By Jean-Marc Rickli, President of the Geneva University Strategic Studies Group, especially for Trend
President Obama's decision is actually more realistic than the Bush plan. US missile defense under Bush administration was typical of a hegemonic state willing to impose its power on other states in the system, the Obama's decision heralds a return to multipolarity. By relinquishing on this deployment the United States sends a clear signal that they are taking into consideration the positions of its most important Allies within NATO, France and the UK and that they are considering Russia as a credible partner.
President Obama's announcement that the United States are abandoning the Bush-era plan for a missile defense in Europe is not surprising not the least because President Obama has never been a strong supporter of this system. However two other reasons, strategic and technical, explain this decision.
From a strategic point of view, the current administration has realized that it needs the support of the Russians. The confrontation with Russia which reached its climax with the war with Georgia and President Medvedev's announcement of possible deployment of Russian missiles in Kaliningrad to retaliate against the US defence missile system have been counterproductive in dealing with the current US administration priorities in Afghanistan and Iran. Obama's shift sends a clear signal of appeasement towards Russia and raised the possibility of greater cooperation on containing the Iranian threat. The United States could directly benefit from Russia's leverage on Iran.
President Obama has argued that the new system is taking into account the new threats of Iran's ongoing ballistic missile program which focuses more on short- and middle range missiles (Shahab 3, Sejil 2) than the former system which aimed at dealing with long range Iranian ballistic missiles. Those however simply do not exist and Iran is not expected to have them until at least the middle of the next decade at best. More importantly, the United States simply have not yet developed the technology which could fulfill the goals of the original missile defence system. The two-stage missiles which were supposed to be based in Poland have not been tested. The replacement of the former system with SM-3 interceptors relies on existing technology and platforms. A version of the SM-3 shot down a failing U.S. satellite in space in February 2008. These interceptors will use the sea-based Aegis system and will be deployed on ships patrolling in the eastern Mediterranean from 2011. This deployment is realistic unlike the announced 2018 of the former missile defence system. These technological problems are also directly related to budgetary restrictions. As the strategic priority of the Obama administration is now in Afghanistan, the development and deployment cost estimates of the former missile defence system were simply deemed too high, more than $4billion.