Espionage, threats, cross-border political sniping: missile defense is getting to be fun again.
Since the Bush administration declared the ground-based mid-course system operational, it has been somewhat dull in the realm of missile defense. For sure, there’s been some testing here and there, programmatic back-and-forth, and negotiations over a European site, but the vitriol underlying past debates appeared gone.
Well, no more. It’s been a great fortnight for missile defense theater and the coming months appear to hold the promise of much more.
First, you had Russian president Dmitry Medvedev threaten to deploy Iskander ballistic missiles to the Russian Baltic enclave Kaliningrad, only to pull back and say he’ll only make that move if the new Obama administration goes ahead with putting interceptors in Poland.
Then, late last week, French president Nicolas Sarkozy came out questioning the value of putting interceptors in Poland during a press conference in Nice with Medvedev at his side – in all fairness, the French president also told Medvedev not to go ahead with the Iskander deployment. Nevertheless, the French president's comments clearly angered Washington.
A day later, Sarkozy backtracked, at least somewhat. While in Washington for the G-20 summit on the global financial crisis, he quickly added that the European missile defense site may have value against defending against Iranian missiles.
But the damage from his original comments was already done. The Polish government on Saturday basically told Sarkozy to mind his own business and that the missile defense issue was not France's concern, according to local reports.
On top of that, there’s now a report out from the German magazine Der Spiegel that an Estonian NATO officer passed sensitive information to Russia on a number of topics including, you guessed it, missile defense.
There are plenty of reasons to expect the issue to remain front and center. NATO’s summit in April is expected to set out the alliance’s future direction on the topic and Sarkozy, in his role as European Union president, wants the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to pick up the topic with the Russians mid-year.
Missile defense was our main topic on Friday's Check 6 podcast and, I suspect, it will not be too long before we have to revisit the subject matter.