Commentary Magazine


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Cowboys No More

Critics of President Obama’s Nobel award are wrong when they say he hasn’t done anything yet. If you think the world would be safer with Russia having an effective veto over NATO’s missile defenses, you will agree Obama has already accomplished a lot.

There is more to be done, however. Russian delight over Obama’s decision to scrap the missile-defense sites in Europe is fading quickly. As many predicted, Moscow dislikes the sea-based missile-defense concept as much as it did the ground-based interceptors. One problem with a sea-based missile defense is that Aegis warships have to be deployed to set it up. Defending Europe against missiles launched from Iran dictates deploying warships in the Eastern Mediterranean, Black Sea, or Baltic Sea, areas Russia is notoriously sensitive about.

But the other problem is the same one the Russians raised with the sites in Europe. Wherever we propose to put Aegis ships, Moscow will suspect that they can intercept missiles launched from Russia and will accuse the U.S. of “targeting Russia” with our missile defenses. This is exactly what Russia’s envoy to NATO is now doing, mere weeks after Obama’s policy concession. Indeed, Moscow now evinces an eye-opening air of entitlement to explanations on this head.

NATO, meanwhile, is renewing its search for greater cooperation with Russia on missile defense, with implications for the tactical ground-based systems assumed to be options in the Obama plan. Technological disparities between NATO and Russia make meaningful integration doubtful in the short run. This could give more prominence to technologically awkward, politically driven “solutions,” such as NATO accepting a role for Russia’s premier S-400 air defense system in its southern European defenses. Russia is already in negotiations with both Turkey and Greece over the S-400 and thus has an existing interest that is in direct competition with the U.S. Patriot. If Turkey and Greece host upgraded tactical missile-defense systems for NATO, those systems may not be ours.

A NATO missile-defense system over which Russia can exercise an inside veto is a Nobel-worthy experiment indeed. One thing we can say is that few cowboys would take a chance on it.