From ‘re­set but­ton’ back to red but­ton?

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

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.

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