On Thursday it was announced that President Obama has decided to forego the Bush administration's plans to place a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. The Bush administration’s plans were intended to prevent Iranian missile strikes on Europe; However, most experts agree that the reason for placing a missile defense system in Eastern Europe had little to do with Iran, which is unlikely to gain long-range missile technology for some time.
Instead it was designed to be a barking dog at Russia's doorstep. This analysis makes sense, given the Bush administration's icy relationship with The Kremlin.
The START-1 treaty, signed in 1991, was the first of three agreements to reduce ballistic weapons between the U.S. and Russia, and is scheduled to expire this coming December 5th. A new round of talks promising further reductions is due before that date.
Of President Obama's decision, which greatly reduces pressure on Russia, one must ask "why now?" It would seem that going to the table with such a hefty bargaining chip would be a boon in the game of horse trading that is arms negotiation.
The move is in line with the administration's apparent policy of trying to lead by example, as it has done in extending an open hand in an attempt to bring Iran to the nuclear negotiating table (mission: success, the U.S., Iran, and other nations will begin "wide-ranging" discussions in October).
Nevertheless, given the fact that Russia never saw the missile defense system as legitimate to begin with, the move probably won't be taken as the type of grand opening gesture that would necessitate a reciprocal action by The Kremlin, but instead as a return to normalcy, meaning that the Russians will come to the negotiation table expecting more concessions from the U.S.
Iran, to its apparent credit, refused to "take the first step" and abandon its nuclear program, which was the Bush administration's key precondition to beginning open talks, and is now being rewarded by the Obama administration with diplomatic discussions.
Israel, much like Iran, has rejected calls for it to nullify its advantage by halting or ceasing settlement construction in the West Bank without getting a concession of equal value from the Palestinian Authority.
Both of these parties will go into their respective negotiations (yes, the Israelis and Palestinians will end up sitting across the table again soon) with a significant ace in the hole that they may or may not be willing to give up.
The question is, why give up ours before the game even begins? Why not wait for the next round of negotiations with Russia to start in December, and offer to re-shuffle our missile defense system in exchange for more a concession from the Russians?
Another set of questions: does this U-turn in policy have any connection to changes in defense acquisitions policy, like the scrapping of the F-22 Raptor program, which was actually supported by Secretary of Defense Gates himself? Is there any indication that the decision was made in order to save tax payers' money? Or is it purely foreign policy-driven as administration officials are indicating?
These are all questions that will be answered in due time.