What are we to make of President Obama’s attitude toward U.S. missile defenses? His past positions, his actions as president to date and the secret negotiations his administration has under way with Russia bespeak an alarming, ideologically driven hostility to the idea of protecting the American people and their allies from missile-delivered threats.
Given the irrationality of such an attitude in light of the intensifying dangers such threats represent, the Obama attitude might best be described as “anti-missilephobia.” Will Congress accommodate or counteract this potentially suicidal disorder?
The problem predates Mr. Obama’s election in 2008. He campaigned on a platform that conformed to the left’s historic hostility toward missile defenses. Candidate Obama promised not to deploy anti-missile systems that are “less than fully effective.” That is code for opposing just about any defense since critics invariably contend that some real or imagined threat could not be countered with 100 percent confidence. This ignores the deterring effect of uncertainty that even-less-than-perfect anti-missile technologies introduce in the minds of attackers, especially if differing technologies are used in a layered and synergistic approach.
In office, Mr. Obama has hewed to his anti-missilephobic line. Notably, he has slashed billions from the U.S. missile-defense program. And he killed the NATO-agreed-upon plan for defending Europe and the United States. At best, his “phased-adaptive” alternative will delay by years the placing of defenses effective against the array of missile threats that Russia’s client, Iran, is currently fielding. Worse yet, systems capable of protecting us here at home as well may never get off the drawing boards.
If so, that will be at least in part a byproduct of the Russians’ response to such unilateral U.S. restraint, exercised in the hope that it would help “reset” relations with Moscow. Predictably, Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin responded to our accommodation by doubling down: Seeing opportunity in Mr. Obama’s anti-missilephobia to advance its strategic interests at our expense, Moscow became even more insistent on obstructing American missile defenses.
The first fruit of this campaign was the so-called New START agreement from which the Russians declared they would withdraw if the United States made “quantitative or qualitative improvements” to its anti-missile capabilities. While our Senate was assured and consequently, asserted, that such a unilateral statement would have no bearing on U.S. defenses, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the Duma formally affirmed it as part of Moscow’s ratification proceedings.
Now, Team Obama’s anti-missilephobes are beavering away at a new deal with the Kremlin, in the hopes of having a “collaborative approach” hammered out in time for a NATO-Russia summit in June. Moscow has been emboldened by the combination of this incipient deadline and the palpable disinterest of Mr. Obama’s negotiators in protecting U.S. missile-defense options - something that President Ronald Reagan assiduously did during his time in the Oval Office. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Ivanov has staked out an extreme stance, insisting “on only one thing: that we’re an equal part of” a U.S. missile-defense system in Europe. In order to remove any shadow of doubt, Mr. Ivanov elaborated further: “In practical terms, that means our office will sit, for example, in Brussels and agree on a red-button push to start an anti-missile, regardless of whether it starts from Poland, Russia or the U.K.”
This “red-button” is obviously envisioned as the tactical counterpart to the strategic veto over U.S. anti-missile systems that Russia feels the Obama administration has effectively afforded it. It may be a negotiating bluff, designed to facilitate acquiescence to less outlandish, but still-insidious, demands. On the other hand, Moscow clearly thinks it worth a try, given the concessions already made by America’s anti-missilephobes.
The Kremlin’s other demands include access to the core of America’s state-of-the-art missile defense systems - hit-to-kill technology that has a host of applications beyond anti-missile missions. The Russians are also angling for access to data through a shared center that would be incalculably helpful in gaming out the nature and exploitable vulnerabilities of U.S. sensors, interceptors and other weapons components, command-and-control arrangements, etc.
These insights would be especially useful if the Kremlin still harbors its past ambitions for waging and winning a nuclear war, including the possibility of a “first strike” attack. Such scenarios would be greatly enabled by the use of depressed-trajectory, submarine-launched ballistic missiles - like Mr. Putin’s new Belavia -against our deterrent forces, which are at relatively few bases compared to the Cold War years. Worse yet, if the Obama administration has its way, those forces are soon to be rendered still-less-resilient against pre-emptive attacks by being “de-alerted” - a part of the evisceration of U.S. targeting plans that appears likely to be the next shoe to drop in the president’s bid to set a unilateral example for “ridding the world of nuclear weapons.”
Fortunately, 39 Republican senators, led by Mark Kirk of Illinois and Jon Kyl of Arizona, have squarely challenged Team Obama’s anti-missilephobia. In a joint letter dated April 14, they wrote: “No American president should ever allow a foreign nation to dictate when or how the United States defends our country and our allies. In our view, any agreement that would allow Russia to influence the defense of the United States or our allies, to say nothing of a ‘red button’ or veto, would constitute a failure of leadership.”
Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy (SecureFreedom.org), a columnist for The Washington Times and host of “Secure Freedom Radio,” heard in Washington weeknights at 9 p.m. on WRC-AM (1260).