Bold move

US President Barack Obama’s decision to scrap a controversial missile defence plan must be applauded. The missile defence plan involved setting bases in Poland and the Czech Republic to defend NATO countries against missiles from ‘rogue states’ like Iran. The plan was a ridiculous one. It involved investing billions of dollars in technology that was not proven to defend against a threat that did not exist. Former President George Bush had been railing about Iran’s long-range missile capability. An assessment by the Obama administration has now indicated that Iran does not in fact possess this capability.

Obama has said that the US will use proven and cost-effective technology to defend against Iran’s short and medium range missiles. Obama’s decision to review his predecessor’s plans for missile defence is expected to lower US-Russia tension. Although the missile defence plan was purportedly aimed at Iran, the location of the missile interceptor sites and the radar systems so close to Russia’s western borders had triggered deep anxiety in the latter that the missile defence was really targeted at Moscow. Russia had been warning the US and NATO that any attempt to set up a missile defence plan so close to its borders would be perceived as a threat to Russian security interests and would trigger a new arms race. A renewed US-Russia arms race was of concern to the international community but such concerns were ignored by Bush.

Obama has done well to scrap a plan that would have put the world on the brink of a new, destructive arms race. A few months ago, Obama promised to ‘hit the reset button’ on his relationship with Russia. It does seem that with the scrapping of the missile defence plan, he has done so. The US and Russia are currently engaged in talks to conclude a treaty on reducing their nuclear arsenal. The atmosphere in which these talks will proceed is likely to be a lot less chilly.

Analysts are talking about the quid pro quo ie what Obama should demand of the Russians for scrapping the missile defence plan. Many are suggesting that the Russians should reciprocate by co-operating with the US on the issue of Iran’s nuclear programme. Obama’s decision to scrap the missile defence plan has pulled the US back from the brink of financial and other disaster. It was in the US’ interest to scrap the plan. Expecting the Russians to reciprocate Obama’s reversal of a bad Bush-era decision is asking for too much.

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