In Negotiating Missile Defense with Russia, Obama Could Learn From Reagan's Example

In 1987, the United States and the Soviet Union negotiated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), which was designed to eliminate their nations’ respective intermediate range, ground-based ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. In discussing INF negotiations with the Soviet Union, President Ronald Reagan famously summoned upon one of his guiding principles: Trust but verify.

Thirty-five years later, the Obama Administration has adopted an entirely different tack in dealing with ongoing missile defense negotiations with Russia. Rather than negotiate from a position of informed strength, this Administration has deferred to a far less preferable alternative: capitulation.

Within the first year of his presidency, Barack Obama yielded to Russian objections over the placement of ground-based missile defense interceptors in Poland and missile tracking systems in the Czech Republic. The placement of such defensive capabilities in the region had been negotiated during the Bush Administration, often at great political sacrifice on the part of Polish and Czech leaders.

Although the cancellation of those programs was ostensibly designed to improve diplomatic relations with Russia, conveyed by the now infamous “reset” policy, it yielded little more than a decreased capacity to effectively shield U.S. national security interests both at home and abroad.

Now the President has informed Congress that his Administration plans to share sensitive missile defense secrets with Russia. As the Washington Times reported, “U.S. officials are planning to provide Moscow with the SM-3 data, despite reservations from security officials who say that doing so could compromise the effectiveness of the system by allowing Russian weapons technicians to counter the missile. The weapons are considered some of the most effective high-speed interceptors in the U.S. missile defense arsenal.”

Sharing sensitive technical secrets with Russia not only calls into question the prudence of this Administration’s missile defense policies; it absolutely strains credulity when considered within the context of ongoing hostilities with Iran. Given the often cooperative history between Iran and Russia, it cannot be assumed that any information offered to Russia won’t in turn be handed over to Iran.

Prior to recently suffering a tragic stroke, Senator Mark Kirk (R–IL) warned of the dangers inherent to sharing missile defense secrets with Russia. “I don’t think we should share classified information with Russia, because I think it will be immediately shared with Iran,” Kirk said.

Building upon this sentiment, Kirk further emphasized, “Let’s be clear eyed about who the Russians are and who they talk to. Regularly.”

Any possibility that sensitive information related to the missile defense capabilities of the United States might fall into the hands of the current Iranian regime, given their continued pursuit of a nuclear capability, should be reason enough to abandon the notion of sharing technical specifications with Russia.

Pursuing a more commodious diplomatic relationship with Russia is a worthwhile endeavor; however, to do so through sheer acquiescence in the face of demanding rhetoric fails to maintain the diplomatic strength that was inherent in the policy negotiations administered under President Reagan.

Trust when appropriate, but never fail to verify your negotiating partner’s intentions.

Article originally appeared at The Foundry