Why Europe welcomes US missile defense shield decision
German analysts say this gives the US and Europe more leeway in negotiations with Russia, and give Poland a ‘healthier’ foreign policy.
With President Barack Obama facing Republican charges that backing off a missile shield in eastern Europe is appeasing Russia and abandoning Poland, European officials are strongly applauding the American decision.Skip to next paragraph
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German and French diplomats see the White House move as changing a US policy imposed unilaterally on Europe – and allowing greater running room with Moscow on issues from Iran to North Korea, Afghanistan, nuclear proliferation, and with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
But Alexander Rahr of the German Council of Foreign Relations, a Russian expert, says the original US missile shield plan was ill-conceived. He says that in eastern Europe and Russia the decision to shelve it is raising a new question: "Is Obama doing this out of American strength, or out of American weakness?" He adds, "I know that sounds pretty 19th century. But that's the question."
Last week, the White House decided to shelve an expensive and untested missile shield, agreed to by the Bush administration days after Russia invaded Georgia in August 2008. The US now supports smaller, tested defense systems, unambiguously deployed to intercept short and mid-range Iranian rockets.
"The strategy of the Bush team was confrontation with Russia," says Gert Weisskirchen, foreign policy spokesman of Germany's center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD). "On the shield, we had a different view from the beginning. Most of the political elite here agrees with Obama. We never saw the necessity for the new missiles being developed. We agree on the Iran threat, but not with this instrument."
"It is a good decision," offers a German diplomat. "No, it's a great decision."
Why Europe is relieved
European officials were skeptical of the missile shield for several reasons: They argued it was technically dubious, did not protect Europe but was mainly planned to stop ICBMs launched against America, that its costs were high, that it was imposed on Europe without proper consultation, and that it gave Moscow an issue to (fairly or unfairly) gripe over.
"The shield does not realistically protect the states it is designed to protect," says Eberhard Sandschneider of the German Council on Foreign Relations here. "It isn't solving anything, and there are downsides."