Eastern Europe As Wacky As US Archcons


It’s almost as if some people wish the Cold War had never ended. There was something attractive about the US-Soviet bipolar world. Kind of like the religious black-and-white thinking of absolute good and absolute evil. All you had to do is choose sides and keep score. So recent changes on the planned US “missile shield” in Europe comes with a bit that old thunder-on-the-right you might have heard in 1956 or 1968 when the Soviets rolled tanks into Budapest or Prague. Drudge couldn’t resist noting it was the “70th anniversary of…” something awful Russia once did.

Except it’s nearly 2010, the Soviet Union doesn’t exist, and the country brutally suppressing demonstrations is not Russia. And the “betrayal” is a strategic change initiated by the Obama administration responding to developments in the budding nuclear state of Iran. Not to mention the fact that the non-existent missile interceptors were planned to be the wrong type. As Newsweek commented:

The Czechs and the Poles, who had hoped that the system would somehow protect them against Russian aggression, were appalled. (The Polish prime minister refused to take a call from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton informing him of the decision.)Conservative Americans, who counted on the missile shield to contain Iranian missiles, decried Obama’s move as dangerous, or even treasonous. Only Russia, which believed that the system would somehow impair their ability to use their own nuclear missiles, was delighted. The real question, though, isn’t whether Obama is right or wrong about the system’s efficacy. (He’s obviously right.) The real question why everybody cares so much. How did a piece of technology years from reality work its way to the center of so many diplomatic crises?

To begin with, it’s important to remember that while plenty of missile defense systems capable of hitting short- and medium-range missiles exist (remember Patriots and Scuds?), none are yet capable of knocking out long-range ballistic missiles. So far, that is a theory that looked good on network-news computer graphics but that never actually existed. The idea was for radar stations in the Czech Republic to monitor missile launches from the Middle East, and for interceptor rockets in Poland to shoot them down en route to their targets. The interceptor rockets, though, don’t even work; after years of trials and billions of dollars of research, a prototype tested in Alaska still can’t reliably tell real missiles from decoys or kill missiles that change course midflight, as truly sophisticated weapons can. Not that it would have mattered: no country in the Middle East actually possesses the kind of missiles that could reach the United States, or even Northern Europe. No, what ultimately killed off missile defense was the news that Iran has nothing like the kind of long-range, Soviet-style ballistic missiles that the system was supposed to stop.

So why the fuss? Simple: a missile-defense system is a great symbol—far more potent than any practical weaponry could ever be. Among Eastern Europeans, it became a totem for American protection against a resurgent Russia, even though the system was never designed to guard against Russian missiles. The basic point is that, by design (and remember we’re talking about something that never got beyond the drawing board), the system was designed to intercept ballistic missiles in the stratosphere and low orbit. A simple glance at the map shows that such intercontinental ballistic missiles are not what Russia would fire at Poland, just a few hundred miles away.

Symbolism. Rah-rah chest beating. That’s what all the fuss is about. With deployment many years away, now is the time to tweak strategy, not after billions have been spent. Now is the time to recognize that with military weapons, unlike the cartoon fun house of tabloid news, truth does matter. When it comes to the physics of blasting missiles out of the sky, paranoia, patriotism and faux outrage won’t get the job done.

From the Christian Science Monitor:

Some critics worry that Washington is “appeasing” Russia, encouraging more bullying from this bear. But the United States isn’t abandoning its European friends under pressure from Russia. Washington still wants to involve Eastern Europe — specifically the Poles and Czechs — in an antimissile shield directed at Iran. It just wants to do it later, and with more up-to-date equipment.

The Bush plan had called for an antimissile shield in those two countries that was aimed at detecting and knocking out long-range Iranian nuclear missiles that might threaten the US and Europe. The installations were expected to be ready in 2017 or 2018.

As Defense Secretary Robert Gates explained today, however, intelligence shows that Tehran is developing short- and medium-range missiles much more rapidly than the long-range missiles for which the Eastern European shield was intended. At the same time, technological advances in the US military’s ability to shoot down short- and medium-range missiles has vastly improved.

That argues for the more flexible, two-phased approach of the Pentagon: sea-borne interceptors first, land-based by around 2015, all the while continuing to work on the trickier technology of intercepting long-range nuclear missiles.

None of this nuance is likely to blunt the furor. It’s funny how on the issues that matter, like climate change and strategic politics, Eastern European governments and media are as crazy as Glenn Beck. I’m glad our President isn’t being swayed by any of it.

Comments (11 comments)

Curtis / September 18th, 2009, 8:59 pm / #1

Apparently, you missed the Russian invasion of Georgia last year. Russia is a very dangerous neighbor to have. Considering that it is the 60th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, I think the Poles have a better memory than you. (Admittedly, Russia will have to go through Ukraine to get to Poland and the Czech Republic.)

GeauxGhoti / September 19th, 2009, 5:01 am / #2

The politicians over here are a bit annoyed, but the people are relieved. I've lived in Czech Republic for the past 5 years
now and I can tell you, "the people" were not happy about having that defense shield here. They were afraid that its
presence would make them a target, not only for Russia, but also for anti-American terrorist groups. Personally, I'm
glad Obama scrapped that ill conceived plan, just as they are…

What's with the comment box? For some reason, it doesn't seem to recognize the right border… I have to keep hitting
"Enter" when I get there, or it will just keep on going in a single line…

BlackSun / September 19th, 2009, 6:19 pm / #3

It's good to know there are some sane people there. I don't know how such conservatives have gotten in power in Eastern Europe. Is it mainly anticommunism because people remember the abuses of communism?

Anyway, the comment system is third party, and it's been buggy all along. Sorry about that. It seems to run better in Firefox or Chrome.

GeauxGhoti / September 19th, 2009, 6:52 pm / #4

That seems to be a large part of it, at least in Czech Republic (as evidenced by the egg and tomato throwing protests at every Communist Party speech here in Prague) but another big part of it is simply anger at the U.S. Once Obama was elected, the tone was greatly changed here, but there is still much animosity here towards us. Let's face it… The U.S. doesn't exactly have a great record when it comes to caring about the needs of other nations, including our allies, and the way the U.S. is dealing with immigration and visas for our smaller allied nations really is taking things a bit too far… Many Czechs, Poles, Slovakians and others from the former "Eastern Block" nations are wondering why they have the same difficulties (and sometimes more) as those from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the like getting permission to go to the States, and this was happening long before the recent changes to immigration laws…

Thanx for the info about the comment system… I've never seen that problem before, and I only use Firefox, so it surprised me. Whatever it was didn't happen with this comment though…

peter / September 19th, 2009, 5:29 am / #5

Apparently, you missed the Russian invasion of Georgia last year.

To funny that the idiot president of georgia, mr. Mikheil Saakashvili stumbled into a trap he himself laid with the help of the US trying to assert his influence into an area mainly occupied by ethnic russians and apparedntly frequently warned off by russi to do so.

Yes, dangerous but quite rational – as opposed to the idiotic plans by the bushites to establish a missile defense system right at russias border – can anybody say "Cuban missile crisis?" To defend against Iranian missiles – give me a break, those missiles were squarely targeted at Russia itself.

Maybe Obama also is forced to realize – the dough ain't there for further imperial adventures.

BlackSun / September 19th, 2009, 12:59 am / #6

Curtis, I didn't miss the invasion of Georgia, and I didn't say Russia wasn't dangerous. I said that the missile defense system was the wrong type and changing it doesn't amount to capitulation

Don't like Newsweek's analysis? Here's Time's. Both say it was militarily the right decision:,8599,19

peter / September 19th, 2009, 3:21 pm / #7,1518,6500

and this just out – in german only: russia does not station short range missiles close to the polish border in kaliningrad, which they would have in response to the installation of US missile bases.

BlackSun / September 19th, 2009, 6:20 pm / #8

Here it is in English:

BlackSun / September 19th, 2009, 6:20 pm / #9

Here it is in English:

BlackSun / September 19th, 2009, 6:20 pm / #10

Here it is in English:

Curtis / September 21st, 2009, 8:53 pm / #11

Russia and Belarus are starting war games named Zapad (translation is West). Do you know what country is west of Belarus?

If I lived in Poland, I certainly would want as many US and NATO troops as possible in my country. Russia will continue to intimidate any country it can. Would it attack a lightly defended NATO country? I don't know but I would feel a lot more secure with lots of American weapons and troops.

<block quote>Russia and Belarus have begun the West 2009 war games.

A combined force of 12,500 troops, over 220 tanks, some 470 armored combat vehicles, 230 self-propelled and towed artillery pieces, mortar guns and multiple-launch rocket systems, auxiliary equipment and warships from the Baltic, Black Sea and Northern fleets, 60 airplanes and 40 helicopters, and officers from the two countries' security and law-enforcement forces will train in order to "ensure strategic stability in the East European region" from September 8 to 29.<block quote>

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