NATO-Russia Missile Defense Cooperation
John Hinderaker lampoons the announcement that NATO and Russia will cooperate on missile defense.
For those who remember the “Star Wars” hysteria of the 1980s, when it was an article of faith among liberals that missile defense was 1) impossible and 2) a mortal threat to world peace, it is remarkable to see President Obama, formerly the candidate of the anti-war left, announcing the first real foreign policy success of his administration–a missile defense system on which NATO and Russia will collaborate:
Maybe the Obama plan is different from President Reagan’s in that it will protect Europe but not the United States; or maybe because NATO will control the system; or maybe because Russia is now involved in the plan. But it is disorienting to those of us who remember the Cold War, and the Democrats’ frequently discreditable role in its later stages, to see a Democratic President taking credit for missile defense as a signal foreign policy achievement.
Aside from the passage of a quarter century and ensuing developments in technology — partly spawned by the massive investments started under Reagan — we’re talking about very different things.
Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative was aimed at protecting the United States and Europe from a massive flurry of ICBMs launched by the Soviets. Skeptics feared that, not only would it be technologically impossible to stop enough of those missiles to keep us safe but that such a shield would undermine the Mutually Assured Destruction precept that we relied on for decades to deter thermonuclear war.
By contrast, the current regime is concerned with Theater Missile Defense and Ballistic Missile Defense. In essence, they’re aimed at stopping one or two less potent missiles coming in from a rogue state, such as a nuclear Iran, or a non-state actor such as al Qaeda. That’s simply a much easier technological problem to deal with.
As I note in this morning’s wrap-up piece for New Atlanticist, “NATO’s Lisbon Summit: All the Right Words,” this is indeed something for Obama to crow about.
The NATO-Russia issue was arguably the most stunning success of the Summit, with the sidebar meetings with President Medvedev going far better than anyone should reasonably have hoped. Not only did Russia agree to participate fully in a European missile defense shield — something that would have seemed absurd as recently as a year ago — but Medvedev insisted on “a full-fledged strategic partnership between Russia and NATO.” Nor did this happy progress come at the price of future NATO enlargement, with the Strategic Concept continuing to maintain that membership remained open to European countries who met the Alliance’s standards and a reaffirmation that Georgia would one day be admitted. Balancing these issues in such a way that both Medvedev and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili walked away satisfied is a major achievement, indeed.
Finally, the declarations on nuclear policy struck all the right notes. In addition to emphatic statements on the importance of ratifying START, the members agreed, as President Obama put it, “The alliance will work to create the conditions so that we can reduce nuclear weapons and pursue the vision of a world without them. At the same time, we’ve made it very clear that so long as these weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance, and the United States will maintain a safe, secure and effective nuclear arsenal to defer — deter adversaries and guarantee the defense of all our allies.”
To bring this back full circle, it’s also worth noting that Reagan himself talked frequently about bringing the Russians (then, the Soviets) under the SDI umbrella. It wasn’t empty rhetoric. Removing the fear of a nuclear attack was an essential step towards a more cooperative, and thus safer, relationship.