#21 - JRL 2009-173 - JRL Home
RIA Novosti
September 18, 2009
Missile shield decision clears tension in Russia-U.S. relations

Leading expert on Russian-American relations Thomas Graham, a former advisor to the previous U.S. administration, comments on the decision by Barack Obama to shelve plans for a missile shield in Europe. Mr. Graham is a senior director at consulting firm Kissinger Associates in New York. He shared his views on the issue in an interview with RIA Novosti New York Bureau Chief Dmitry Gornostaev.

- Mr. Graham what do you think about the decision by the U.S. administration to shelve plans for the missile shield in Europe? Do you consider it in a positive or negative light? How do you assess it from the point of view of U.S.-Russia relations, U.S. security and defense capabilities, U.S. relations with Poland and the Czech Republic?

- Overall, the decision is positive. It removes a significant irritant in U.S.-Russian relations. It does not harm U.S. security or erode our defense capabilities because Iran is still years from developing a long-range missile. Indeed, it could enhance U.S. security and defense capabilities by focusing on defenses against short and medium-range Iran missiles, which Iran already has or will have shortly. The United States will need to do something for Poland and the Czech Republic to compensate for the decision not to build the missile defense sites, since both countries' governments took political risks in supporting those deployments. That could be done bilaterally or in the NATO context. In this regard, President Obama has reconfirmed the United States' NATO Article V commitment to help defend Poland and the Czech Republic as NATO allies should the come under attack.

- Does this mean that the missile shield plans in Europe have been abandoned or just switched to stand-by mode?

The plans can be resurrected if the nature of the threat changes. Nothing is forever in politics. But it would take a major reassessment of the Iranian threat to ressurrect these plans. That is not likely in the near future.

- What arguments can be made to reassure the Eastern European governments that the reset in U.S.-Russia relations is not being conducted at the expense of the interests of new U.S. allies in Europe?

- As the Administration has already done, it can stress the U.S. commitment to honor its Article V obligations under the NATO Charter. It can also bolster NATO plans to defend East Europe - along with our Allies - and conduct NATO exercises to enhance capabilities for mutual defense. On a bilateral basis, it can reinforce security ties with these countries, and it can ensure that they are consulted on matters in U.S.-Russian relations that could have a significant impact on their interests.

- Does this decision mean that Washington is waiting for a similar response from Moscow? What concessions from Russia can the U.S. expect in exchange?

- The United States is not looking for a concession from Russia, in part because it does not believe its decision is a concession to Russia. But it does hope that its decision will further improve the atmosphere and that Moscow will now be inclined to take further steps to improve relations and enhance cooperation in dealing with common threats, in particular the Iranian nuclear weapons program.

- Was this decision driven more by political logic or financially motivated? Did the global crisis contribute to this decision?

- The administration's goal is to build a missile defense system that is effective against an identifiable threat and of reasonable cost. Politics and finances were both major considerations.

- How will it be met inside the U.S. establishment: in both parties and in military circles?

- Missile defense has been an issue of considerable domestic debate dor years, even decades. The splits run through the two parties and the military. This will continue to be the case with the current decision.

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