Poles and Czechs want insurance -- not reassurances
BRUSSELS -- President Obama's shelving of the Bush administration's missile defense plans makes sense in addressing the immediate Iranian threat. It has nevertheless created a crisis of confidence in Central and Eastern Europe. The crisis' roots lie in policy mistakes made over the course of the past decade. One was assuming that the issue of whether these countries belonged in the West would be resolved when these countries joined NATO and the EU. We assumed that Russia would accept that they were gone from its shrinking sphere of influence and stop interfering in the region. But it hasn't. It has merely changed tactics, and is now recycling the idea of a Russian "sphere of influence" in Eastern Europe under the new label of "zone of special interest" which of course also means lesser security. Another mistake was not fulfilling our pledges on Article 5 of the NATO Treaty. I sat at the table in the mid-1990s as Washington promised Warsaw that NATO would have a corps-size reinforcement capability to provide for its security. That never materialized. Attempts to develop contingency plans have also been blocked. In fact, the Alliance has decayed in its role as the key crisis manager in Europe as became evident during the Russo-Georgian war in August of 2008.
In private, Central and East European leaders are no longer certain that NATO would be capable of coming to their rescue if there were a crisis involving Russia. Enter missile defense. The Poles and Czechs bought into George W. Bush's plans for missile defense because they were seeking additional security through an American military presence on their soil: in other words, insurance. That is why the plans assumed so much political significance in the region €“ and why abandoning them creates a crisis. There is a fix to the problem. Address the region's concerns through the front door of NATO and not the back door of missile defense. We need a package of political, economic and defense measures that provide strategic reassurance. If we get that right, we can get this relationship back on track. If we don't, the crisis of confidence in the region will deepen.
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