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February 20, 2007

Opposition to US Base in Eastern Europe Rises

by Jim Lobe

BUDAPEST - The arguments put forward by the United States to justify its project for a missile defense base in Eastern Europe are becoming less and less convincing to the publics and experts of the countries involved.

The United States intends to set up an anti-missile base in Poland and a radar control center in the Czech Republic as part of its National Missile Defense (NMD) program by 2011. The plan is supported by both the Polish and Czech governments.

Germany, Britain, and Canada have rejected hosting elements of the U.S. system.

Polls suggest the majority of Czechs and Poles are opposed to the base out of fear of turning their countries into supporters of Washington's controversial Middle East policy and into targets of terrorism.

Those in favor expect economic benefits and argue the base will increase the countries' security and prestige while reinforcing their alliance with the United States.

The justification advanced by Washington for the base is that it will protect the Western world from missile attacks originating in such "rogue states" as North Korea or Iran.

The Polish government is reportedly putting forth a set of demands, including participation in development, military aid, and an upgrading of the United States' visa policy toward its citizens.

The Czechs have been accused of political naivete for simply counting on economic and political benefits, though Prague hopes to obtain similar benefits in visa policy.

The Czech right-wing government will face additional problems in parliament in approving the radar construction, as most parties are either pressing for a referendum or complain the system will be built outside the framework of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to which they belong.

Most NATO members are skeptical of the cost, effectiveness and necessity of the U.S. base.

Military experts have argued that the "rogue states" have neither the intention nor the technology to attack the United States or its allies, adding that any missiles would be better intercepted from Turkey, another NATO member.

Security analysts have also signaled the base could be part of U.S. efforts to face future threats from Russia and China, but note Moscow has already developed technology capable of bypassing the costly defense shield project.

In agreement with views held by pro-disarmament groups, some experts likewise argue the system will encourage the development of offensive systems intent on reestablishing the world's strategic balance.

During a recent security conference in Munich, Russian President Vladimir Putin cautioned the shield would fuel a new arms race, and vowed Moscow's response would be "effective and asymmetric, to the highest degree."

Moscow is also irritated by the radar's ability to monitor military movements well inside Russian territory, but right-wing politicians in the region are dismissing Russian statements as part of Putin's domestic policy.

The Czech government is also planning an information campaign on the base.

Jan Tamas, head of the "No to the Bases" initiative, an umbrella group of international civic organizations against the base, told IPS that information available in much of the press is biased in favor of construction of the military complex.

"They talk about the so-called threats to support their case, without mentioning the real threats that will emerge as a result of the establishment of the base," he told IPS. "We notice a clear interest to distort reality, regardless of the consequences and regardless of the opinion of the people."

In the Czech Republic the pro-base side has frequently accused opponents of the base of "anti-Americanism," a claim demystified in surveys carried out by some newspapers and institutions.

Instead of suffering from a hatred of everything "American," Jan Cervenka, from the Public Opinion Research Center, said in an interview that Czechs are divided over Washington's foreign policy "across political affiliations."

Some academics in the region will rather see the ideological bias on the pro-U.S. side. "Czechs are frustrated with being categorized as part of Eastern Europe, and elites adopted pro-U.S. ideologies as a way of proving their belonging to the West," a political scientist from Central European University told IPS on condition of anonymity.

"Since the fall of communism, Czech right-wing nationalism has been intrinsically linked to neo-liberal ideology, which is often more pro-U.S. than in the U.S. itself," the professor said.

In Poland, the press has published a number of reports in which it is argued U.S.-based pro-armament lobbying groups are actively working on generating a climate in favor of the base.

These claims were backed by Prof. Roman Kuzniar, until recently president of the state-supported Polish Institute for International Affairs. Kuzniar advised Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski not to build the base, arguing that U.S. security would be built at the expense of Poland's.

Kuzniar, speaking to Polish press last week, claimed that "entirely serious" media outlets on friendly terms with U.S. lobbying groups "sometimes publish complete rubbish about what benefits we will gain from the shield," adding that "many politicians' sympathy for it stems from ignorance about what this system really is."

The expert claimed that "stories about attacks from rogue states can be written off as fairy tales, because countries are not suicidal." He added that "wars are started by hegemonic, stronger countries, not by weak ones."

Kuzniar's "anti-American" views cost him his job. Kaczynski fired him the day before the interview was published. Polish defense minister Radoslaw Sikorski resigned last week over disagreements with the prime minister.

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  • Jim Lobe, works as Inter Press Service's correspondent in the Washington, D.C., bureau. He has followed the ups and downs of neo-conservatives since well before their rise in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

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