Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Missile Defence in Europe

Earlier today the US signed an agreement with the Czech Republic allowing the US military to place a missile defence radar on Czech soil. This is subject to ratification by the Czech parliament. The radar is part of a wider system that is supposed to operate in tandem with a missile site located in Poland. In theory, any conventional missile fired at Europe could be located by the Czech radar and destroyed by the Polish missile. However it is far from certain that this system will go ahead due to excessive Polish demands, Czech reluctance and Russian opposition.

Initially Poland was the most receptive of two former communist countries under the leadership of the identical twins, Prime Minister Jaroslaw and President Lech Kaczynski. However since the election of new Prime Minister Donald Tusk in November 2007 the deal to place ten missile interceptors in Poland has grounded to a halt. Tusk is demanding massive US investment into the Polish armed forces in exchange for permission to place the missiles on Polish soil. The arrangement has not yet fallen through but the US has made it clear that Poland is not the only option with Lithuania being touted as a possible option. As for the Czechs, the population appear to be overwhelmingly against the idea and the politicians will be under pressure to reject it in Parliament. Gubu World will keep an eye on this.

Polish Prime Minister Tusk is making things difficult for US plans for a European missile shield

Why build it ? The US claims that the project is designed to protect Europe from missiles launched from "rogue states". In other words it is to shoot down a long range Iranian missile which the US claims Iran would be capable of striking Europe with by 2015. If the plan goes ahead, construction will begin in 2009 and will be complete between 2011 and 2013. In 2004, the US placed its own similar missile defence system in Alaska and California to protect the west coast from missiles fired from North Korea. Some in NATO believe it is only natural that the same system should protect Europe from Iran.

The Russian factor. Initiating a defensive system that shoots down scud and ballistic missiles may seem like a fairly reasonable endeavor. Not so in Moscow. The Russians are claiming that this is an attempt to cancel out Russia's nuclear deterrent. This may be a bit of a stretch but there is no denying that it does appear to raise the stakes in the arms race forcing the Russians to compete. The Americans discount this insisting that the planned missiles would be useless against Russia's nuclear arsenal and that Moscow should support the effort. The Russians offered a compromise saying they would support the defence system in Azerbaijan, a former soviet country that is still under Russian influence.

New Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is opposed to the East European missile defence system

Personally I just don't see the need for the system. People who read my blog know I think the Iranian threat is overstated. So why put it up to the Russians and risk a new arms race or at least economic retaliation against the west. This issue in reality is clearly about Russia and its insecurities over NATO incursions into Russia's traditional zone of influence. Twenty years ago the Poles and the Czechs were part of the Eastern block and couldn't decide any major issue without approval from Moscow. Now they are both EU and NATO members. This process is continuing to move Eastward to countries like the Baltics and Ukraine that were actually part of the Soviet Union itself up until 1991. Now with Georgia applying for membership in combination with this missile defence system it's all getting a bit much for the Russians. The system may or may not go ahead as time is running out for George Bush who leaves office in January and a democratic President is highly unlikely to pursue it. If it does however manage to get the go ahead, the Russian response will be fascinating. Gubu World as always will report.

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