Obama scraps plan for missile shield

September 24th, 2009

In a move which for the time being has improved relations with Russia, President Barack Obama announced his decision to switch from the prescribed anti-ballistic missile shield plan of the Bush administration. The Bush plan was based on the information that Iran was rapidly developing long range missiles.

Iran's Missile Range in 2009

See a map of Iran's assumed missile range

However, based on more recent information, which reports a shift in the development of long-range missiles to short to medium-length missiles, the Obama administration has opted for a plan that will incorporate a more flexible form of protection. This change in strategy reflects the advice of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen, and is based on the updated assessment of what type of threat Iran actually poses.

Prior to publicly announcing what is perhaps the greatest shift in national security policy from the Bush administration to President Obama’s; the president first reached out to the prime ministers of Poland and the Czech Republic. Under the Bush plan, both of these countries were to be recipients of missile defense technology capable of solely preventing long-range missiles.

The missile defense proposals of President Bush were met with great aversion from Russia; thus, the less ambitious system of the new administration came of great relief to Moscow.

President Obama also reiterated America’s commitment to defend any member of NATO as well as reassure Poland that the United States would honor President Bush’s promise of anti-missile batteries. Even with these assurances, officials from Poland and the Czech Republic admitted that they felt far more protected from Russia under the Bush missile defense plan than the new configuration.

Although this decision was welcomed by many world leaders ranging from German Chancellor Angela Merkel to U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, numerous Republicans were concerned. Mona DeBaz, a political science professor at John Carroll University, said that the Bush plan “built off the Star Wars days of the Reagan presidency.”

In regards to the missile shield based in Alaska which protects America’s western coast, DeBaz said, “Some now fear the eastern coast will not be as secure as if the Bush plan had been implemented.”

Many Republicans in Congress, such as House Minority Leader John Boehner and Sen. John McCain vocalized their opposition with this plan alluding to allegations of disregarding or underestimating the true threat of Iran while simultaneously accusing the president of giving into Russian desires. Former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton joins in their concerns by adding his fears about this poor choice for U.S. national security.

Prepared for this criticism, the White House still maintains that this new system will improve the missile defense abilities in terms of protecting Europe and U.S. troops in the area. President Obama looked to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who was appointed under the Bush administration, to publicly address further concerns regarding the modification.

Gates referenced the updated information reporting that Iran has changed focus from the accelerated development of long-range missiles to increase the production of medium to short-range missiles. The White House has decided that U.S. defense capabilities must reflect that change.

According to DeBaz, “Iran is still producing long-range missiles; however, the more prominent threat is their focus on short to mediumrange missiles.” Whereas the Bush plan would take several years to go into effect, the design of the new plan allows it to be implemented up to seven years sooner.

According to the Obama administration, the new approach to missile defense will be much more adaptable and enhance an already established system. The defense system would be implemented first with warships carrying missile interceptors followed by a land-based defense system.

With all of these far less ambitious plans, Russia is currently quite pleased, although potential conflicts between U.S. strategy and Russia are being downplayed.

Even so, Russia’s contentment may lead to improved trading relations, a joint effort to combat the Iranian threat, and a discussion on reducing nuclear arms. It is even supposed that with the newfound agreement between the U.S. and Russia, hostile feelings felt toward Russia by former Soviet Satellites might be replaced with more practical relationships. The Obama administration also aims for a positive response in regards to Israel.

Currently, tensions are high between Israel and Iran given their nuclear potential. The Obama administration hopes to take action that will ease this tension.