Cliff May

Were there an award for the worst idea produced in Washington in recent days, there would be many worthy competitors, but I think I’d put my money on this one: Granting Russians the power to tell Americans whether we can or cannot shoot down missiles flying toward their intended victims.

Who would even consider such an idea? The Obama Administration -- or so it appears. In response, last week, 39 Republican Senators sent the President a strongly worded letter requesting his assurance, in writing, that he will not give Russia such “red-button” rights. The letter asks for reassurance, as well, that the Administration will not give Russia access to American missile defense information “including early warning, detection, tracking, targeting, and telemetry data, sensors or common operational picture data, or American hit-to-kill missile defense technology.”

Here’s how this came about: In recent months, the Obama administration, as part of its policy to “re-set” U.S. relations with Russia, has offered to integrate the Kremlin into both the American and the NATO ballistic missile defense systems. Last month, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher said the Administration is “eager to begin a joint analysis, joint exercises, and sharing of early warning data that could form the basis for a cooperative missile defense system.”

This month, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Sergei Ivanov, said his government was inclined to favor such cooperation but would “insist on only one thing … a red button push to start an anti-missile …” To 39 Republican senators, this sounded like an outrageous demand. How this sounded to President Obama and his national security team remains unclear.

In their letter, the Republican senators, led by Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill), make this larger point: “No American President should ever allow a foreign nation to dictate when or how the United State defends our country and our allies. In our view, any agreement that would allow Russia to influence the defense of the United States or our allies, to say nothing of a ‘red button’ or veto, would constitute a failure of leadership.”

They note, too, that Russia “has not halted its support for nuclear infrastructure or sophisticated arms of states such as Iran and Syria.” Finally, the senators ask the President to “share with Congress the materials on U.S. missile defense cooperation that have been provided to Russia, which heretofore the Departments of State and Defense have refused to provide.”


Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.