Eric S. Edelman, a distinguished fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, oversaw missile-defense issues at the Pentagon as undersecretary of defense policy from 2005 until early 2009. He tells NRO that President Obama’s new missile-defense policy is “fraught with danger.”
In Thursday’s Wall Street Journal, Edelman said that the assessment by Gen. James Cartwright of the long-range missile capabilities of both Iran and North Korea as “not there yet,” differs from the intelligence that he saw up until his last day in office in January. “Maybe something really dramatic changed between Jan. 16 and now in terms of what the Iranians are doing with their missile system,” said Edelman, “but I don’t think so.”
“My view is that some missile capability is better than none,” Edelman tells NRO. “Land-based SM-3 interceptor missiles are a good thing to deploy as part of a missile-defense architecture. But the reality here is that this was a decision beyond technology. It was a political decision, fraught with danger, and perhaps reminiscent of President Carter’s reverse on the neutron bomb. It calls into question our commitment to protecting central Europe and northeast Asia, and calls our adversaries to question our resolve.”
“This system was always intended to deal with the missile threat from Iran and proliferating states in the region,” says Edelman. “This doesn’t have anything to do with a technical issue with regard to Russia. Instead, it’s a preemptive concession to the Russians — a damn bad way to start arms-control negotiations.” And Edelman says that Obama’s decision may not even yield the desired concessions from the Russians, citing recent comments by Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister.
The AP reports that Lavrov, in a speech given before the Obama announcement, said that Moscow would continue to oppose any new sanctions against Iran — sending a clear signal that the U.S. missile decision hadn’t persuaded the Kremlin to back Washington’s policies. “There is a real chance to engage in talks which could result in an agreement allowing to regain confidence in exclusively peaceful character of the Iranian nuclear program,” Lavrov said. “It would be a grave mistake to ruin that chance by demanding a quick introduction of sanctions.” Regardless, “it’s good that the administration did not give up on Europe,” says Edelman. “Secretary Gates and General Cartwright have kept us an option on the ground. It’s still a pretty big shift.”
Mackenzie Eaglen, a research fellow for national-security studies at the Heritage Foundation, agrees. “A lot of members on the Hill are scratching their heads,” she says. “Obama is very keen to stress no quid pro quo with Russia here. Certainly there may not have been a handshake involved, but all appearances indicate that now the U.S. will trade away missile-defense agreements for our arms-control agenda.” Such agreements, she adds, “don’t have to be on paper. There may be a tacit understanding. It’s the Obama administration showing its political priorities. Let’s be honest about that. . . . The United States can fully afford to counter all threats from Iran, and should. This decision smacks of policy and politics, and reeks of cost savings. President Obama has shown he can exert fiscal restraint only when it comes to the U.S. military.”