Those who feared that U.S. President Barack Obama had “pulled a Chamberlain” when he visited Moscow over the summer and offered unilateral concessions on the missile defense shield his predecessor had promised to Eastern Europe have seen their concerns disturbingly realized in recent days.
Obama’s naked weakness did indeed “reset” American relations with Russia. The Russians became much more aggressive and dangerous.
Almost immediately after the event, Russia virtually invaded Poland in a pretend attack that included the use of nuclear missiles — an eerie echo of the post-Chamberlain blitzkrieg disaster. And those who thought that the Russian dictator, Vladimir Putin, would stop with virtual missiles were very much mistaken.
On Tuesday, Putin stated:
In order to maintain balance, without developing the antimissile system just like the U.S. is doing, we have to develop an offensive combat power system. Since we are not developing our own missile defense, there is a threat that our partners would feel totally secure having created an umbrella against our offensive systems. Then our partners might do whatever they want; the aggressiveness in real politics and economics would increase because of the broken balance.
In other words, even though Obama had just shut down the antimissile system and was pushing for a major new nuclear arms reduction treaty to follow it, Putin declared that Russia would press forward to develop massive new nuclear missile arsenals.
Russian defense policy expert Alexander Golts concluded: “Our prime minister is moving those talks to total deadlock. Putin is also violating an agreement made by both sides not to reveal details of the negotiations.” The Heritage Foundation is more blunt: “Obama is playing right into Putin’s hands.” Commentator Mark Whittington calls it “the price of appeasement.” He writes:
Putin’s reaction may have come as a surprise to the Obama administration, but not to anyone who has studied the history of appeasement of dictators. Unilateral concessions have a tendency to have the opposite of the intended effect, emboldening men like Putin by showing weakness, rather than inspiring concessions in turn.
President Ronald Reagan faced the same problem during a summit meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland, when then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev demanded that the United States abandon plans for strategic missile defense in return for an arms control agreement. Reagan walked out of the talks in a move criticized at the time. But the move made Gorbachev realize that Reagan, who was an experienced negotiator dating from his days as a union leader, was not a man to be pushed around. Eventually the Soviet Union and the United States signed the original START treaty which mandated reductions in nuclear arms.
Russia can build offensive weapons, but the technology necessary to build an umbrella shield is far beyond Russia’s grasp. Having, at no cost, wiped out Eastern Europe’s shield, Putin is now moving to eradicate all U.S. defensive capability, giving Russia the ability to threaten offensive action at any time for political leverage.
And Obama is helping him right along. Golts makes clear that the present U.S. shield capacity does not even threaten Russia:
It is a purely political story. The American strategic missile-defense system cannot now or in the foreseeable future threaten Russia’s nuclear potential. At present, the Americans have deployed about 50 missile interceptors that could — and many experts doubt this — potentially intercept five to 10 warheads. Russia will have more than 1,500 nuclear warheads. So we are talking about a political game.
Yet, Putin believes he can manipulate Obama into abandoning the possibility to expand shield technology and thus save Russia from the disastrous “Star Wars” arms race instigated by Reagan that ultimately brought down the USSR without a shot being fired.
And there is more. Russia is building a natural gas pipeline called Nord Stream whose purpose, according to Uffe Ellemann-Jensen, a former foreign minister of Denmark, is “to enable Russia to interrupt gas supplies to EU member countries like Poland, the Baltic states and Ukraine, while keeping its German and other West European customers snug and warm.” Once this maneuver has been completed, Russia will have a choke hold on the entire former Soviet space, from Georgia to Lithuania, and will be able to combine military and energy threats to force this territory back under the Russian jackboot.
Putin has no reason to believe Obama will ever take a stand on any issue. He has no reason to believe he has anything but a free hand to lay waste in former Soviet space while imposing a final crackdown on civil society within Russia itself (Putin is moving aggressively to cut his nation off from Internet access and will likely soon return to formal power as some type of “president for life”). And once Putin has consolidated his malignant regime in a neo-Soviet state, assuming oil prices remain high he will be able to fund a new cold war against the democracies of the West.
It’s not hard to imagine that Obama, like Chamberlain at Munich or FDR at Yalta, genuinely believed that the force of his personality and his good intentions would cause Russia to respond to unilateral concession in the spirit of brotherhood with concessions of its own.
One wonders if Obama has any understanding at all of what it means to be a career KGB man like Putin, spending decades marinating in the acid of anti-American hatred. From all appearances, Obama knows nothing about the string of political murders that have shadowed Putin from his first days in the Kremlin, including most recently the attorney Sergei Magnitsky.
And that means big trouble for democracy and freedom, and for American national security.