Russian President Dmitry Medvedev gave Barack Obama his first major foreign policy test the day after the election by vowing to move short-range missiles to the Polish border if the president-elect honors a Bush administration agreement to install a defensive shield in Eastern Europe. Instead of reassuring our NATO allies, however, Obama’s tentative response emboldened the Russians to conduct naval war games with Venezuela in the Caribbean.
Above: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visits a ballistic missile site in Russia in October. Russia is developing missiles designed to avoid being hit by space-based missile defence systems that could be deployed by the United States.(AFP/Pool/File/Dmitry Astakhov)
This is “no time to go all wobbly,” as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher used to say. It is only a matter of time before Iran has a nuclear-armed missile that can hit Israel, Saudi Arabia or Europe. And there is no assurance that Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez won’t sign a mutual defense pact that puts such weapons within range of the U.S. homeland. When that happens, 87 percent of Americans agree, we’d better be able to protect ourselves.
Obama promised during the campaign to work more closely with other nations. Yet he has failed to provide concrete assurance to Polish President Lech Kaczynski that he would honor the agreement the Bush administration negotiated to place U.S. missile defense units in Poland. Obama apparently believes the defensive system should be deployed, but only “when the technology is proved to be workable.” Well, by any reasonable standards, that’s now.
The ground-based missile interceptors that Bush agreed to install in Poland (augmented by radar in the Czech Republic) have destroyed incoming targets in seven of 12 attempts during tests, including the most recent one Friday. So installing the system gives Americans and Europeans a 68 percent chance of disabling an incoming nuclear missile — as opposed to certain annihilation if the system isn’t deployed.
It should also be noted that Boeing is developing the Airborne Laser (ABL) missile defense system that uses a laser mounted in the nose of a highly modified 747. The ABL passed an important milestone recently when its beam control fire system worked perfectly in a ground test. The ABL will enable U.S. forces to destroy enemy missiles soon after launch and at much longer ranges. Ground- and naval-based missile defenses destroy incoming weapons during their final descent towards a target. Missile defense systems on the ground, at sea and in the air long ago ceased being the stuff of science fiction. Obama would be tragically wrong to make perfection the enemy of the very good on this decision.
Missile Defense Success; Urgent Need