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Background on Europe missile shield and Obama's decision to scrap it

A primer on President George W. Bush's decision to build the missile shield, Russia's objection to it and President Obama's decision to abandon it.

September 18, 2009|Michael Muskal

President Obama announced Thursday that he would scrap plans to build a missile shield in Eastern Europe, a keystone of President George W. Bush's defense policy. Here is a primer on the issue.

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What was the missile shield?

Under Bush, the United States was to build military installations to house 10 interceptor rockets in Poland and a radar system in the Czech Republic.

Together they would form a missile shield designed to protect Eastern Europe from long-range missiles, with Iran usually cited as the possible aggressor.

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How much work has been done?

U.S. experts have surveyed the sites, but no construction has begun. The Czech installation was planned for the Brdy military installation, about 40 miles southwest of the capital, Prague.

The Polish site was to be at a former military air base near Redzikowo, about 10 miles from the Baltic Sea and 110 miles from Kaliningrad, Russia's Baltic enclave.

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Why did Obama change the plan?

In his announcement, the president gave two reasons for the change in policy:

First, the latest intelligence indicates that Iran is concentrating on short- and medium-range missiles rather than long-range missiles.

Second, technological advances in land- and sea-based interceptors and sensors mean they can now be more effective in defending Europe. Obama also said the new approach, using advanced versions of the SM-3 ship-based missile being developed for use by the U.S. Navy, will be more cost-effective and offer the military more flexibility.

For the next two years, the United States will deploy the sea-based Aegis weapon system, the SM-3 interceptor and sensors such as the Army Navy/Transportable Radar Surveillance system to monitor threats, the White House said. More advanced systems will come later.

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What are the international politics?

Obama stressed that the United States was continuing its policy of protecting Europe. But the projects he canceled had been supported by leaders, especially in Poland, as a symbolic overture of support by the United States.

The Czech and Polish people were less enthusiastic about the plan, fearing that the military installations would make their countries a target in the event of hostilities with Russia.

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What about Russia's position?

Russia strongly opposed the installations, which it feared were a continuation of U.S. and European efforts to encroach into the former Soviet bloc countries. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said the decision by the Obama administration was a "responsible move."

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Will the United States get something from Russia?

The Obama administration is hoping that relations with Moscow will improve and the Russians will help the West try to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions.

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Are there domestic political issues as well?

Republicans have generally been supportive of gestures to the former Soviet bloc and backed the Bush missile shield plan. In an early indication of the response to Obama's move, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said he was "extremely disappointed to learn about the administration's decision to abandon an important foreign policy commitment to two of our key allies."

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michael.muskal@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesmuskal

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