Time for Europeans to do their share
BERLIN -- As Germany heads for federal elections this Sunday, President Obama's decision to cancel plans for a land-based missile defense program in Poland and the Czech Republic met with unanimous applause, not just from Chancellor Angela Merkel and her challenger, Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier, but in fact across all the parties.
It was with good reason, and a fair degree of ignorance about its consequences for Germany and Europe. Even in the United States, there had always been doubts about the technical feasibility of the program and the seriousness of the threat by Iran's nuclear missiles. Ten conventionally-armed interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic were never going to be a threat to Russia's strategic nuclear deterrent €“ or, conversely, the sole guarantor of both countries' military security. It was the symbolism that mattered: the presence of American soldiers made the West's defense commitment much more visible and credible than the mere fact of NATO membership could have done.
But there are other ways for the U.S. and Europe to build up Polish and Czech confidence. Unlike George W. Bush's missile defense program, which sold a weak concept as a strong response, the Obama Administration's policy U-turn kills two birds with one shot. With regard to Russia, the new plan underlines the United States' seriousness about its new disarmament initiative and increases political pressure on Russia.
With regard to Iran, the U.S. demonstrates its willingness to negotiate. Now it is up to Russia to demonstrate its own readiness for disarmament €“ and it will be possible to measure that willingness by the extent to which it supports U.S. policy toward Iran. Russia's recent willingness to support more severe sanctions against Iran would seem to indicate that the leadership in Moscow has understood that this is a chance to cooperate that the United States will not offer again soon.
Iran is a top priority for President Obama's foreign policy. This policy U-turn builds up enormous political capital for the U.S. globally; it also increases political pressure not just on Russia and Iran but also on Europe. What does all this mean for Germany? We may assume that the White House will present its wish list to the new German government very soon after the elections this weekend. Germany and Europe will be asked to take much more responsibility for Eastern European security, as part of sharing the burden of the new disarmament policy.
The United States' new stance makes it much more difficult for Germany, France, the Netherlands and others to reject U.S. wishes if the Europeans want to appear to undermine Obama's disarmament agenda. But that's not something German politicians like to think about during an election campaign.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.