Getting to first base
From The Economist print edition
An American missile-defence radar in the Czech Republic infuriates Russia
IS IT wise to bargain hard with your best friend? This is the question for loyal Atlanticists of the Czech Republic and Poland, as they consider America’s planned missile-defence bases.
The Czech approach is that anything that bolsters the fraying transatlantic security relationship is welcome. Neither the European Union nor NATO seems like a fully reliable bulwark against a resurgent Russia, so hosting an important American radar base adds a valuable extra dimension to Czech security. Condoleezza Rice, America’s secretary of state, signed a deal on the radar this week in Prague. Although around two-thirds of Czechs oppose the radar, the government seems confident of surmounting the final hurdle, a vote in parliament.
The Polish approach is more muscular. In exchange for hosting a base with ten interceptor rockets (designed to deter any Iranian missile attack on America or Europe) the government has asked for billions of dollars to modernise its armed forces, plus Patriot air-defence missiles. Having first dismissed this out of hand, the Americans have shifted a bit, offering a temporary deployment of Patriots.
But no deal has yet been reached. Poland’s president (who wants a deal at any price) is embarrassingly at odds with the government (which doesn’t). Neighbouring Lithuania says it will happily host the missiles. The Americans sound huffy but are anxious to clinch the deal in time to give a rare foreign-policy success for the outgoing Bush presidency.
Yet success is not the word that leaps to every European lip. Some see the entire plan as divisive and unnecessary. America now portrays the missile-defence bases as a NATO project, but few see any difference. Vladimir Putin, Russia’s former president, threatened to target nuclear missiles on European countries that co-operated with the missile-defence plan. This week the Russian foreign ministry said that the response to an American deployment would be not merely diplomatic, but “military-technical”. That could mean bolstering Russian conventional forces in Kaliningrad, or in Belarus.
America swiftly rebuked Russia for its “bellicose rhetoric”. It says Russia has nothing to fear from the installations and has been offered the right to join the project. The Poles and Czechs already feel uneasy about this offer (made over their heads). They are also fretful about American politics. What if an Obama administration watered down or cancelled the plan, leaving those who supported it twisting in the wind from the east?