Clinton Goes to Istanbul; Will Missile Defense be on the Agenda?
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits Turkey on Friday, and some reports suggest that the Turkish government is prepared to agree to host a NATO missile defense system there. Turkey, you'll recall, wanted to impose several conditions on the system's deployment in Turkey, mainly that it not explicitly target Iran and that information from the system not be shared with Israel.
It's not clear that any of those issues have been resolved, but a couple of U.S. senators have called on the administration to consider using the South Caucasus, instead. Senior U.S. missile defense officials, the senator wrote, have said that "a forward-deployed X-Band radar in either Georgia or Armenia would have significant advantages for the missile defense of the United States," according to a letter (pdf) obtained by ForeignPolicy.com blogger Josh Rogin. (Presumably the reference to Armenia is a mistake and they mean Azerbaijan, which gives a sense of how attuned to the regional dynamics the senators are.)
If this sounds familiar, it's because the same senators said the same thing in February -- though then they were accompanied by two additional senators. It's not clear why those senators dropped out of this campaign, but it could be because the whole idea makes little sense. As Daniel Larison writes:
First, I have to note with some amusement that the Azerbaijan suggestion is one that was originally proposed by no less than Vladimir Putin as an alternative to the now-cancelled installations in Poland and the Czech Republic. Azerbaijan already feels neglected and ill-used by the U.S., and it’s not obvious that the way to remedy that is to ask it to take an adversarial stance towards its next-door neighbor. The idea of putting a missile defense installation in Georgia is obviously a non-starter for political reasons. Perhaps most important is the small matter than neither Georgia nor Azerbaijan is part of NATO. For that matter, Georgia has been trying to cultivate improved ties with Iran for several years now, and it can afford to antagonize Iran much less than Turkey. It wouldn’t be doing Georgia any favors to put the radar there, and it would needlessly increase U.S.-Russian and Russian-Georgian tensions. The entire exercise is rather pointless, since there isn’t much of an Iranian missile threat to defend against, but that’s all the more reason not to set up the system in a way that’s bound to create political problems for all parties involved.
Turkey is the only realistic place to expect these radars to be placed, so the real story would seem to be what sort of concessions Washington and Ankara are making to come to an agreement. We'll see if any of that comes out of Clinton's visit.