Missile-Shield Decision Sends Mixed Signals to U.S. Allies

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), October 19, 2009 | Go to article overview

Missile-Shield Decision Sends Mixed Signals to U.S. Allies


Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Jason Katz

A Sept. 29 Register-Guard editorial analyzed the Obama administration's scrapping of a missile shield from the perspective of the United States, Russia and Iran. Such an analysis ignores key aspects of the decision affecting other countries in Eastern Europe, Eurasia and Central Asia - aspects that, if properly understood, present both dangers and opportunities in the region and beyond.

The administration's decision sent contradictory signals. On one hand, by stepping back from the missile shield, a major irritant to Moscow, Washington added a significant degree of uncertainty to allies in the Czech Republic and Poland, who had agreed to host the system as a result of intense lobbying by the Bush administration.

Already doubtful about the effectiveness of the expanded NATO alliance, whose security guarantees are mostly a subject of a discussion rather than an action, the nations of Eastern and Central Europe may now face Russia's wrath accompanied by "I told you so's."

On the other hand, the focus on Iran's missile threat highlighted the importance of the Caucasus-Caspian region. There are new speculations about basing elements of the missile shield in pro-Western Georgia and Azerbaijan - the same Georgia whose brutal and illegal invasion by Russia last year resulted in the de-facto annexation of Georgia's territories with few tangible consequences. This sent a chill throughout the neighborhood, reminding all that the bully is back - and that the U.S. commitment isn't always what it seems to be.

This perception that Georgia had been short-changed by Washington is compounded by the fears of a weakened U.S. commitment to East-Central Europe. The republics of the former USSR share many similarities, perceptions and aspirations with those in East-Central Europe. Disappointment among America's once enthusiastic European allies could be infectious.

Moreover, these nations did not seem to see America's commitment as a function of a specific administration, so what seems as a natural turn-around in Washington affects perceptions of the United States as a whole. By shifting its focus away from East-Central Europe towards an allegedly more sound defense system, the United States might need its Caucasus allies more than ever. Given these perceptions, the Georgians, who were invaded by Russia, and the Azeris, who neighbor Iran and who watched the invasion and the international reaction closely, are likely to think twice about tying their fortunes too closely to the United States.

There is a silver lining. Should the United States be seriously interested in strengthening its relations with Azerbaijan and reinvigorating its once picture-perfect relations with Georgia, it can back its verbal commitments with tangible measures. …

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