Biden in Central Europe
October 19, 2009
Q1: Vice President Joe Biden is visiting Poland, Romania, and the Czech Republic this week. What is he seeking to achieve?
A1: Although the broad agenda will cover questions of trade, investment, and economic recovery, the primary concern of all three capitals is their security ties with the United States. Above all, Biden will endeavor to reassure the three governments that Washington’s improving relations with Moscow will not result in a deterioration of relations with the Central-East European region. President Obama’s recent decision to scuttle the planned missile defense shield in Central Europe has raised fears among several of America’s new allies that the United States may be accommodating Russia’s expansive strategic agenda. They are apprehensive that Washington’s desire to secure a nuclear arms treaty with Moscow and to gain Russia’s assistance with Iran, Afghanistan, and North Korea could blind the White House to Russia’s attempts to restore its “privileged interests” among former satellites. The perception of America’s withdrawal or disinterest could leave the region increasingly vulnerable to Moscow’s pressures.
Q2: What is likely to be the result of the trip?
A2: Mr. Biden has a stellar record in support of the independence and NATO membership of the Central European countries and has expressed a realistic view of Russia’s ambitions. But he will also need to demonstrate that the United States will consolidate the security of the new NATO allies in practical and effective ways, for example, by helping to strengthen their defense capabilities and underscoring the applicability of NATO’s article 5 defense guarantees. For instance, he will be expected to confirm that the United States will deploy a battery of ground-to-air Patriot missiles in Poland and that Washington will include all three countries in discussions on the new antimissile system recently announced by President Obama.
Q3: How will the visit and its consequences be perceived in Moscow?
A3: Biden is treated with distrust if not disdain in the Kremlin because of his outspokenness about Russia’s belligerence toward its neighbors and his support for the independence and territorial integrity of Georgia and Ukraine. In a way, Moscow has already prepared for his visit by recently completing substantial military exercises in Belarus partly designed as a war scenario with NATO forces. The exercises further raised anxieties in the region over Russia’s long-term intentions, but they have also provided Biden with a valuable opportunity to reaffirm America’s commitment to the defense of NATO’s Central European members. In the aftermath of the vice president’s visit, the question of Central European security will be comprehensively explored by CSIS at an international conference in Washington on November 4, entitled “The United States and Central Europe: Converging or Diverging Strategic Interests?”
Janusz Bugajski holds the Lavrentis Lavrentiadis Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., where he is also director of the New European Democracies Project and senior fellow with the Europe Program.
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