Reuters is reporting that friction is developing between the US and some of the other members of NATO about the potential deployment of an anti-ballistic missile defense system in Eastern Europe. Germany, in particular, along with several other European NATO members are concerned that the ABM system will destabilize relations with Russia, which has expressed serious concerns over the system, seeing it is an encroachment on the (former) Russian sphere of influence in Eastern Europe, as well as a signal of divergent interests between the West and Russia. Germany is calling for discussions in the NATO-Russia Council, while the US has declared its intentions to press ahead with development and deployment, even without NATO approval or participation, if necessary. The basic plan is to deploy a radar system in the Czech Republic and a missile battery in Poland to protect Europe against missile launches from states like Iran or North Korea.
Germany and NATO are right to be concerned about the ABM system, but the object of their concern is misplaced. There's no real reason to worry about Russia; the former superpower is a shell of its former self and simply no longer matters in global politics. There's no reason to be antagonistic towards Russia, but Russia's concerns and needs should not be serious impediments to pursuing things deemed important for US/European/NATO security and interest.
There are two other reasons why the US should defer to NATO here. First is the need to assuage hurt feelings. Germany and France are still smarting from the rejection of NATO assistance in the early days of the invasion of Afghanistan and the subsequent invasion of Iraq. The US should be looking for any low-cost opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to NATO and multilateral structures, and this seems like such an opportunity, as building an ABM system should be low on the US's list of security priorities.
As I have blogged about before, I am no fan of ABM systems. I don't buy the arguments that they won't work...although I am suspicious of their efficacy. But the real question is: Is the benefit worth the cost? In a world in which our military is stretched thin, where our soldiers are having trouble getting equipment and training, the massive amounts of money being spent on ABM defense could be much better spent simply paying to enlarge the armed forces.
Given the concern expressed by our NATO allies, the Bush Administration should simply drop this issue. There's no reason to upset our friends, nor spend the money that could be better used elsewhere.