Obama’s Decision On Missile Defense And A Quote From Robert Kagan’s: ‘The Return Of History And The End Of Dreams’

Book here.

Obama has pulled out of the missile defense program in Eastern Europe, and some are calling this a capitulation to Russia. Here’s a quote from Robert Kagan that perhaps could clarify that position a little better:

“That is the primary motive behind Russia’s opposition to American missile defense programs in Poland and the Czech Republic.  It is not only that Russians fear the proposed sites may someday threaten their nuclear strike capacity:  Putin has suggested placing the sites in Italy, Turkey, or France instead.  He wants to turn Poland and other eastern members of NATO into a strategic neutral zone.”

Because, as Kagan argues, we’re not living anymore in the heady days after the fall of communism and a coming liberal international order (See Francis Fukuyama’s The End Of History).  We’re living in a world where Russia is playing old-style, nation-state power politics to regain its former scope, complete with a lot of strong-arming its former satellites and shutting off access to its resources when it sees fit.

Kagan broadens the picture further:   China and India are gaining national strength (though still fragile) and their governments’ and peoples’ conception of their own identity will change accordingly.  They will want more resources, to have more control over their own waters and trade routes, and have larger and larger spheres of influence.   Matters of national pride and identity (Taiwan) are not to be taken lightly.  They will push nations into potential conflicts, shifting alliances, and a scene more closely resembling 18th and 19th century European states and geo-politics.

Philosophically, Kagan clearly has doubts about the Enlightenment roots of the popular vision of  liberal international order (with roots in Kantian “perpetual peace” and Hegelian dialectical progress…).  However, he argues that there is a future, and there are moral obligations that (I would imagine individuals have in it), and that democracies have to one another to shape that world going forward (as we progress through our collective will?).

It’s definitely worth a read for its keen eye on the international scene and its challenge to a liberal internationalism.


So,  as for the missile-defense program…was it an appeasement to Putin…do you trust Obama’s vision for the world and America’s place in it…is he positioning us well between our own interests and our own moral obligations?

Addition:  A reader links to this piece and argues that this is Obama trying to forge common interest with Russia, which may bear fruit.

Yet Another Addition:  It’s looking like Russia’s not on board with Iranian sanctions.

See Also On This Site:  From The American Interest Online: Francis Fukuyama On Samuel Huntington…From The Chronicle Of Higher Ed: Russian Forum…Dick Cheney Travels To Georgia: Is the U.S. Allied With Georgia?

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6 thoughts on “Obama’s Decision On Missile Defense And A Quote From Robert Kagan’s: ‘The Return Of History And The End Of Dreams’

  1. It may have been an appeasement to Putin but one thing to be considered is how Obama views the Missile Shield overall. Its a a very expensive weapons system that is far from being effective. Placing it in Poland does nothing to enhance US or Poland’s security overall. Was Europe under a threat of a nuclear attack by rouge states? No, and it wont be for years at least. It was symbolic more than military. The Polish government of course loved the idea of having an American weapons system on their soil is in their minds this enhanced the US-Polish relations and cooperation. And anything that Russia would opposed immediately appeals to Poles. Personally I see no problem with the pull out. Russia will be Russia, always meddling, always imperialistic. Poles will do everything possible to oppose them, whether it makes sense or not. The whole episode is much ado about nothing from Russia’s perspective. Similar to all the stupidity when the former Warsaw Pact states wanted to join NATO. They oppose it because they perceive it as a threat, even when no threat exists. The Poles on the other hand will always want to protect themselves from their larger eastern neighbour. They have been doing it for centuries and this will not change in the near future. The trick is for Americans and other European powers to not forget its most loyal allies when dealing with Russia and trying to appease them.

  2. rlisu, thanks for reading and for the comment.

    As you point out well, it’s a fine line to walk for Obama and others.

    I’m always a little concerned about the vestiges of Star Wars (on display here?) and more generally Cold War thinking upon U.S. policy towards Russia. It will be tempting in moments of crisis or tension, especially, to slip back into it and avoid what new challenges lie ahead.

  3. Well IMO the Cold War mentality comes from Russia rather than from US. Yes we still need to step carefully around them, but their geopolitical view of the West has not really changed. Their opposition to the expansion of NATO proved that they still see things in terms of the Cold War. Same as this, now failed, placement of the missile shield to Poland and the Czech Rep. They see it as a direct threat to their power, no matter whether it is or not. It wasn’t because a few missile batteries wouldn’t stop a nuclear attack by a power like Russia. But Russia went apeshit over this, as previously over NATO. They still view Central/Eastern Europe as their own exclusive sphere of influence. It can be a serious problem when one side completely misunderstands the other’s steps and interprets any action as a threat, no matter how innocent.

  4. rlisu,

    Well said. Yes, it is Russia who has not changed their geopolitical view and I suspect needs to play these power games to maintain its imperial ambitions. This is one of Kagan’s main points. But can we maintain our relationship to the central/eastern states without risking re-engagement with Russia over something like the missile-shield? As you point out, it may not have been in our best interests.

    I humbly submit (it’s a somewhat vague submission) that the Cold War deeply affected American popular thought, military strategy, foreign policy and national identity for a half century as well. This should be kept in mind.

  5. I agree, the Cold War did shape us. Especially our military and foreign policy. But we had proper closure, we won. Our enemy the USSR no longer exists. Well it does, but they have a new flag and a name now. However no one is worried that the Reds might be coming. The Russians still see us as the same Americans they fought for 70 years (going back to their civil war). Those slogans about imperialist America did not really die with the end of Cold War.

    Getting back to your first point. It is my opinion that unless Russia modifies its geopolitical outlook a confrontation will come sooner or later. And then America will have to choose between appeasement of Russia and not starting a 21st century version of the Cold War, or its most loyal friends and allies. So far we have maneuvered well enough through the various crises. Yugoslavia, expansion of NATO, Chechnya, Georgia, all were handled about as well as they could considering the possibility of Russian belligerence. Whether that will continue remains to be seen. Until Russia becomes a truly democratic state I do not foresee a change in their attitudes.

  6. Points taken. If you’re correct, I hope we can find ways to avoid a looming confrontation (that Russia would modify its outlook…implement reforms to move toward democracy, or other unforeseen possibilities). I wonder if Europe isn’t more disposed toward understanding some potential underlying reasons that prevent democratic reforms in Russia (a stronger communist/Marxist left, a more aristocratic and monarchical past) that could help in such an endeavor. My knowledge ends about here.


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