Romania: Poking Putin In The Eye

Bill Cowan Fox News Contributor

It’s an established fact that our adversaries like to throw out an early challenge to test the mettle of a new president coming into office. It’s fair to assume that will be the case next year and Russia, a most likely protagonist, may already be laying the groundwork to do it. 

Since shortly after Obama’s inauguration in 2009, conservatives have assailed him for canceling the long planned for and deliberately debated missile defense shield planned for Poland and the Czech Republic. Negotiated under the Bush administration, the shield was advertised as a defense against potential Iranian intercontinental missiles.  

The cancellation was, at a minimum, a betrayal to allies who had pushed the program through against widespread public disapproval. It was also a decision in which Putin could take some delight. He and his government had strongly opposed the system and he was able to watch it dissolve without having to make any concessions. Such a deal.

Now, on May 12th, the switch was flipped ‘on’ on a newly activated, U.S. ground-based missile defense system in Romania, a quiet but steadfast U.S. ally, and it’s our turn and that of the Romanians to relish the moment at Putin’s expense. But there’s a price. Putin has already threatened that Romania could be targeted by Russian rockets because of the system.

The U.S. and NATO have continuously stressed that the system is intended to defend Europe from Iran and its expanding arsenal. But as Europe, NATO, and the U.S. know, Russian missiles also pose a threat and Putin’s threats to retaliate are a stark example.

The Romania installation is the first land-based defensive missile launcher in Europe and will join other elements of the NATO defensive shield  They include a command-and-control center in Germany, a radar installation in Turkey, and four ships stationed regionally and capable of identifying enemy missiles and firing their own missiles to neutralize them.

Russia believes the missile defense system breaches the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty it signed with the U.S in 1987. However, the U.S. says Russia now has ballistic missiles that are themselves in breach of the treaty that agreed the two powers would not develop and deploy missiles with a range of 500 km to 5,500 km. The United States declared Russia in non-compliance of the treaty in July 2014.

Candidly, the Obama administration deserves some credit. In its waning year it is at least taking some actions whose long term impact on our nation’s security and that of our allies will be positive. Ironically, the system was activated with little fanfare in the media or even any announcement from the White House.

For its part, Romania has taken a big step forward on our behalf and that of NATO. Committed to Black Sea security and to raising its defense spending to 2 percent of GDP, Romania is in it for the long haul.  

On a trip to the U.S. last week seeking greater political and economic ties between the U.S. and Romania, Cozmin Gusa, a highly regarded Romanian political strategist, noted that the “U.S. will have to clearly cope with the new geopolitical situation, specifically that we have a ‘second Cold War’ underway.” He continued noting that Romania is a decidedly pro-American island in the region, and that it needs U.S. guidance and assistance going forward. Although we in the U.S. may not sense a ‘second Cold War,’ countries in the Black Sea region such as Romania clearly do.

That ability to provide ‘guidance and assistance’ may well be tested next year under a new U.S. president forced to respond to Putin antics and pushback. The world watched the Obama administration do essentially nothing as Russia took over Crimea and as it continues to chip away at Ukraine. Let’s hope a new president shows more resolve and commitment to supporting, defending, and assisting committed strategic allies like Romania. They deserve nothing less.