Washington’s plans to install non-existent anti-ballistic missile technology into Poland and the Czech Republic in order to defend against non-existent Iranian missile technology has long been a sore point in the U.S.-Russia relationship. As pointless as proposal has been, so have the Russian protests and publicity stunts (such as the brilliant Kaliningrad missile idea to congratulate the new president). There is little doubt among Russia’s military brass that the missiles pose any deterrent threat whatsoever to the country’s vast arsenal. Indeed, it would seem that much of the bickering and saber-rattling over this issue is just a distraction, and that the debate is actually about why Russia won’t do more to help the U.S. curb Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons – necessitating, in theory, the installation of the shield in the first place.
So what do you do if you are Barack Obama, you find the missile shield to be yet another inconvenience left over from the Bush era, and you would like to subtract the issue from the equation without sending the signal that Russia successfully bullied you out of the East before you could even complete a year in office (as though Georgia didn’t already prove something). Well easy! The first step is to get a number of bilateral commissions to declare the project unnecessary, and then an easy and pragmatic decision can eventually be made to put the initiative on the shelf indefinitely while we study the issue.
Today, the EastWest Institute, a think tank with offices in New York, Brussels, and Moscow, stepped up to the plate to help the Americans save face on the missile shield. The joint threat assessment by both U.S. and Russian technical experts argues that Iran’s missile capability is not close to being an immediate threat, and that the top priority for Washington and Moscow is not a missile shield but a coordinated effort on nuclear proliferation.