September 22, 2009

A Few Points About the BMD Concession in Eastern Europe

Technical and life issues have kept me from blogging for a while but the decision of the current administration to abandon a ground based missile defense of Eastern Europe is still garnering considerable comment, most of it quite partisan, very little of it thoughtful.

A modern president is generally not afforded the luxury of having available clear cut good and bad decisions particularly on foreign policy. None of these decisions take place in a vacuum and there are always other considerations and ramifications that interact like the workings of a pachinko machine except that they often result in deaths. Like Bush before him, President Obama is quite often presented with no good options available and like Bush, he is faced with the unenviable task of trying to select the least bad option from a truly vile lot.

 I am certainly no fan or booster of the current president but think that a good case can be made that the decision in this case was in the national interest, in good faith and possibly the least bad available. Here is why.

Recent events in Afganistan and particularly Pakistan highlight the absolute necessity of not relying solely on a logistics line that runs through the Indus valley. However, options are limited by geography.


  The only other way to get to Afganistan is via Iran, or the former Soviet "Stans" to the north. Iran is obviously not an option. There is a short border with China but that is academic as it is in the Hindu Kush range  and the area of China it borders on has an issue with radical Muslim separatists to the extent it is developed at all. The Bush administration had sought to prop up Georgia and Azerbaijan, possibly with an eye to opening another supply route via the Caspian sea. Whether that was really doable is now moot as the Russians have moved into Georgia. Thus any resupply of the Afgan operation that does not go through Pakistan is going to have to take place with Russias blessing.

As I understand it, the facts facing the Obama administration were these:

A:The Russians desperately want to have a visible foreign policy victory for reasons of national prestige and credibility both foreign and domestic. They have railed against the placing of US missile defense systems in Poland. Although this is largely a symbolic thing it tasks them considerably.While we tend to think of this issue in terms of the brutal and wicked oppression the USSR inflicted upon its client states ( not to mention its own people) the Russians concern with foreigners on their frontier is based on a thousand years of slavic blood spilt by invaders.

B: While it has had some recent successes, and can likely be made to work, the US ground based BMD system has had a very chequrered development.

C: The US naval BMD system has not.  (Interestingly, it was developed as an evolutionary outgrowth of the Aegis system almost as an afterthought, and was quite outside of the court intrigues and political power games of the land based system.) While on paper a less capable system, it has proven to be spectacularly successful with a demonstrated capability to not only hit incoming warheads but knock down low flying satellites as well. This system is operational.

D: The range of the system is such that if USN aegis vessels just...you know....happened to be stationed in the Black, Baltic and Adriatic Seas they could provide a decent umbrella against an Iranian Ballistic Missile attack.
Keeping ships on station in those areas is well within the capabilities of the USN even without any homeporting in Gdańsk and Varna...which might well be offered.

Thus by conceding the land based system and replacing it with BMD Aegis the US keeps its word in deed if not word to the nations it promised protection to. The Russians get something they want...a diplomatic victory. However, this doesn't really hurt the US tangibly. 

This might seem like more unilateral self flagellation and concessions ....typical Obama kowtowing. It's not like we have gotten any major concessions from Russ....Oh WAIT*!! NATO can now resupply via Russia and this specifically includes using NATO aircraft in Russian airspace. This is a non trivial consession if there ever was one.

This had the potential to be the rarest of all things, a win, win win, in foreign policy, where nobody actually looses. The only thing that might screw it up would be if we made the announcement that we were yielding to the Russians and breaking the letter of our word to Eastern Europe...on...I don't know....the ANNIVERSARY OF THE INVASION OF POLAND BY GERMANY AND RUSSIA.

Dear GOD! The Stupid BURNS.

Ahem.....

I don't know about my fellow righties, but I did not spend half a year last year saying "Country first!" because it was a catchy little ditty. We need to support the president when he does something right.... at least the parts he doesn't utterly screw up with unfathomably wretched timing. Given Obama's fairly provincial and left wing background there is always going to be something for us to cringe at in abject horror on issues foreign and domestic. But, knee jerk attacks on delicate foreign policy maneuvers in a time of war is not a good idea.

At the very least we ought to reserve judgment until after we have some better handle on how the President is going to respond to McChrystals' request.

Am I off base?
Tilt away in the comments please.

* Hat Tip Information Dissemination

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at 07:27 PM | Comments (1) | Add Comment
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That's very close to my read on the situation.  I do have two main concerns though respecting deployment of BMD-capable ships.

The first is whether or not this or future administrations have the political skills to keep an appropriate number of naval BMD ships in the area, particularly the Black Sea (should the Turks become displeased with us for any reason).  I don't see the Baltic, Adriatic, or even possibly North Seas (is terminal-phase intercept a capability?  I explicitly do not want to know, but if it's possible we need backstops up by the Low Countries too) being too much of a problem in that regard, but so far as I know only last year was the first time we had a major presence in the Black.  That might be offset by basing some vessels in the Gulf - the ships that can carry naval BMD aren't rare or, by our standards, all that expensive.  Ideally, we'd sell a land-based version of this system to allies in the region, but with politicians involved I'll take good news wherever I can find it.

My bigger concern is that the rules of engagement permit us to shoot down unannounced launches, or launches that deviate from their announced trajectories, particularly from certain "rogue" nations.  There's not enough time allowed by ICBMs, let alone IRBMs, to have the captains of these ships call back to the Pentagon, have the Pentagon call the White House, the politicians make a decision, then send word back down the line to shoot down any missile.  In the case of BMD, I think publicising very loose ROE is a good idea.  Letting the entire world know that unannounced rocket/missile launches, and "trajectory errors" capable of delivering WMD "by accident," are a Very Bad Idea is something I think we should do.

Posted by: Rick at Wed Sep 23 10:12:08 2009 (pbeUH)

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