After months of negotiations, Poland signed an agreement allowing the United States to install ballistic missile interceptors in silos in Poland.
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk disclosed the agreement in an interview on a news channel, TVN24, a deal with a provision whereby Poland and the United States are committed to mutual defense.
The United States earlier had reached an agreement with the Czech government to place a radar component of the shield in that country. That deal still needs approval from Czech parliament. And the Polish interceptors agreement, although signed by U.S. and Polish officials, still must be blessed by the Polish parliament.
That signing not only signaled that Polish leaders appreciate the growing threat posed by Iranian missiles. The signing also was a defiant Polish response to a growing threat from the other direction: Russian belligerence and invasion of Georgia.
Like Poland, Georgia once was part of the Soviet Union, and the Russian invasion of Georgia was seen as a move to intimidate other former Soviet satellite states such as Poland. (Please see separate story in this issue.)
Russia has vehemently opposed U.S. moves to install the interceptors in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic. The Czechs already agreed to host the facility. (Please see Space & Missile Defense Report, Monday, April 7, 2008.)
The Polish and Czech facilities together will form a European Missile Defense (EMD) system to guard against missiles fired from the Middle East, where Iran has obtained steadily longer-range missiles.
Iran also has refused to halt nuclear materials production that Westerners fear will lead to Tehran wielding the bomb. And Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said repeatedly that Israel must be wiped from the map.
In the face of Russian aggression in Georgia, the United States sweetened the deal for Poland by agreeing to permanent installation of Patriot ground-to-air defense systems rather than just a one-year deployment, along with the 10 interceptors in the EMD shield against Iranian ballistic missiles.
For its part, Poland, in recent weeks had been pressured to reach a deal by U.S. comments that perhaps a deal might not be possible with Poland, and therefore the interceptors instead might be placed in silos in Lithuania.
Now that Poland and the United States have reached and concluded a deal, it means Russia, with its adventure in Georgia, has failed to terrify Prague political and military leaders into abandoning the EMD plan.
Ironically, the Russian invasion of Georgia may have had the effect of underlining the need for European nations to gain missile defense capabilities, quickly. During the incursion into Georgia, Russian forces fired more than two dozen short-range ballistic missiles, according to Riki Ellison, president of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance. (Please see separate story in this issue.)
The U.S. effort to build the EMD has been exasperatingly slow.
This missile defense asset would be a variant of the U.S. Ground-based Midcourse Defense system now installed in Alaska and California. Led by The Boeing Co. [BA], the European system would use two-stage instead of three-stage interceptors.
One reason the EMD has been so long in becoming a reality is the intense, hostile Russian opposition, ranging from threats and bluster about targeting European cities if the EMD is built, to claiming the EMD would be able to take down Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). (U.S. leaders have said that’s not true — the interceptors lack the speed to catch up with Russian ICBMs.)
For its part, the U.S. Air Force just fired a Minuteman III ICBM from California far into the Pacific Ocean, with multiple dummy warheads. (Please see separate story in this issue.)
Aside from Russian opposition to the EMD system, some European groups have protested against it, even though it is a defensive rather than an offensive system. And in the United States, a Democratic-led Congress has limited spending of funds for the EMD program until both the Czechs and Poles, and the parliaments there, agree to host it.
Some U.S. observers say the root of the Russian objections to the EMD is that it represents the United States, which some in Moscow still reflexively view as the Cold War enemy, mucking about in former Soviet puppet states, invading what traditionally was Russian turf.
For example, the Stratfor group, a Washington think tank and private intelligence gathering group, said the impending realization of the EMD plan "puts the U.S. military closer to the Russian border — a move which sends a message to Moscow that the United States is closing in and will not be pushed back from Russia’s periphery."
Whether out of true strategic military concerns, or more likely out of injured pride, Russia has lashed out at the EMD.
"The positioning of 10 ground-based midcourse defense interceptors in Poland moves the U.S. military closer to the Russian border," according to Stratfor.
Another factor hastening the United States to conclude a deal and get it signed, according to Stratfor, was a recognition by Republican U.S. President Bush that time is running out on his last term in office, which ends in January.
American voters in November may elect a Democratic president, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, and also may retain or increase the Democratic majority leading Congress. That, in turn, might mean less funding and more delays for missile defense programs such as the EMD.
The Bush administration "wanted the negotiations wrapped up so that actual construction can begin before the new president takes office in 2009 and before the Democrat- controlled Congress has a chance to stall the deal," according to Stratfor.
Other areas where Moscow sees the United States as invading traditionally Russian turf includes the U.S. presence at bases in Kosovo, training facilities in Hungary, lily pad bases in Romania, monitoring facilities in Lithuania and proposed radar facilities for BMD in the Czech Republic, according to the think tank.
All of those U.S. moves have elicited fear among Russian leaders that the United States is advancing much too close for comfort, leading to the violent exercise in Georgia.
But the West must push back against Russia, lest Moscow view itself as some omnipotent power in Europe, according to James Jay Carafano, senior research fellow with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank.
Carafano praised Poland for standing up to Russian intimidation, saying the Warsaw action was especially impressive in that it came in the face of Moscow invading Georgia.
The move by Poland and the United States to build the EMD system is worthwhile in several ways, especially because it may deter Iranian ambitions to develop nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles, and because it is a show of stout, unbreakable will against Russian intimidation, proving that the West won’t be cowed by Russian threats, he argued.
Carafano’s complete paper titled "Polish-U.S. Missile Defense Deal Makes Sense" can be read in entirety by going to http://www.heritage.org on the Web.