Nuclear disarmament is the college debate topic this year, so happily I’m paying closer attention to nukes than to, say, taxpayer-funded prostitution rings. The latest development is fairly straightforward: Obama plans to disassemble a radar station in the Czech Republic and an interceptor launch station in Poland. Predictably enough, mainstream conservatives are infuriated: it takes Niles Gardiner all of four paragraphs to label this move “appeasement.” For a more measured view, I recommend this Peter Scoblic post from a few months back (emphasis mine):
Everything we learned during the cold war demonstrates that there is no such thing as strategic decisiveness when it comes to nuclear weapons–there is balance; and there is danger. If we were ever to build missile defenses that actually threatened Russia’s deterrent capability–say, by deploying a system with hundreds, instead of tens, of interceptors–Russia would simply build more nuclear weapons. If we tried to counter that increase with more defenses, Russia would counter with more offenses. And even if we “got ahead” in this offense-defense race, there would never be a point at which we had a 100 percent effective defense, meaning that if there were a nuclear exchange, the United States would quickly cease to be. Defenses would never be strategically decisive, but it’s always possible that Russia might fear they were–which would just destabilize our relationship. Does this sound familiar? It was exactly the problem we faced during the cold war, and frankly I’m not sure why we should have the discussion again.
Now, there is a case for a limited missile defense to counter a potential missile threat from North Korea, which is why we’ve already deployed a couple dozen interceptors in California and Alaska. (Unfortunately, Krauthammer is stretching things when he says we can “reliably” shoot down an ICBM. In fact, the boosters on the interceptors to be deployed in Eastern Europe have never been tested.) But there is also a case for securing Russian cooperation to pressure Iran to halt its nuclear and missile programs: Wouldn’t we prefer to prevent a nuclear warhead from being built than to try to stop it outside the atmosphere when it was a mere 15 minutes from striking the United States or Europe? In fact, we need Russian cooperation on other vital nuclear issues, including North Korea’s atomic weapons program and the persistent problem of loose fissile material in the former Soviet states. We can’t do away with the offense-defense linkage-but, even if we could, why would we want to? If slowing deployment of the Polish and Czech systems buys us greater cooperation on Iran or North Korea or loose nukes, it’d be well worth it.
Read the whole thing.
UPDATE: Mitt Romney emerges from the shadows to prove once again that his ability to mindlessly recite Republican talking points is basically unmatched. Having her crown snatched away by Massachusetts’ favored automaton son must sting, however, so I anticipate a quick Facebook response from Sarah Palin, who will undoubtedly compare getting rid of an ineffective, counterproductive system to Munich, 1938. Credit National Review with publishing this succinct defense of Obama’s decision to remove the interceptors, though.
Thinking more on the decision, I’m fairly surprised that this Administration decided to risk any political capital at all to get rid of our interceptor sites in Eastern Europe. Regardless of the merits of missile defense, removing a program that purports to protect the United States and its allies from a nuclear attack is always going to be unpopular, particularly when the counter-arguments are nuanced and fairly difficult to explain. I don’t understand the political logic of this move, but it’s a good decision on the merits and Obama deserves credit for for going through with it.