Many wonder if the cancellation of phase four of the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) was motivated at least in part by Russia’s strong opposition. Moscow was the number-one critic of phase four of the EPAA because the plan included interceptors the Russians claimed would undermine their nuclear deterrent and upset the post-Cold War balance of power.
In early 2011, it appeared that some progress was being made between Washington and Moscow. U.S. and Russian officials discussed important topics, like transparency, joint military exercises, joint centers to share early warning data, and how NATO and Russian missile defense systems could work together. Unfortunately, dialogue stalled as Russian officials complained about phase four of the EPAA, which included plans for the development of the SM-3 Block IIB missile that could potentially intercept intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
When the change in U.S. missile defense policy to cancel phase four of the EPAA was announced in March, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel did not associate the decision in any way with Russia. Pentagon Spokesman George Little further reassured that “the missile defense decisions Secretary Hagel announced were in no way about Russia.” Skeptics find it hard to believe that Russia was not at least somewhat of a motivator for the change, especially when President Obama was caught whispering on a live mike to then-President Dmitri Medvedev in November 2012 that he would have “more flexibility” in missile defense after the presidential election.
As Senator in 2000, Hagel was quoted saying that missile defense moves forward on four parallel paths: technology, Congress, allies, and the Russians. In his book, America: Our Next Chapter, Hagel questions the U.S. provoking Moscow with a missile defense system that will erode mutual trust. Hagel stated that an integrated missile defense system between the U.S. and Russia is the “most desirable” outcome in a report published by Harvard University on U.S. policy toward Russia. While government officials claim the change in missile defense policy is due to the increasing missile threat from North Korea, some Members of Congress, such as Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH), believe the Obama Administration made a deal with Moscow that has resulted in “the U.S. having greater exposure to North Korea and Iran without any benefit.”
Even though the U.S. has decided to scale back its missile defense goals, Moscow seems unmoved. After all, the U.S. is not backing away from its main plan for a land-based missile shield in Central Europe. Many experts believe Moscow’s real objection is to the general expansion of U.S. military power in Eastern Europe, not of the final phase of the EPAA alone.
While President Obama has communicated his desire for the two countries to work together to decrease nuclear arsenals, Russia has refused to consider cooperation until it has a legally binding agreement that states Washington and Moscow would guarantee that their missile defense systems will never be aimed at each other. Now we must wait and see if any progress can be made in U.S.-Russian relations in June during the G-8 Summit in Northern Ireland and before the G-20 meeting in Russia in September.
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