President Obama sure has changed the focus of American interests in Eastern Europe. It was only a few short years ago when then president Bush was building up Georgia’s modern military and loudly promoting NATO entry to any Eastern European country interested in snubbing Moscow. Now Obama is backing out of Georgia, Poland, Czechoslovakia and anywhere else in Europe as fast as politically possible. Why the sudden dramatic shift and where does it leave Eastern Europe?
For the ultra-pragmatic Obama everything is all about value. The Bush administration placed a high value in getting interceptor missiles in place to contain Russian sphere of influence expansion for the foreseeable future. Obama doesn’t see the value in trying to contain a recently failed stated still rising from the ashes. Time has eroded the Russian military, conventional and nuclear, much more effectively than any American deterrent ever could have done. America currently spends millions of its own tax dollars to decommission old Soviet nuclear missiles every year. The Georgian conflict openly exposed Russian conventional forces as old and slow. When a tank commander has to use his cell phone for military communications because the secure military system didn’t work there are serious problems. Give the Russians 20 to 30 more years of autocratic leadership and extreme corruption will efficiently waste all the valuable, country re-building, petrodollars that the world’s largest oil company can provide. A Russian military powered by French ships, because extreme corruption has even stopped internal large-scale production along with very few of their super-jets actually working won’t even worry Germany’s hi-tech military all that much let alone America.
Further the world is heading for a shift in nuclear deterrence. Obama understands that the American military is on the verge of promising better than an 80% intercept ability for any inter-continental missile. Land based interceptors in independent countries are vulnerable while submarine based interceptors are undetectable and virtually impossible to stop and ship based interceptors are cheap and easy to deploy anywhere in the world. While this capacity is currently limited in numbers and may not be openly declared it is there and in place today. American protection will be unrivaled after a simple ramping up of established technology to handle more missiles along with the current drastic reduction of the quantity of Russian missiles due to aging and lack of funding for replacements. Assured mutual nuclear destruction isn't so sure today and that changes the whole military game.
The pragmatic American leader sees a game playing shift in world military power soon enough. So what value does Eastern Europe have to draw expensive attention from America? Besides some Oil and Gas reserves in Central Asia that America is never going to get and a base to project American power there isn’t all that much of value in the region to America. Why build up a new pit bull a la Israel in Georgia and follow the same old doctrine that Bush was following? Look at all the problems Israel has caused for America in the Middle East! Oil and gas flowing through pipes to Europe isn’t America’s strategic concern. Eastern Europe is much more a European issue than an American issue. Poland and Czechoslovakia are already EU members with clear defensive alliances. They don’t need American bases; they need the EU to provide some serious military and economic muscle. This has already been identified as an issue with the EU offering its Eastern Partnership in the area. Of course in the great European diplomatic tradition it’s being done so slowly as to not upset anyone too much.
It’s clear that the military support network is shifting in Eastern Europe. Dreams of a NATO led alliance defending the area have faded fast. The future is very uncertain for countries like the Ukraine and the Baltic States Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The US didn’t rush to defend Georgia and surely won’t press NATO to do likewise if Russia gets militarily involved ‘defending Russian citizens’ in some NATO linked Eastern European country. The EU response was even worse with Sarkozy negotiating a cease fire agreement that Russia failed to respect because there were no serious consequences to not following the agreement. The most that would be expected is a diplomatic limit placed on the destruction and occupation that Russia would be allowed as what happened in Georgia. That isn’t much of a security blanket after watching Georgia get bombed for a few weeks and shattered for years to come.
It’s now very difficult to see an independent future for Eastern Europe free from Russian influence. A more practical leader in the US isn’t interested anymore and until the US changes its collective mind about Eastern Europe Russia will exert a much stronger influence in the area. That was the main goal for Russia in the Georgian conflict and it has now come to pass, not by its very poor military performance but through good old fashioned practical leadership. Sometimes you get what you want even if you don’t deserve it.