"The decision is correct and courageous," said Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin of U.S. President Barack Obama's decision to cancel the deployment of a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. Praise from Putin would seem to be the last thing Obama needed: His political rivals were already saying his decision to abandon the strategy formulated by former president George W. Bush and halt the deployment of anti-missile missiles in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic was a disgraceful surrender to Russian pressure. But they are wrong. This strategic decision really was "correct and courageous."
The policy formulated by the Bush administration, which led to the decision to deploy radar in the Czech Republic and interception missiles in Poland, was based on political-industrial considerations more than on a rational military strategy. The argument at the basis of Bush's decision - that a defense system should be established in Europe for protection against any nuclear ballistic missiles that Iran might launch at the United States - was absurd from the outset. The likelihood that an Iranian leader would decide to launch nuclear missiles at the U.S., knowing that this action would lead to Iran being wiped off the face of the earth, is zero. Bush's declaration that it is nevertheless necessary to defend America from the threat of Iranian missiles was thus an illogical admission that he expected America's nuclear deterrence, which had succeeded in deterring a superpower during the Cold War, to fail against Iran.
Therefore, there was no military logic to the deployment of defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic. The policy stemmed from the political considerations that have guided Republic administrations ever since president Ronald Reagan gave his "Star Wars" speech in March 1983, and from pressure by the industrial lobby, since developing and producing defense systems would have earned America's defense industries billions of dollars.
Obama gave two reasons for his decision. One was that according to current intelligence assessments, the threat of long-range Iranian ballistic missiles will not materialize in the near future, and the second was that in any case, it will be quite some time until the technology of the defense system planned for deployment in Europe is ready. Meanwhile, the real danger from Iran is short- and medium-range missiles that threaten America's allies in Europe and the Middle East, not targets in the U.S. And against these, the planned defense system would, in any case, have been irrelevant.
The alternative to deploying missiles in Europe will be relying on defensive systems against short- and medium-range missiles that are currently deployed on ships, and will later also be deployed on land in Europe and the Middle East. These systems are based on SM-3 interception missiles, which have been tested successfully.
Obama's decision constitutes a turnaround in American strategy that could also contribute to dispelling tensions with Russia, which were greatly exacerbated during the Bush administration. Last week, Reagan's "Star Wars" vision reached its appropriate end.
In Israel, Obama's decision was greeted with considerable satisfaction. Jerusalem's assessment is that deploying defensive systems on ships in the Mediterranean Sea will strengthen Israel's defenses against the Iranian missile threat.
It would have been even better had Israel taken advantage of this change in American strategy to decide that it could rely on the defensive umbrella the U.S. will provide it with and cancel continued development of the Arrow 3, thereby saving billions of dollars. Regrettably, there is no chance at all that this will happen. Israel's leaders, unlike the American president, are not capable of making a "correct and courageous" decision, even if simple logic favors it.
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