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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Missile Defense Plan Makes Sense

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Anybody who feels nostalgic for the dying days of the Cold War should enjoy the current dispute between Russia and the United States over missile defense. Ancient arguments over "star wars" and the deployment of U.S. missiles in Europe are being reprised.

The United States finally has a rudimentary missile defense system that it wants to deploy in Europe. It says that the system is not aimed at Russia, but at the possibility of attacks from rogue states, such as Iran. But, as in the 1980s, the Russians are crying foul and Washington's European allies are deeply uneasy.

There is a new twist that adds bitterness to the saga. The United States wants to deploy its missile interceptors on Polish and Czech soil -- two countries that were firmly in the Soviet bloc in the 1980s. The Russian government, which has never reconciled itself to the enlargement of NATO, is enraged.

The 26 NATO allies will this week discuss the anti-missile system in the North Atlantic Council and then debate it directly with the Russians at a NATO-Russia meeting. But it seems unlikely that the Russians will emerge any more reconciled to a system that their defense minister has described as "an affront to all Europeans."

Further harsh words from Moscow will make many Europeans nervous. There is already an open split on the issue within the German government. And in the Czech Republic, just 31 percent of the public is in favor of participating in the scheme.

Even so, the United States and its European allies should stand firm for four reasons. First, finding some sort of a response to the possibility of a nuclear Iran is increasingly urgent. Europeans, wary of talk of a military strike on Iranian nuclear installations, should be particularly keen on other ways to deal with this potential threat. It is true that the proposed U.S. system is rudimentary and unproven. But you have to start somewhere.

Second, precisely because the missile-defense system is at such a rudimentary stage, it would be useless as a defense against an arsenal of missiles as sophisticated as Russia's. The Russians are right that it might be developed and elaborated. But it is still hard to envision it ever posing a credible threat to Russia's strategic position.

Third, the fact that Poland and the Czech Republic were once part of a Soviet empire does not give Russia any right to demand a veto over their defense arrangements. On the contrary, it is important to underline the fact that they are as free to make sovereign decisions as France or Britain.

Finally, while there is no reason for the United States, the European Union or NATO willfully to antagonize Russia, they should also avoid any suggestion that they can be intimidated into reversing foreign policy decisions. The missile-defense plan should go forward.

This appeared as an editorial in the Financial Times.