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What Price Reset?

President Obama's unbounded faith in his ability to make nice and persuade current and former enemies to see reason appears to know no limits.  Former CIA Director, R. James Woolsey and Ashbrook Scholar graduate, Rebeccah Heinrichs give a fascinating accounting of the efforts of leaders in Congress to do what they can to "reset" Obama's naive attempts at a Russian "reset."  It seems that the Obama administration is willing to veto the defense budget over a section in that bill which would prevent the President from sharing sensitive missile defense technology with the Russians.

Russian President Dimitry Medvedev has been successful in negotiations with the Obama administration at getting the preamble to the new START treaty to include language that equates offensive missile technology with defensive capabilities.  As controversy swirled over that dubious equation, it was discovered that the Russians have also requested a great deal of information regarding U.S. missile defense technology and operational authority as part of a separate missile defense agreement they have been working on with the Obama administration.  And the Obama administration gives no indication that they will not happily share it as part of an effort to smooth relations with the former Soviets.  Congress is attempting to prevent the administration from willy-nilly divulging that sensitive information and, of course, from allowing it to get into the hands of Russian allies like the Iranians.  Whatever may be said about the "resetting" of relations with Russia, it remain cozy with nations--like Iran--that pose an unquestionable threat to U.S. security.   
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Discussions - 7 Comments

I remember when Ronald Reagan wanted to share "Star Wars" technology with the Soviets.

In a (God forbid) showdown between nuclear powers, nobody on Earth will win. "Advantages" in this arena are illusory, and trust in those advantages is unwise. If sharing defensive technology lowers the temperature even a little bit--and thus forestalls a man-made apocalypse--I'd say it's worth it. It's not about expecting humankind to become peaceful and friendly; it's about trying to hedge against the worst possible outcomes of our broken stupidity.

In warfare, technology is advantage. I suppose it always was, but especially now, when so much of what is warfare has computerized technology at its base.

If you give away the information about your technology of defense, then you are offering your enemy the opportunity to test your offensive capabilities. What Reagan was saying was, roughly, we are open with this defense we don't think you can defeat, but if you come at us we can and will strike back so hard you will regret it. If you have also given that information away, then they have the advantage over you in every way.

This is broken stupidity. Even if Russia is not strictly speaking our enemy at the moment, neither are they exactly our dear friend. How does this not, actually, heat things up for us?

Kate: I'm pretty sure that's a misreading of history. Reagan was basically offering the inverse of mutually assured destruction--call it mutually assured preservation. If both sides had an impervious defense against ICBMs, neither could use ICBMs to threaten each other.

And conservatives largely *hated* his approach on that. So I acknowledge that.

Reagan, Cold Warrior that he was, still thought nuclear war would be horrifying. He was right.

I agree with Joel. Even in the long run, no missile defense system could ever hope to be robust enough to prevent a nuclear attack. The Russians and Americans have enough nukes to destroy the world over several times. I hardly see what divulging a little information about a largely untested missile defense program would actually do to the security of the US. The Russians most likely won't be sharing that information with the Iranians, anyway.

andrew, are you talking about then or now?

Joel, that's why the liberals of the 1980's loved Reagan so much and always praised him for his wisdom and foresight. Right?

Granted, what I wrote was simplistic. Who's got time for depth? Not me and I am not an expert, either, but here goes my defense.

While everyone knew that nuclear war would be horrifying and that MAD was stupid, wasn't Reagan's point that a defensive system like SDI was not an increase of nuclear capabilities and was a real option for peace in the situation between the two nations? Conetxt matters, too. he sharing of SDI was offered during a treaty discussion about nuclear missile reductions as a suggestion that both sides could stop production of expensive nuclear weapons, which would lead not just to peace, but to better prosperity for both nations, which the USSR needed far more than we did. Defense was a good idea as a response to MAD, but something which the USSR could afford far less than the US. But a big negiotiating point for the West was that the sharing of information would open up both sides given Reagan's insistence that they "Trust, but verify". Given the expectation that the USSR had spies (or could buy them) to find out about SDI anyway, and that at the time, the technology was not to a practical stage yet, it was not really that much to offer. But it was a way of defusing the USSR, which he knew was more likely to attack us than we were to attack them.

Anyway, Gorbachev did not take Reagan up on the offer in private conversation, and maybe was not expected to. That sharing of information was not something the USSR was likely to do, was it? Don't you think Reagan knew it would not happen? The USSR would open its missle defense labs and facilities to Americans to share SDI defense information. Sure.

So SDI and the offer to share information was a tool to back everybody down from war. We are not in that place, now. Why would we do this in the current circumstances? MAD does not apply. No, our circumstances are different, and the two articles mentioned explain why.

Sharing Star Wars: the point of Star Wars was that the system was too costly for the Soviets to maintain parity with the US because their economy was so much smaller. When the military leadership at the Kremlin saw the pricetag for the new program they new they'd lost the Cold War.

Sharing SDI: 1) If the Russians can make a few bucks off of selling missile defense technology to Iran, why wouldn't they? They haven't minded selling them nuclear technology, which could prove quite dangerous to their interests (Chechnya). Why wouldn't they sell a defensive weapon system? 2) The Russians are already developing ICBMs which can change their course mid-flight, thus "beating" our SDI's interceptor missiles. If they actually know the capabilites of SDI, then it is that much easier to develop offensive weapons systems which can defeat SDI. Which brings us back to #1: why wouldn't they sell that technology to the Iranians or [insert rogue state here]?

Finally, how does giving that technology to Russia benefit us in any way whatsoever? I'm interested to hear the answer(s) to that question. Follow-up: is [insert alleged benefit] worth the risk of Russia selling that technology with an Iran that is aggressively pursuing missile platforms capable of delivering nuclear weapons?

To clarify, by "Star Wars" I mean the early SDI program and by "SDI" I refer to the current missile defense program.

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