Three-quarters of National Journal's National Security Insiders oppose dropping or scaling back the Obama administration's plans to deploy missile-defense systems in Europe amid Russia's objections -- even if Moscow offered to share intelligence with Washington.
"Russia has adamantly opposed U.S. missile-defense strategy for three decades," one Insider said. "The Obama change in European missile-defense architecture lessened any theoretical threat to Russia from the Bush system, but Russia has stayed on the warpath against U.S. missile defense as if nothing important has changed. U.S. concessions to Russia will bring neither reward nor gratitude. The best U.S. policy toward Russia on missile defense is benign neglect."
Another Insider said that Washington's missile-defense plans for Eastern Europe are its best leverage against an "expansionist" Russia. "If we drop these plans, we could witness the reemergence of Russia as a dominant force in Europe, and that would be antithetical to U.S. interests."
Late last month, a live microphone picked up President Obama telling Russia’s outgoing President Dmitri Medvedev that he would have more “flexibility” on missile defense after this fall’s elections. As National Journal recently reported, some analysts think Washington could defuse Moscow's fears that it -- not Iran -- is the target of the system by allowing Russian officials to monitor some missile tests, or promising to buy fewer next-generation interceptors if U.S. intelligence continues to show Tehran hasn’t built intercontinental ballistic missiles. The potential payoffs could be significant: Russia might be willing to link its own missile-defense systems to NATO’s; and Moscow’s radar arrays in Azerbaijan and southern Russia could provide the U.S. valuable data from across the border in Iran.
The prospect of Russia sharing intelligence did little to convince Insiders to support changes in the plan. "Russia should not get much, if anything, if all it is offering is intelligence sharing," one Insider said. Another added: "Unless Russia is willing to ... take real responsibility for pressuring Syria and Iran, the administration should not make further concessions on missile defense in Europe."
Twenty-six percent of Insiders disagreed. "The United States has a greater interest in acquiring intelligence from Russia," one Insider said. Another added: "A shared system (with Russia) would be a great solution."
NATO defense and foreign ministers will meet in Brussels on Wednesday for the last time before the presidential summit in Chicago in May. Yet 86 percent of Insiders said the Obama administration will not succeed in convincing other NATO countries to fund more of Europe's defense needs as the U.S. military downsizes its presence on the European continent and in Afghanistan.
"We are constantly saying we want the Europeans to 'fund more of Europe's defense needs,' " one Insider said. "That's a euphemism for asking the Europeans to fund more of what the United States defines as its own security needs. The European defense needs are small; it is a zone of peace. The Europeans look at global security differently from the United States and may not see any need to provide funds and bodies for the United States to carry out its global policing role. They may be right."
Convincing other NATO nations to shoulder a greater portion of the collective defense burden was difficult even in the best economic times, another Insider said. "With the all-but-certain collapse of Greece and the possible economic collapse of Spain and Italy, it's an impossible task."
1. Russia wants the Obama administration to drop or at least scale back its European missile-defense plans. Should the U.S. make those changes in exchange for Russia sharing intelligence with Washington?
- No 74%
- Yes 26%
"Missile defense is more important than Russian intel. If we have to choose, we should pick the deterrence against Iran."
"America should not nourish Russian paranoia. U.S. missile defenses do not threaten the Russian deterrent."
"Russia's apprehensions about missile defense are unlikely to be satisfied by anything short of a new ABM-type treaty, and the prospects for Senate approval of something like that are exactly zero -- and properly so. Any deal that the Obama administration thinks it's getting from the Russians in exchange for concessions short of legally binding assurances on missile defense will turn out to consist of false promises."
"However, it is time for a new European Defense pact that takes Russia into account."
"Who really trusts the Russians to share intel? Let's get serious here."
"As my recent trip to Russia indicates, they are still living in the Cold War. With Putin's recent 'election,' there is nothing to indicate that Russia plans on being a productive member of the international community in any positive way."
"The United States' missile-defense plans for Eastern Europe are the best leverage we have against an expansionist Russia. If we drop these plans, we could witness the re-emergence of Russia as a dominant force in Europe, and that would be antithetical to U.S. interests."
"We need to see a fundamental 'reset' in Russian foreign policy both in the European theater but also toward regional conflicts like Syria. Sharing intelligence is too little, too late."
"Russia is resurgent, and it is unclear yet whether they will return to a Soviet-style aggressive nation or shift to a truly democratic nation that does not threaten its neighbors. Best to keep up a credible defense for now."
"Rapprochement with Russia is important. Consistency before our friends and enemies is more so."
"The United States has a greater interest in acquiring intelligence from Russia than in defending Europe against missiles from Russia."
"We should finally put an end to Reagan's Star Wars fantasies and instead use the billions to fight America's real enemies, inadequate health care and a crumbling infrastructure."
"A shared system (with Russia) would be a great solution."
"But if, and only if, the European partners agree that it would be a good idea."
2. NATO defense and foreign ministers will meet in Brussels on April 18 for the last time before May’s NATO presidential summit in Chicago. Will the Obama administration succeed in convincing other NATO countries to fund more of Europe’s defense needs, as the U.S. military downsizes its presence on the European continent and in Afghanistan?
- No 86%
- Yes 14%
"In the absence of a major threat to European security, it is unlikely that European nations will spend more on defense."
"Europe is experiencing an even greater fiscal/financial crisis than the United States and does not consider Afghanistan a national-security threat to Europe."
"But we need to continue trying -- both for the U.S. and European budgets."
"What is the president going to say[?]: 'I'm gutting my defense budget to balance books. Most of your federal budgets are in worse shape than mine, so you increase defense spending.' Yeah, right."
"The Euro crisis simply precludes Europeans from spending more in defense. They are not inclined to do so in any event, and the administration's defense-budget cuts undermine its credibility on this issue."
"I believe it is highly unlikely this administration can convince the Europeans to increase their share of the defense burden any better than any previous administration. The Europeans have consistently indicated they don't see the need for strong defense, collectively or otherwise."
"Not in a recession, but they will pick up the slack in future years."
"Europe does not perceive a threat to its individual or collective security that warrants more spending. Their pride in maintaining a fair share will not override their domestic economic demands."
"Given Europe's economic woes, the chances of the Obama administration convincing NATO countries to fund more of their defense needs are somewhere between slim and none."
"At the moment of worst economic calamity post WWII, European governments, even as they trend more conservative, will be loath to increase defense spending. Particularly without a justifying threat or strategy change."
"Unfortunately, increased Euro contributions will be in appearance only and the United States will continue to provide the lion's share of European defense."
"It depends on how many promises Obama is willing to make -- and arms he is able to twist."
"But the funding will be selective and a la carte based on national interest (i.e., Libya but not Syria). Whether this fits the NATO context is another question."
"He has to declare success lest his trip be framed as a failure."
"The administration will succeed because NATO still matters. Whether NATO adapts to new security challenges, however, remains an open question."
National Journal’s National Security Insiders Poll is a periodic survey of defense and foreign-policy experts.
Gordon Adams, Charles Allen, Thad Allen, James Bamford, David Barno, Milt Bearden, Peter Bergen, Samuel "Sandy" Berger, David Berteau, Stephen Biddle, Nancy Birdsall, Kit Bond, Stuart Bowen, Paula Broadwell, Mike Breen, Steven Bucci, Nicholas Burns, Dan Byman, James Jay Carafano, Phillip Carter, Wendy Chamberlin, Michael Chertoff, Frank Cilluffo, James Clad, Richard Clarke, Steve Clemons, Joseph Collins, William Courtney, Roger Cressey, Gregory Dahlberg, Robert Danin, Richard Danzig, Paul Eaton, Andrew Exum, William Fallon, Eric Farnsworth, Jacques Gansler, Daniel Goure, Mike Green, Mark Gunzinger, Jim Harper, Michael Hayden, Pete Hoekstra, Bruce Hoffman, Paul Hughes, Colin Kahl, Donald Kerrick, Rachel Kleinfeld, Lawrence Korb, Andrew Krepinevich, Charlie Kupchan, W. Patrick Lang, Cedric Leighton, James Lindsay, Trent Lott, Peter Mansoor, Brian McCaffrey, Steven Metz, Franklin Miller, Philip Mudd, John Nagl, Shuja Nawaz, Kevin Nealer, Michael Oates, Thomas Pickering, Paul Pillar, Stephen Rademaker, Marc Raimondi, Celina Realuyo, Bruce Riedel, Barry Rhoads, Marc Rotenberg, Kori Schake, Mark Schneider, John Scofield, Tammy Schultz, Stephen Sestanovich, Sarah Sewall, Matthew Sherman, Jennifer Sims, Constanze Stelzenmüller, Frances Townsend, Mick Trainor, Suzanne Spaulding, Ted Stroup, Tamara Wittes, and Dov Zakheim.
This article appears in the April 17, 2012, edition of NJ Daily.