September 17th, 2009
12:01 PM ET
14 years ago

Obama scraps Bush-era missile defense for new plan

WASHINGTON (CNN) - The United States is dropping plans for a controversial missile defense shield and replacing it with a "new missile defense architecture in Europe," President Barack Obama said Thursday.

The new system "will provide capabilities sooner, build on proven systems and offer greater defenses against the threat of missile attack than the 2007 European missile defense program" proposed by former President George W. Bush, Obama said.

He did not go into details about the new plan, but said it had received the unanimous support of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Obama said the change of gears was based on an "updated intelligence assessment" about Iran's ability to hit Europe with missiles.

The Islamic republic's "short- and medium-range" missiles pose the most current threat, he said, and "this new ballistic missile defense will best address" that threat.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, speaking from the Pentagon immediately after the president's announcement, denied the United States was "scrapping" missile defense.

"This new approach provides a better missile defense capability for our forces in Europe, for our European allies and eventually for our homeland than the program I recommended almost three years ago," he said. Gates served as secretary of defense in the last two years of the Bush administration, and stayed on in the post when Obama took office.

The Bush-era proposal called for the United States to set up a radar site in the Czech Republic and 10 missile interceptors in Poland to counter the threat of Iran launching long range missiles at America's allies in Europe.

The Bush administration had cited the perceived nuclear threat from Iran as one of the key reasons it wanted to install the missile shield in eastern Europe.

But a 60-day review mandated by Congress and ordered by Obama recommended a different approach, a senior administration official said before the president and Gates spoke.

"The technology has evolved in a way that allows you to deploy a system that is more effective in countering both short, medium, and long-range missiles," said the official, contrasting the types of missiles Iran, for example, is believed to have with intercontinental ballistic missiles of the kind feared during the Cold War.

"It's a more advanced system, more cost effective and efficient," the official said.

The U.S. reversal is likely to please Russia, which had fiercely opposed the plans.

There was no comment Thursday morning from Russian officials. But the issue has been a sore point in relations between Washington and Moscow, with Russia believing the shield would ultimately erode its own strategic nuclear deterrent.

Obama has been seeking a stronger relationship with Russia and better cooperation from the Kremlin to support tough U.N. economic sanctions against Iran if it continues to pursue its nuclear ambitions.

Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev discussed the missile shield, among other issues, in Moscow in July.

Obama maintained that Russia had nothing to fear from such a system, which would be designed to intercept a solitary missile from Iran or North Korea, as opposed to "a mighty Russian arsenal."

But the senior administration official flatly denied a diplomatic motive to scrapping the missile defense program.

"This has nothing to do with Russia," he said. "The notion that we're

abandoning missile defense is completely false. It's evolving into a different system."

A U.S. delegation held high-level meetings Thursday in both Poland and the Czech Republic to discuss the missile defense system. While the outcome of the meetings wasn't clear, officials in both countries confirmed the plans for the current system would be scrapped.

Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer said in a statement that Obama told him in a Wednesday phone call that the United States was shelving its plans. Fischer did not say what reason Obama gave him for reconsidering.

A spokeswoman at the Polish Ministry of Defense also said the program had been suspended.

"This is catastrophic for Poland," said the spokeswoman, who declined to be named in line with ministry policy.

Poland and the Czech Republic had based much of their future security policy on getting the missile defenses from the United States. The countries share deep concerns of a future military threat from the east - namely, Russia - and may now look for other defense assurances from their NATO allies.

"At the NATO summit in April, we adopted a resolution focusing on building a defense system against real, existing threats, i.e. short-range and medium-range missiles," Fischer said. "We expect that the United States will continue cooperating with the Czech Republic on concluding the relevant agreements on our mutual (research and development) and military collaboration, including the financing of specific projects."

- CNN's Suzanne Malveaux in Washington, Per Nyberg in London, England, and Matthew Chance in Moscow, Russia, contributed to this report.

Filed under: George W. Bush • President Obama
soundoff (115 Responses)
  1. Lynda/Minnesota

    Time to hide underneath the bed everyone, here comes the boogeyman again . . .

    September 17, 2009 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |

    All you complainers....Stop your whimpering from the left and the right. So lets see, if he would've took on twice as many "projects as Bush" he would've been told he's spending too much or being too violent! This is a conservative move on his part and he gets absolutely no credit. Aren't conservatives supposedly about accountability and smaller government and Fiscal Responsibility? On the other hand their saying he's moving too fast. Which is it? I don't agree with some of his policies but I respect our democracy. I know that if he performs terribly then we the people have a say in this to either vote him back in or we toss him out. Nothing to it.

    September 17, 2009 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  3. Alex in Wisconsin

    Interesting that the old program is being scrapped and a new, more cost efficient one being brought up to replace it. I think the President might actually be trying to save money in order to pay for Health Care.

    No wonder the crazy right (not all you sane conservatives who would support the president saving money) is getting frustrated. Better to spend large amounts of money defending other people than to use money to heal Americans...but i guess those on the crazy right (not the sane conservatives who are patriotic and respect the office of the President of the United States) have been talking about secession, so you probably don't care about America anyway.

    September 17, 2009 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  4. barb

    It didn't take long for Obama long too give Russia what it wanted, Obama is doing everything he can too weaken the United States .

    September 17, 2009 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  5. Bedtime for Obonzo

    So the Beloved Leader hangs our democratic allies, Poland and the Czech Republic, out to dry to appease Russia. Those nations went way out on a limb to OK the missile defense system, and now Obama has sawn off the limb. What do you bet the "new, improved" system is never deployed? All this at a time when Iran is closer than ever to a nuclear weapon.

    September 17, 2009 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  6. Never Repub again

    OBAMA-BIDEN 2012.

    Where would we be if Old MacDonald and Baracuda Palin had won? Screwed.

    September 17, 2009 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  7. Melissa

    Good. Stop wasting the money on yet more war when it should be spent at home on Americans.

    September 17, 2009 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  8. Chris

    People on here are criticizing Obama for not giving details about a new defense system? Is there nothing that people won't ciriticize Obama for?

    September 17, 2009 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  9. Rob

    And we're now finding out that (surprise, surprise) Iran has the ability to make a nuke and soon will have a method to weaponize it. Thanks Barry, we're all so much safer now.

    All you libs who used to whine about how Bush was (falsely) responsible for 4000 U.S. soldier and countless civilian deaths, what are you going to say in response to Obama's being directly responsible for much, much greater innocent deaths? Cuz that's what's gonna happen. Obama's gonna turn the other shoulder and just let our enemies attack us. Oh, sure, he'll look sad when he pretends to mourn the dead, and you all will just gobble it up.

    September 17, 2009 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  10. John Starnes Tampa Florida

    Scrapping this near-useless system that was a clear provocation to Russia (would WE like it if THEY installed missiles along Canada's or Mexico's U.S. border?) is the first real evidence of promised "change" that made me vote for Obama (voting for McCain-Palin was simply unthinkable). Now Mr. Obama....what about our continued occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan?

    September 17, 2009 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  11. scott

    At least now all Ameicans wont look like the unstoppable tough cowboy that Bush wanted us to look like!!! Now maybe we can have a good conversation and talk like people should instead of yelling at one another like Fox news channel and all the extreme rightwingers that would like to take over the whole world. I believe this was a good move by our President, but continue to defend this great country if need be from abroad or domestic enemies. Obama 'common sense." George Bush " nothing to say about that one"!!

    September 17, 2009 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  12. Cindy

    Heal the world. Make this a better place.

    I do believe, this is a good move to bring down the temperature of potential war. Once upon a time, Japan and the US were mortal enemies. Russia is different, too.

    Iran will get there. Sooner, under the Obama administration, than under the Cheney/Bush one.

    September 17, 2009 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  13. marc from MS

    As one who is very critical of Obama, and rightly so, I think that this might be the first thing that he has done right,,,,wait,,,wait,,wait,,, provided that our military has a better system and more timely system to implement,,,also, I truly hope that he and hillary were smart enough to get some kind of consessions out of the Russians before anouncing this,,,if not, then his naivete has bitten us again...

    September 17, 2009 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  14. WDRussell

    That is all the Bush plan was, was a plan to let the defense contractors further loot America.

    September 17, 2009 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  15. Don't blame me-I voted for the american

    Fine by me. If the Europeans want defense, let them pay for it. Besides, why are the Poles so nervous? Now that we have Obama, no one will ever want to fight again, right? Can I get a Kumbaya?

    September 17, 2009 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
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