In a development that some are viewing as Obama’s first foreign policy test, Russia has announced its intention to develop a new missile base along the Polish border. Financial Times blogger Gideon Rachman has termed it the “Polish Missile Crisis.” Russian President Dmitri Medvedev made the move in response to the decision of the United States to deploy its missile defense system into Poland and the Czech Republic.
The current crisis is a classic illustration of the security dilemma, in which an action intended to improve the security of one state cause another state to fear for their own security and therefore respond in way that undermines the security of both states. In other words, states behaving rationally in the pursuit of their own interests can produce irrational outcomes. In this case, the decision of the United States to develop and deploy a missile defense system, intended to improve its own security, causes Russia to expand its deployment of missile systems along the Polish border to offset U.S. gains. As a result, both countries feel less secure.
According to liberal international relations scholars, the security dilemma can be overcome through closer economic, cultural, and political interactions which, over time, create a shared sense of empathy. But will this be the case here? After years of improving relations between Russia and the United States following the end of the Cold War, relations between the two countries have fallen sharply—remember Georgia? Nevertheless, the FT’s editorial pages are hopeful, noting that
even in difficult times in east-west relations, agreements can be struck on matters of mutual interest, as happened even in the cold war. There is much that binds Russia and the west, including energy and trade, and concerns about Iran, global terrorism and, most recently, financial stability. Reducing tensions over missile bases should be high on this list.
Sounds like a test for the Obama Doctrine.