield be put in writing. “The main thing is that we must hear one simple thing, hear it and receive confirmation: ‘Respected friends from Russia, our missile defense is not aimed against Russian nuclear forces.’ This must be affirmed not in a friendly chat over a cup of tea or a glass of wine but in a document.”
On a parallel track, another reason that the president’s “flexibility” comment is so disconcerting is Obama’s enthusiasm to sign another strategic arms reduction pact with Russia. Moscow may very well seek linkage between the two, and actually tried to hamstring the US in developing a missile defense program in the first “New START” treaty in 2010 as certain ambiguous language in the pact might have choked off research and development if the Russians chose to interpret the treaty in that way. Republican senators forced Obama to append a statement to the treaty, saying “[I]t is the policy of the United States to continue development and deployment of United States missile defense systems to defend against missile threats from nations such as North Korea and Iran, including qualitative and quantitative improvements to such systems.”
Now, a president who has set as a goal a “world free of nuclear weapons” wishes to once again cut our nuclear deterrent. “We can already say with confidence that we have more nuclear weapons than we need,” he told a group of college students. That is an assumption that is certainly open for debate. And this time, for Obama, there will be no half measures: “Going forward, we’ll continue to seek discussions with Russia on a step we have never taken before – reducing not only our strategic nuclear warheads, but also tactical weapons and warheads in reserve.” Once again, the president’s “flexibility” comment raises the question of just what he is willing to trade — or give away — in order to achieve another START treaty.
The furor over the president’s comments will eventually die down. But as a candidate for president, and as our nation’s commander in chief, he owes the American people an explanation and a preview of what he plans to do in these two vital areas in a potential second term.
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