At an international summit on nuclear security held in Seoul South Korea, President Obama told Russia's outgoing President Medvedev that on Missile Defense he needed "space" until after the election. What he said was, "On all these issues, but particularly on missile defense, this, this can be solved but it's important for him (Vladimir Putin) to give me space." Obama added that, "After my election I'll have more flexibility." He did not realize that the microphone was on, and in spite of the efforts of his supporters, the resulting political firestorm is not going to die down any time soon.
In the area of strategic policy, defense budgets and actual hardware, the Obama administration's record of supporting effective defense against ballistic missiles for America and for America's allies, is dismal. The President's appointees have dramatically reduced the budget for National Missile Defense and have decided to cut back on essential sensors such as the large sea-based X Band Radar, which is used to track incoming enemy missiles. The administration has also made major cuts in the number of interceptor missiles that are protecting the US homeland.
One of the first substantive military decisions made by this administration in 2009 was to cancel the planned deployment of ten modified Ground-Based Interceptor (GBI) ballistic missile defense missiles in Poland, and also the accompanying radar system system that was to be built in the Czech Republic. The GBIs that were to be based in Central Europe were adapted versions of the ones devoted to America's National Missile Defense system now deployed in Alaska and California.
The George W. Bush administration said that this deployment was aimed at preventing new long-range Iranian missiles from hitting targets in Europe and the US. This plan was determined by a US Intelligence estimate; it was still valid as of June 2011 that Iran would be capable of deploying an ICBM in 2015. Iran' s recent launch of a small satellite into orbit would tend to confirm that estimate. The technology needed to put a satellite into orbit and the technology needed to build an ICBM, are basically identical.
Russia had been trying for years to bully these Central European nations into refusing to install the American missile defense system, claiming that it was a threat to Moscow. The pressure the Kremlin brought to bear against Poland and the Czech republic was intense, and was supported by the same political elements in western Europe who had tried unsuccessfully to stop President Reagan and his allies from installing NATO's Cruise and Pershing missiles in the early 1980s. The political leaders in central Europe stood up to the bullies in Moscow and agreed to the American plan.
The political impact of the Obama administrations' 2009 decision to cancel the Central European GBI deployment was devastating. Czech and Polish leaders who had courageously supported the American plan found themselves publicly abandoned and humiliated by Washington. Old memories of the way the West failed to save them from Stalin's empire in 1945 were revived.
While the administration never acknowledged openly that it had blundered, it tried to repair some of the damage. The US promised to deploy something it called the Phased Adaptive Approach (PAA) centered around the Navy's SM-3 missile, guided by the Aegis radar and based on ships at sea. This capability against medium and intermediate range ballistic missiles had been successfully tested on countless occasions and has been purchased by Japan as part of their defense against North Korean and Chinese ballistic missiles. The first phase of the PAA uses ships with the SM-3 1A missile, cruising in European waters.
In 2015 the plan is to deploy ships and a single site with an Aegis ashore system using the SM-3 1B missile. The one ground-based site is planned to be located in Romania. By 2020 the PAA plan, if carried out in its entirety, will deploy improved versions of the SM-3 which will, it is hoped, be able to hit Iran's ICBMs on their way from Persia to the continental US.
By deploying these missiles on destroyers and cruisers in European waters in 2011, the Obama administration claimed that it could protect Europe, but not the US, from Iranian missiles at a low cost and without upsetting the Russians. Medvedev and Putin choose to be upset nevertheless, and are still publicly unhappy with any sort of US missile defense program in Europe or even on US soil.
Russia is not going to give up or change its opposition to any sort of US missile defense. For the men in the Kremlin, nuclear weapons are the last shred of superpower status they have left and anything that even slightly reduces the threatening nature of their missile force is a menace to Russia's military power and therefore is something to be fought against with every tool available.
President Obama has repeatedly proclaimed his belief in Arms Control as something the desirability of which is beyond doubt. Ellen Tauscher, this administration's Undersecretary of State for Arms Control, recently offered to provide Russia with classified data on US missile defenses to show America's good faith. She backed off this offer in the face of considerable criticism from Capitol Hill, but the very fact that this offer was proposed shows the public where the senior administration officials hearts are.
For the Obama administration, asking for "space" on subject of missile defense and by implication the PAA, indicates that the ships that are now deployed as part of the current missile defense plan could be with drawn from European waters and the rest of the program could be cancelled or delayed. This would be easier and less visibly humiliating than withdrawing a missile system that had been deployed on land. So, will a newly reelected Obama administration repeat itself and cancel its planned missile defense program to please the Russians? To judge by the President's own words in Seoul, that is a very real possibility.