Tuesday, September 02, 2014


Obama Shouldn't Sacrifice Allies To Please Russia

Radar domes of the joint U.S.-Australian missile-defense base near Alice Springs.Radar domes of the joint U.S.-Australian missile-defense base near Alice Springs.
Radar domes of the joint U.S.-Australian missile-defense base near Alice Springs.
Radar domes of the joint U.S.-Australian missile-defense base near Alice Springs.
By Michael Rubin
On March 2, "The New York Times" reported that U.S. President Barack Obama had written to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev suggesting that reconsideration in Moscow of the extent of its support for Iran's nuclear program might result in a U.S. suspension of plans to establish a missile-defense system in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic. The Russian leadership rebuffed Obama's outstretched hand. Moscow, Medvedev said, would welcome discussions about missile defense, but would not link such talks to its policy toward Tehran.

Too often, new U.S. administrations assume that the reason for the failure of engagement lies more with their predecessors than with their adversaries. Obama is no different, but rushing into diplomatic initiatives, however well intentioned, can be costly.

The impact on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) of Obama's proposed quid pro quo with Russia could be profound. Founded in 1949 as a collective-defense pact against the Soviet Union, NATO spanned continents and the Atlantic Ocean.

Equal Protection

For collective defense to work, however, President Harry S Truman determined that all NATO members should enjoy equal defense. Western Europe would not simply be strategic depth for the United States, but would enjoy the same level of protection. NATO expanded over the years. Greece and Turkey joined in 1952; West Germany in 1955; and Spain in 1982. With the fall of the Iron Curtain, NATO moved eastward. Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic joined in 1999, and Slovenia, Bulgaria, Romania, and the Baltic states five years later.

Central and Eastern Europe have always been sensitive to the perception that they retain second-class status within both the European Union and NATO. As the Russian government grew more belligerent in its opposition to the radar station and antiballistic-missile base, some U.S. diplomats floated the idea of placing the facilities in older NATO members, such as Italy or the United Kingdom. Former President George W. Bush rightly opposed such a compromise in order to signal that every NATO member was equal, and that Eastern Europe was not simply strategic depth.

It was to cement this point that both Prague and Warsaw agreed to host such facilities despite sizable domestic opposition. Scrapping the European antiballistic-missile coverage altogether would, in effect, relegate first-tier missile defense to North America, which maintains its early warning radar and missile defense in Canada, Alaska, and the continental United States.

While Obama and his aides campaigned for a return to realism in foreign policy, their approach to diplomacy suggests dangerous idealism. The Obama era may have begun on January 20, but neither Moscow nor Tehran abide by the U.S. political calendar. It is not possible to simply "reboot" relations.

Common Interests

For Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, realism means maximizing Russian power. He does not seek good relations with the West; he seeks the resurrection of Moscow as the leader of an informal empire corresponding to the borders of the former Soviet Union. Putin appears to see Russian aid to the Iranian nuclear program as a win-win situation for Moscow. On one hand, Russian nuclear assistance to Iran has netted Rosatom, the Russian state nuclear-power agency, billions of dollars. Russian military sales -- either direct or channeled through Belarus -- are icing on the cake. On the other hand, in the unlikely event that the United States strikes Iran militarily, the price of oil will shoot up, pulling the shaky Russian economy out of recession.

Iranian officials, likewise, see the United States' back against the wall. On February 11, 2008, commemorating the 29th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad announced: "I officially declare that Iran has become a true and real superpower.... I say with a loud voice that the era of imperialism and [U.S.] bullying has come to an end."

In fact, the time for a deal such as the one outlined in Obama's letter to Medvedev may already have expired. On February 27, delivering the Islamic republic's official sermon, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, among the most powerful figures in Iran today and himself once a target of U.S. engagement, declared, "Even if the Russian experts don't complete the Bushehr nuclear power plant, Iranian experts will finish the job."

Obama may see his offer to Russia as pragmatism, but gestures create precedent. U.S. allies who fear that Washington is willing to sacrifice allies for the sake of diplomatic convenience may question whether alliances remain built on today's interests only, or also on shared values and history. If, after all, Russian antagonism forces U.S. concessions over Poland and the Czech Republic, why not increase Russian belligerence in the Caucasus, Central Asia, or on the Korean Peninsula? If the Obama administration signals that Poland and the Czech Republic are on the table, why should Ukraine and Georgia not be? Why should China not expect to deal over Taiwan, or why should Iran -- another target of Obama's desire to engage -- not demand concessions on Israel?

Diplomacy should always be a strategy of first resort. But Obama should realize that diplomacy with dictatorships is not the same as diplomacy among democratic nations. If democracies can be swayed with values and incentives, altering autocrats' behavior often requires far more complex coercion, not simply idealistic letters. If Washington is to remain strong, its alliances must remain strong. The White House must learn that the best security comes from supporting allies, not cutting deals over them.

Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL
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Comments page of 2
by: rade from: tampa
March 04, 2009 15:31
go and atack Russia and finish that stupid story so we can live in peace.oil policy never stop. 1963 my father said; i wish that usa and russia atack each other and when they finish we can live in peace.next, democracies ,you are talking they are not democracies they are some form of dictatorship ,police states,puppet regimes.

by: Milovan Rafailovic from: Lake Placid, Florida
March 04, 2009 16:19
I say the other way around: Medvedev shouldn't sacrifice his next door neighbors to please the West.

by: Americanoverseas from: Czech Republic
March 04, 2009 19:08
Cz government should never trust Obama.Lots of Americans trust this man..I believe Central and Eastern Europe need this system.More than the Americans.This commitment with the U.S.would solidify a infinite partnership with the U.S....Germany,France,England,Italy do not want Poland and the Czech Republic to establish these close of ties with the States...Czech government would be best to see this deal through...sooner the better..before the Bear shuts the door on... or the Czech will be trumped again.

by: Gregdn from: Los Angeles
March 04, 2009 19:50
It was a dangerous overeach to offer NATO membership to Eastern European nations without compelling justification for doing so.<br />What exactly does the United States get in return for bringing a county like Macedonia into NATO?<br />Bush apparently thought a couple hundred troops added to the mix in Iraq was worth that. I don't.

by: Tamara from: Tbilisi
March 05, 2009 12:52
This is a clever and balanced article

by: Anna from: London
March 05, 2009 20:37
I agree with every word that Michael Rubin sais in this commentary, but will Obama hear?

by: Richard Mimna from: www.herbalindex.com
March 06, 2009 16:13
Business is business. Most governments are just that - business. Just because an ex-soviet member seeks membership and protection thru NATO doesn't mean that they will automatically receive it. And, just because NATO attempts to work with Russia (or Iran) does not mean that all is forgiven. NATO forces are not crusaders, driven by some religous dogma (or, the ideals of a madman), to destroy unpopular regimes and topple governments. NATO is just a group of people that work well together - most of the time. It's just business.

by: Nastja from: New York, NY
March 07, 2009 12:46
It's sad that there are people out there who read your blog actually thinking it would be good jouranlism.

by: Oleksander from: Florida
March 07, 2009 15:02
By reading the comments of some of the <br />readers , it is obvious that that they <br />completely missed the point that the writer was trying to make ; you don't negotiate under duress , and you don't<br />sell out your allies if you expect them<br />to trust you in the future . Russia's<br />policy has always been to use blackmail<br />as a means to achieve their goals and <br />since it almost always works , they see<br />no reason to change . It is deplorable<br />how once respectable countries , such as<br />Germany , Italy , Spain and even France<br />have been reduced to whimpering puppets<br />by Russia's posturing and saber rattling .<br />If cooperation with Russia is necessary ,<br />then it should come as an open , willing<br />effort by all parties and not as a result<br />of fear or lack of oil or gas . Like with any other bully , Russia's demands will<br />only grow . This cowardly appeasement must stop before it really gets out of hand .

by: Alex from: Florida
March 08, 2009 05:54
The last concluding paragraph is word for word completely false, with the exception of the last sentence. It is based on old American thinking. <br /><br />Case and Point is the Shah of Iran in 1979, who lead a government with which the US not only called a friend and Ally, but also had a pact with.<br /><br />The US government, the president and senate acted with complete Treachery in betraying the Shah, which the shah clearly explained in his book.<br /><br />The results of old thinking US action didn't exactly result in a long term US victory. When all is said and done it is being seen as more of a humiliating defeat, with problems that are causing irreparable damage to US national honor and freedom.<br /><br />The US hypocrisy today is that it cannot justify its politics with respect to treating Russia harshly as an enemy. <br /><br />It is now a capitalist system and functioning closer to the values of rusians, than the USA is being run to the values of Americans after all 1/3 of Americans have no healthcare because there is no real choice in an unaffordable system.<br /><br />
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