Analysis: Obama snubs allies over missile shield

By Emanuele Ottolenghi, September 24, 2009
President Barack Obama in the White House after speaking about the US missile defense shield. But is the new plan good or bad for Israel?

President Barack Obama in the White House after speaking about the US missile defense shield. But is the new plan good or bad for Israel?

President Obama’s decision to scrap plans to deploy a radar station in the Czech Republic and 10 missile interceptors in Poland, as part of a long range ballistic missile defence network, may come down to budget cuts alone — the Administration does not have the funds to support a costly military programme at this difficult economic juncture.

He should have used the programme as a bargaining chip in the political game with Russia. But instead, he clumsily performed a policy U-turn, barely a year after his predecessor had sealed the deal with Poland and the Czech Republic, in a manner that brings little gain to America and sends the wrong signals to friend and foe alike.

BMD was designed as a response to future long-range ballistic missiles — the ones America’s foes in Iran, Syria and North Korea do not have yet but are busy developing. Mr Obama’s justification for dropping BMD is that this threat is many years away, unlike already existing shorter range Iranian missiles, which can be confronted with cheaper, existing technology.

Still, it leaves us unprotected for the future. It therefore signals to Iran and its travelling companions that America has less resolve to confront them.

It is a dangerous signal to send your foes, as it is bound to embolden them.

It signals to Iran that America has less resolve to fight them

This is true especially because Mr Obama has deliberately chosen to give allies the cold shoulder. Though BMD was designed to confront Iran mainly, Russia exploited it as a pretext for a new round of confrontational politics, turning Poland and the Czech Republic into vulnerable recipients of its ire.

Moscow threatened deployment of Iskander tactical missiles in the Kaliningrad enclave as a response to BMD. Mr Obama could have bargained a deal with Russia — instead he received no concessions on Iran’s sanctions, on Russian supplies of nuclear technology or advanced weaponry to Iran, let alone on Iskander deployment. This signals to America’s allies that their erstwhile supportive patron may be too fickle to rely upon.

Mr Obama has reneged on Mr Bush’s promises to Ariel Sharon regarding the settlements from 2004, has stalled an already sealed free trade agreement with Columbia, has sanctioned Honduras for protecting its constitutional freedom and now he has left Poland and the Czech Republic — both staunch allies in the war on terror — to confront Russia alone.

Meanwhile, Mr Obama has made overtures to Iran, at a time when it has brutally crushed domestic dissent. Any American ally must be nervously wondering if they will be next.

When Mr Obama knocks on their doors to ask for more troops and political capital to back his policies, he may discover he accomplished little, except demeaning America’s word of honour.

Emanuele Ottolenghi is director of the Transatlantic Institute in Brussels

Last updated: 2:26pm, November 8 2010