The rocket shield that the United States wanted to build in Poland and the Czech Republic was a controversial project from the start. It turned back the clock in the direction of the Cold War and the weapons race between East and West, while the military effectiveness of it was doubtful. Therefore, it is good that the American president, Obama, has canceled the plan of his predecessor, Bush.
Although the U.S. continuously underlined the fact that the anti-rocket system was meant for defense against Iran’s long-distance weapons, Russia considered it a hostile act not far from its territory to which an answer was necessary. Presumably, that was mainly rhetoric for domestic use. But nevertheless, it was a fact that the planned rocket shield ruined the understanding between the two, current or past, superpowers.
Moreover, Bush ignored both NATO and the E.U. in his plans, of which two member states were involved in the proposed construction. The shield mainly caused dissension. Only in anti-Russia Poland, of which the U.S. is a favorite ally by far, and at best a little bit in Czech Republic, could the Americans count on agreement.
Dropping the shield, without an apparent service in return from Russia, opens the possibility to reopen or increase the chances for other negotiations. During Obama’s visit to Moscow in July, Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin hinted to that effect. It will therefore be no coincidence that the new secretary general of NATO, Rasmussen, immediately used the new situation with his plea to give a new impulse to the military cooperation between the Atlantic treaty organization, the U.S. and Russia.
Taking into account the doubt that existed from the beginning about the technical capabilities of the rocket shield, the question now arises about how big a concession Obama has made. The U.S. is already working on the further development of the SM-3 rocket, and with that on a more flexible and more mobile defense system against short- and medium-range weapons. It is suspected that Iran will develop those [weapons] earlier than long-range rockets. The SM-3 can be stationed at locations that the Russians will less quickly consider a provocation.
That makes the choice of a joint position of West and East toward Iran less complicated. The decrease or removal of the assumed nuclear threat that the country emanates toward Europe and Israel will remain the goal.
Whether sanctions, which Russia continues to resist, are the appropriate means, will remain to be seen. Just as it remains to be seen whether the recent Iranian offer to talk about the removal of all nuclear weapons in the world can be taken seriously. For both options, giving up the rocket shield means one less obstacle.