Washington Times on March 30,2014, published a commentary by Guy Taylor on the Obama administration failing to seize on a rare strategic chance, presented by Russia’s increasingly aggressive military posturing around Ukraine, to expand the U.S. missile defense footprint in Eastern Europe, says a group of influential Republican lawmakers. Excerpts below:

Several members of the Senate Armed Services Committee say the White House should “re-engage” a George W. Bush administration initiative that would have put ground-based missile interceptors in Poland along with corresponding radar in the Czech Republic — effectively establishing permanent U.S. military positions on the border of the former Soviet Union.

While the administration claims it is on track to implement a modified version of the initiative that includes missile defense sites in Romania and Poland, the lawmakers argue that the White House foolishly scrapped the most muscular aspects of the Bush-era plan in 2009 as part of President Obama’s attempt to appease Moscow into embracing his call for a “reset” of U.S.-Russian relations.

Sens. Kelly Ayotte, John McCain and Lindsey Graham said Russian President Vladimir Putin was deeply uncomfortable with the Bush-era plan, even though the defense system was intended to deter the threat of missiles from Iran, not Russia. Breathing new life into the initiative, particularly by pursing a “third site” in the Czech Republic, would be an effective way to punish Mr. Putin for his use of military force to annex Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, the senators said.

“After Poland and the Czech Republic had demonstrated real courage in standing with the U.S. and ignoring Russian pressure on the third missile defense site, it was a mistake to cancel the missile defense plans in those two countries in a naive attempt to pursue a reset policy of concessions with the Kremlin,” Mrs. Ayotte said.

The New Hampshire Republican told The Washington Times that “in light of Putin’s invasion and illegal annexation of Crimea and continued threats to the rest of Ukraine, as well as Iran’s continued work on an intercontinental ballistic missile capability, I believe it is more essential than ever to deepen our defense collaboration with our Eastern European NATO allies.”

Mrs. Ayotte’s remarks concurred with the statements from Mr. McCain and Mr. Graham.

Polish officials announced last week that they are accelerating plans to finance their own missile shield.

The White House should “restart the missile defense system that Obama canceled in order to placate Putin in the Czech Republic and Poland,” Mr. McCain, Arizona Republican, told Fox News this month.

Mr. Graham acknowledged that the Bush-era plan was not focused on intercepting potential missiles from Russia, but he said during a March 2 appearance on CNN that the administration unwisely yielded to Russian pressure and abandoned the plan. “If I were President Obama,” the South Carolina Republican said, “I would re-engage Poland and the Czech Republic regarding missile defense.”

The Bush-era plan was less effective, administration officials argue, than an alternative version the White House began implementing in 2009 under the guidance of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, a Bush appointee.

“We haven’t canceled the program that would protect Poland and the Czech Republic,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in an email to The Times last week. Alternatively, she said, Mr. Obama revised the Bush-era plan based on “changes in U.S. technology and changes in the threat.”

Some analysts remain suspicious of the Obama administration’s handling of missile defense.

The Heritage Foundation issued a report last week arguing that the administration “unwisely canceled” the final phase of the plan last year that called for the deployment to Poland “of SM-3 Block IIB interceptors capable of shooting down medium-, intermediate-, and intercontinental-range ballistic missiles.”

…a senior administration official told The Times on the condition of anonymity that while the SM-3 Block IIB program was designed to provide some protection to the U.S. homeland against potential Iranian intercontinental ballistic missiles, it was “canceled last year due to funding and technology delays and because the potential threat to the United States was evolving — including the potential ICBM threat from North Korea.”

As a result, the administration is increasing the number of ground-based missile interceptors, from 30 to 44, that the Pentagon has positioned in Alaska and California.

The interceptors “have the advantage of being able to defend the United States from ICBMs from either Iran or North Korea,” the senior administration official said. “By comparison, an SM-3 IIB in Europe would not provide any protection against a potential North Korean threat.”

Still, Mrs. Ayotte was undeterred by the administration’s characterization of the situation. She said Washington should be working overtime “with our allies to increase the number of SM-3 missiles to be deployed in Poland and Romania and accelerate the deployment of the site in Poland.”

“The U.S. should also deploy additional Patriot and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense units, as well as more Aegis ships, to the European Command area of operations,” the senator said. “The U.S. should also consult closely with the Czech Republic to see how we can expeditiously further strengthen our military cooperation and extended deterrence.”

Guy Taylor is the National Security Team Leader at The Washington Times, overseeing the paper’s State Department, Pentagon and intelligence community coverage. He’s also a frequent guest on The McLaughlin Group and C-SPAN.

His series on political, economic and security developments in Mexico won a 2012 Virginia Press Association award.

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