Obama’s Prague Treaty and Spheres of Influence

Mark Brzezinski and A Wess Mitchell have published an interesting guest op/ed in the International Herald Tribune which underscores the importance of deepening U.S. and Central European ties during the upcoming signing of the “Prague Treaty” with Russia over strategic nuclear arms reduction.  The fact that Barack Obama will sign this deal with Dmitry Medvedev in Prague is bound to raise discussions over Moscow’s goal of declaring a new “sphere of influence” over Eastern Europe, and the U.S. delegation is bound to face many questions over this issue during their visit.

The symbolism of the location is significant. By choosing a former Soviet satellite, the Obama administration is sending an important message: Contrary to much speculation, U.S. cooperation with Russia under the “reset” will not come at the expense of close U.S. allies in Central Europe.

Central Europeans are skeptical on this point — they are like anypeople who over history have suffered trauma and betrayal. Wedgedbetween geopolitical massifs, theirs is a history marred by the potentcombination of unfortunate geography, strong neighbors and realpolitik.They underwent a traumatic experience under Nazism and communism, andthey have learned to be wary when great-power twosomes convene.

On the one occasion when the Central Europeans enjoyed Westernpatronage (the period between the great wars) they learned thatdemocratic great powers are as capable of bartering away their interestsas undemocratic ones.

In the combination of the Russia “reset” and the reconsideration ofBush-era missile-defense plans, many in the region perceived the earlystirrings of something deeper and more menacing: U.S. retrenchment fromthe “Lands Between.” The resulting calls for “strategic reassurance”reflect a profound geopolitical need that is one of the great challengesfacing the Atlantic Alliance today.