William Schwartz

While the stock market continues to fall into a seemingly bottomless pit, it is easy to forget that the economy isn’t the only important issue facing our next president.  Aside from the two wars that we are already fighting, an old conflict with an old enemy is starting to heat up again.  Foreign relations with Russia have been steadily deteriorating ever since their high point in 2001 when President Bush claimed to look into President Putin’s eyes and see his soul.

The United States’ recent grievances with Russia include Putin’s refusal to abdicate power at the end of his term, imprisonment of political dissidents and Russia’s siege-like withholding of oil from insubordinate former satellite states. This slow simmer turned into a boil during the Olympics when Russia invaded Georgia, and since then, it has become very clear that Russia shows no intention of backing down. 

In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Georgia, Poland, sensing its vulnerability, reversed course and decided to allow for the installation of a U.S. Patriot missile shield in their country.  While the Patriot missile shield is as close to a purely defensive weapon as they come, Russia recognizes that a missile shield would impair its ability to project power in the region.  In retaliation, Russia has threatened to target Poland with nuclear weapons.  Now President Medvedev is seeking to reassert influence in the Western Hemisphere by re-establishing ties with Cuba and Venezuela.

Weeks before the election, Vice President-elect Joe Biden predicted that enemies of the United States would create a crisis to test President-elect Barack Obama’s mettle within his first year.  It appears that they aren’t going to wait that long; President-elect Obama will be forced to deal with this issue on day one.  Therefore, the question becomes how will Obama respond to continued Russian aggression?

When Russia invaded Georgia this summer, Obama responded by suggesting an immediate withdrawal of all Russian forces.  Obviously this is the only pragmatic response given the position of our forces.  More concerning is Obama’s position on the advancement of the missile shield; his commitment is tepid at best.  In a video recorded for the Priorities Action Fund he stated that he will, “cut investments in unproven missile defense systems.” When pressed on this statement he said, “I think there’s no doubt we should make the investment.”

While these positions are not wholly irreconcilable, they do tend to suggest two very different intentions.  The missile shield is one of the few technologies where the definition of success relies on party affiliation more than physical proof.  Countless tests have shown that the missile shield is doing its job; this summer the technology was even used to shoot down an old satellite.  The technology works.

Powerful deterrents to aggression like the missile shield should remain top priorities of the Department of Defense under any administration. Unilaterally backing down when you possess military superiority is a policy of appeasement, and appeasement is never a long term solution.  Consequently, defense advancement in times of peace is critical if peace is to be sustained.  These are the lessons of the World War II, and we would do well to remember them.