May 19, 2013
Barack Obama, Meet Team B
Posted on Mar 12, 2009
By Scott Ritter
President Obama received a lesson in international gamesmanship last week, when his secret offer to trade the deployment of a controversial missile defense system in Eastern Europe for Russian assistance in getting Iran to back down from its nuclear program was publicly rebuffed. The lesson? You don’t get something for nothing, especially when the something you’re looking for is, itself, nothing.
If the members of the Obama administration would bother to take a stroll down memory lane, they might recall that once upon a time there was a document called the anti-ballistic missile treaty, signed in 1972 between the United States and the former Soviet Union, which recognized that anti-missile defense shields were inherently destabilizing, and as such should not be deployed. The ABM treaty represented the foundational agreement for a series of strategic arms limitation and arms reduction agreements that followed. President Obama was 10 years old when that treaty was signed. He was 40 years old when President George W. Bush withdrew from it, in December 2001, and set in motion a series of events that saw arms control between the U.S. and Russia completely unravel. The proposed U.S. missile defense shield, to be deployed in Poland and the Czech Republic, had the Russians talking about scrapping the INF treaty (which eliminated two classes of nuclear-armed ballistic missiles that threatened Europe) and deploying highly accurate SS-21 “Iskander” missiles within striking range of the proposed Polish interceptor site.
Russia did not create the missile defense system crisis. The United States did, and, as such, cannot expect to suddenly receive diplomatic credit when it puts this controversial program on the foreign policy gaming table as if it were a legitimate chip to be bargained away.
Russia has always, correctly, claimed that any missile defense system deployed in Eastern Europe can only be directed at Russia. While both the Bush and Obama administrations denied that was the case, Poland has all but admitted its concerns are not about missiles coming from Tehran, but rather missiles coming from Moscow. The American “sweetener” for a potential Polish loss of a missile shield is to offer Poland advanced Patriot surface-to-air missiles, whose intended target is clearly not a Persian missile which cannot reach Polish soil, but rather Russian missiles and aircraft which can.
There are three basic facts that the Obama administration needs to address, but as of yet has not: First, missile defense systems are inherently destabilizing and only contribute to the acquisition of offensive counters designed to defeat those defenses. Second, the rapid expansion of NATO in the past decade has in fact threatened Russia. And third, the Iranian missile “threat” to Europe has always been illusory.
The Iranian situation is far too real, but not in terms of the dangers posed by anything Iran itself is doing. The United States has not helped matters by hyping the threat posed by nonexistent Iranian missiles targeting Europe and capable of carrying nonexistent nuclear warheads. Russia has expressed a desire to work with the United States to better control Iran’s program of uranium enrichment, which Iran and the nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), state has been clearly demonstrated as part of a peaceful nuclear energy program. For Russia to buy into Obama’s “deal,” it would have to buy into a threat from Iran’s missile and nuclear programs, a threat Russia does not believe to exist.
Obama would do well to call in his national security team and have it lay out the intelligence information used to assert the Iranian threat. There must be such a foundational document, since Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen and the president himself all have repeatedly referred to the “threat” posed by Iran’s “nuclear weapons” ambitions. It is important to distinguish between what we know and what we think we know. For instance, we know that Iran does not have any highly enriched uranium, the kind needed to produce a nuclear weapon. Just ask Adm. Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence. This is what he told the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee this week in testimony on Iran. And yet many in the U.S. intelligence community continue to state unequivocally that Iran is on the verge of possessing a nuclear weapon.
Obama should take each assertion put forward about Iran’s nuclear ambition and then reverse-engineer the underlying factual basis for making that assertion. If he did so, he would quickly find that he and his advisers know less about Iran than they think they do. The entire U.S. case against Iran is built on supposition and speculation. If the president disassembled the speculative assertions, he would find them cobbled together from an ideologically motivated methodology designed more to justify a policy of containing and undermining Iran’s theocracy than understanding its nuclear ambitions.
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