From ‘reset button’ back to red button?
The strategic rationale for missile defense is growing stronger as rogue states like Iran and North Korea work on developing new and more threatening weapons. However, adequately defending the United States from these emerging threats will require taking steps that Russia threatens could reignite the Cold War.
Russia has long opposed any U.S. moves toward developing and deploying missile defenses. The topic came up during a 90-minute bilateral meeting on May 31 between President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev during the Group of Eight meeting in Deauville, France, and the body language at the press meeting afterward suggested that things didn’t go smoothly. This was to be expected. As late as last Friday, U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Beyrle was quoted in the Russian press as saying, “I think Russia and the United States will not manage to reach a con- sensus on this issue by the end of Obama’s presidential term.”
The Obama administration is seeking Russian buy-in for a U.S.-European missile-defense system, but the price is too high. In April, Russian Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said Moscow would only be satisfied if Russians were given veto power over the use of the system. “In practical terms,” he said, “that means our office will sit, for example, in Brussels and agree on a red-button push to start an anti-missile, regardless of whether it starts from Poland, Russia or the U.K.” In response to this comment, 39 U.S. senators sent a letter to the White House detailing specific objections to plans to share sensitive missile-defense information with Moscow and saying that agreeing to Russian “red-button” veto power would constitute a “failure of leadership.”
The House has also grown concerned over the general drift in U.S. missile-defense policy. On May 26, Congress ap- proved language in the $690 billion defense-authorization bill for fiscal 2012 that would complicate exchanging missile-defense technology with Russia and forbid the White House from making an agreement with Moscow to in any way limit U.S. missile defenses.
The Obama administration has threatened a veto over any language that would tie the president’s hands in implementing the 2010 START nuclear armscontrol treaty, but during the ratification debate the White House claimed the treaty had nothing to do with missile defense.
House authors of the language, such as Rep. Michael Turner, Ohio Republican, argue that if the START Treaty really does not limit missile defense, the president should have no objections to the language, and if it does, then the treaty had essentially been ratified under false pretenses.
Moscow has consistently argued that the START Treaty could be used to place limits on missile defenses. Russia opposes advancements in U.S. missile defense because it devalues Moscow’s offensive nuclear arsenal.
Mr. Obama said America seeks to “find an approach and configuration that is consistent with the security needs of both countries, that maintains the strategic balance and deals with potential threats we both share,” but this is not possible.
Moscow sees missile defense as a zero-sum game — in their view, the more the United States is able to defend itself, the weaker Russia becomes.
On May, 18 Mr. Medvedev warned, “If we don’t work this out, then we will have to take steps to counter it, which we would not like. Then we are talking about forcing the development of our nuclear strike potential. . . . This would be a very bad scenario, a scenario that would throw us back to the Cold War era.” That is bold talk coming from the leader of the losing side in that contest.