Governor Romney’s stop in Poland today highlights U.S. relations with its Eastern and Central European allies – and with their Russian neighbor. It’s worth fact-checking the state of U.S. security ties with Central and Eastern European allies – which are stronger than ever – while a pragmatic relationship with Russia has yielded numerous tangible gains for American and allies’ national security interests. Europe in the 21st century cannot be viewed in zero-sum terms. U.S. military leaders as well as American allies reject the Cold War mindset that views Russia as America’s “number one geopolitical foe.”
Central and Eastern Europe have received the strongest security commitment from NATO and U.S in recent history. The Obama administration’s new approach to Russia was coupled with a new commitment to NATO’s eastern members, including contingency planning against an external attack. As the European correspondent for the Economist explains, “Until 2008, the US blocked the extension of full NATO contingency planning to the alliance’s new members: as Russia was not a threat, it was pointless (and provocative) to plan against it, the argument went. NATO’s military footprint in the Baltics and Poland was minimal: a rotating squadron of warplanes in Lithuania; a half-built conference centre in Warsaw. Now that has changed, dramatically. NATO has changed its threat assessment… to include the potential danger of a future Russian regime trying something silly… Nothing like that would have happened under the Bush administration. In other words, the most vulnerable members of NATO (Poland and the three Baltic countries) have never been safer.” As Samuel Charap, an expert on Europe and Russia, wrote for the Center for American Progress, “the Baltic states got the most concrete security commitment from NATO they could ask for: contingency plans within the alliance against an external attack.” [Samuel Charap, 6/16/10. European Voice, 9/16/10]
Military leaders call Cold War-era mindset counter-productive and dangerous. Governor Romney has stated that Russia is “without question, our number one geopolitical foe,” bringing former Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell to respond, “c’mon Mitt, think. It isn’t the case…There is no pure competitor to the United States of America.” General Wesley Clark, former NATO supreme allied commander whose job it was to ensure security for our allies in Europe, offers a different worldview: “Surely one lesson of the 21st Century is that America’s security in the world depends on making more friends and fewer enemies. Governor Romney’s statement sounds like a rehash of Cold War fears… The rekindling of old antagonisms hardly seems the way to do it.” [Colin Powell, 5/24/12. Wesley Clark, 3/26/12]
Pragmatic engagement with Russia has delivered tangible benefits to American and world security. Relations with Russia have been set on a more constructive course since their post-Cold War nadir in 2008, with positive results for the U.S.:
Afghan supply route: Moscow agreed to allow the United States and its partners to transport troops and non-lethal supplies across Russia in support of the mission in Afghanistan through what has become known as the Northern Distribution Network. After Pakistan closed U.S. and allied supply routes in November, the Northern Distribution Network has provided 40 percent of American supplies in Afghanistan. [CS Monitor, 3/15/12 ; Institute for Defense Studies and Analysis, 7/2/12]
Sanctions on Iran: Russia supported UN Security Council Resolution 1929, the most comprehensive set of sanctions against Iran to date which target the financial assets of parts of the Iranian military and Iran’s access to weaponry, among other items. In compliance with Resolution 1929, Russia confirmed it will honor its commitment not to deliver the highly advanced S-300 surface-to-air missile system to Iran. [Washington Times, 6/22/10]
Nuclear security: The New START Treaty will reduce the numbers of nuclear weapons deployed by the U.S. and Russia to 1,550 each from 2,200 by 2017, as well as reduce the number of delivery systems and put in place a strong verification regime. In addition, the U.S. and Russia have worked together to secure cooperation on North Korea’s nuclear programs, both in terms of UN Security Council resolutions and bilateral efforts. [Rose Gottemoeller, 9/9/11. NYT, 10/29/11]
Libya. Russia decided not to veto UN Security Council Resolution 1973, which authorized the military intervention in Libya and resulted in removing the Qaddafi regime from power.
On missile defense, check the facts over political spin. In a fact-check column, the Washington Post corrects Governor Romney’s false assertions that “missile defenses were sacrificed as a unilateral concession to the Russian Government.” The truth is that, “A key part of the new system, a radar, will still be fielded in Poland. The administration also followed through with a related Bush administration deal with Warsaw to station a Patriot missile battery and a small number of U.S. troops in Poland near its border with Russia.” Romney’s claims also ignore the fact that the portion of the plan that would have placed radars in the Czech Republic “faced serious domestic opposition and never won the necessary parliamentary approval. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who served in both administrations, once said that the Bush plan ‘was not going to happen because the Czech Republic was not going to approve the radar.”
In reality, the administration’s plan on missile defense is pragmatic and enjoys military and regional support. As Charap explains, “despite the incessant claims that Obama’s missile-defense plan is both a sop to the Russians and an abandonment of Eastern Europe, his ‘phased, adaptive approach’ is a system… designed to protect all of Europe from medium-range missiles from Iran — a threat the Pentagon believes to be quite real. Compare that with the previous system, which was unproven, did not actually protect the European continent… It’s hard to see how the new plan could be interpreted as anything but a boost to the security of Russia’s neighbors.” [Robert Gates via Washington Post, 7/25/12. Samuel Charap, 6/16/10]
What We’re Reading
The Syrian military fired artillery and mortars in Aleppo, a district the army said it had retaken, but opposition forces suggested alternate accounts.
Iran’s foreign minister expects to hold more talks on the future of Iran’s nuclear program.
Four people were sentenced to death in Iran after committing the largest instance of bank fraud in the country’s history.
An Italian embassy security officer was kidnapped in Yemen
Not enough voters turned out to impeach Romanian President Traian Basescu.
A massive electrical failure in India left over 300 million people without power.
North Korean officials dismissed claims that it intends to open up and reform its political structure.
The Ugandan president warned citizens to take caution following the spread of Ebola to Kampala, the capital.
Torrential flooding has forced many people in Costa Rica to evacuate.
FARC, a Colombian resistance group, released two Colombian civilian pilots.
Commentary of the Day
Charles Glass calls for compromise in the Syrian crisis, a conflict that he terms a civil war and no longer a revolution.
Steve Coll discusses how Mitt Romney’s trip abroad lacks exuberance and bold risks.
Vali Nasr argues that the United States must work with Iran to negotiate a transition plan in Syria.