BUDAPEST - The U.S. missile defense system to be deployed in Eastern Europe
is becoming a matter for concern in all of Europe. Russia, Ukraine, Germany
and France are now worried and demand talks.
The missile defense system, allegedly aimed at protecting the West from missile
attacks by "rogue states," would have two components by 2011: a radar
in the Czech Republic and an antimissile base in Poland.
Right-wing cabinets in Prague and Warsaw are in favor of hosting the base and
are now focusing on which terms to set Washington, whereas members of the North
Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) are divided and still considering its strategic
and financial implications.
Major EU countries could end up reviewing their political role. France and
other large European Union (EU) member states "had hoped until recently
to act as mediators between Iran and the international community, as well as
to continue exerting influence in the Middle East," Svetlozar Andreev,
political scientist at the Center for Political and Constitutional Studies in
Madrid told IPS.
"The basic problem is how to reconcile the interests of large countries
like France, Germany, Italy and Spain with those of the United States,"
French President Jacques Chirac has warned the base could create "new
divisions in Europe."
During her visit to Poland, German Chancellor Angela Merkel also insisted on
"a solution within NATO," and "an open talk with Russia on the
subject," whereas her foreign minister Frank Walter Steinmeier warned of
the danger of a new arms race.
The Ukrainian parliament has also condemned the U.S. plans, but government
officials believe Ukraine should actively participate in talks due to its position
between the West and Russia.
According to Russian and Ukrainian analysts, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich
could be the man who will manage to include Russia in the controversial negotiation
However, Western-leaning President Viktor Yushchenko said the base was solely
a matter for the countries concerned, and implied the project would benefit
European collective security.
Russia is reacting harshly to speculations, but Svetlozar thinks Moscow might
be getting ready for a different Europe.
"Russians would very much like to use the build up of NATO and U.S. military
capabilities near its Western borders as an excuse to upgrade their military
defense systems, delegitimize the U.S. as a 'hegemonic power' and probably get
concessions in the international arena," he told IPS.
The Polish, Czech and U.S. governments' failure to provide extensive information
on the plans has also resulted in criticism, even among pro-base individuals.
In Trokavec, one of the West Bohemian villages in the Czech Republic in whose
vicinity the radar would be placed, the population almost unanimously rejected
the radar in a local referendum, citing lack of information, health risks and
fear of becoming a target in case of war.
With public interest growing, polls indicate most Czechs and Poles reject the
base, and in the Polish case researchers concluded that access to information
was linked to opposition to the base.
For those on the center and the left, only a system within NATO could be approved,
and by referendum. The right claims there are too many divergent views in NATO
for that and that the system could be integrated later into the organization.
But Czech Green deputy head Ondrej Liska, a member of the ruling coalition,
believes most Czechs want to involve NATO and is calling for postponing the
decision on hosting the base until after the U.S. presidential elections next
Liska, who recently met with several Democrat and Republican politicians, officials
and experts in the U.S., concluded there is no unanimity on the system's cost
The deputy also noted the U.S. and the EU, to which the Czech Republic belongs,
have different security strategies.
Nevertheless, a civic group comprising famous artists and former politicians
recently sprung up in support of the U.S. base, saying the Czech Republic should
repay the U.S. for its soldiers' efforts "defending freedom in Europe"
in the past.
Many in the right see U.S. presence in the region in a positive light, balancing
what they perceive as a German and Russian domination and partnership in the
economic and energy fields.
But above all, when it comes to international matters the right tends to trust
the 'active' U.S. rather than the 'passive' EU. The right also resents Western
European governments for acknowledging Russian concerns.
Many have recognized that the radar in the Czech Republic could monitor movements
of troops in much of Russia and that the base could develop into something larger
in the future.
Russian analysts sees the base as upsetting the overall balance of strategic
forces between the U.S. and Russia, and speculate its goal could be to drag
Russia into an unnecessary and costly arms race.
The Polish and Czech right argue the base is defensive and dismiss the concerns
as part of Russian domestic politics.
Moreover, statements by Russian generals saying Moscow would have the capacity
to point its missiles at the U.S. facility have inflamed the anti-Russian right
in Eastern Europe.
While denying the base could be used against Moscow in the future, statements
by Czech officials indicate a high level of mistrust.
Czech foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg declared there was no way to know
if Russian missiles had been pointed at the Czech Republic up until now, and
added the Russian Federation was "starting to claim in Europe the position
of the former Soviet Union."
Schwarzenberg also said Russia's stance on the missile defense system would
not be taken into account.
In Poland, experts and journalists have also raised the issue of Russia's increasing
defense expenditure and its alleged imperial ambitions.
The Polish foreign ministry has gone as far as questioning NATO's capacity
to ensure the country's security in the event of a conflict, and Warsaw is intent
on signing a bilateral security agreement with the United States.
The leaked information, which included a statement by deputy foreign minister
Witold Waszczykowski calling NATO "not our dream alliance," has caused
uproar in Poland.
Speaking to the press, Roman Kuzniar, from the International Relations Institute
in Warsaw, said the foreign ministry's approach amounted to a no-confidence
vote in NATO, under which Poland had been safer than ever before, and a return
to a simplified, Cold-War view of the world.
Kuzniar, warning against U.S. tactics of forging ad-hoc alliances with NATO
members, considered "there are no such threats that could force us to rely
solely on the only superpower."