The American government’s decision to pull back from the Star Wars missile plan for Eastern Europe gives credibility to Washington’s ambitions to “reset” relations with Moscow.
In conception, the National Missile Defence (NMD) plan proposed the building of American radar and interceptor missile installations in Eastern Europe to protect America and its allies against missile launches from “rogue” states such as Iran and North Korea.
Tension and mutual distrust have been major themes in Russo-American relations since the European missile defence programme was announced by George W Bush, the former American president, in 2007. Of particular concern to the Russian government was the plan to base interceptor missiles and radar bases near its borders in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Barack Obama’s victory in America’s presidential election last year gave hope of a softening of relations between the two countries. In March, Hillary Clinton, Obama’s secretary of state, handed Sergei Lavrov, her Russian counterpart, a reset button to symbolise the hope of renewed ties with Russia.
Despite the gesture, few concrete examples of this could be pointed to until Obama’s announcement yesterday of a scaling back of the missile program. The new proposals avoid the need for the contentious bases and emphasise the use of “proven” and “cost-effective” technology in its stead.
The response from Russia was cautiously positive with Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s president, saying today that “quite good conditions are evolving” for cooperation between the two countries.
“Obama is clearly taking the first step and I think it’s a positive one, although he has received some criticism at home,” says Marcus Svedberg, chief economist at East Capital. “It gives this reset thing some flesh.”
While opposition at home may continue from the ranks of Obama’s Republican critics Svedberg says that the move makes economic as well as political sense. As the bases were still yet to be constructed, aborting the program at the present stage involves little practical effort and could end up removing a costly expenditure from America’s already strained finances.
Questions might also now be asked as to whether riling a country with the world’s second largest nuclear arsenal was the most effective policy in preventing ‘rogue’ states like Iran from gaining a nuclear weapons capability.