Thursday, October 25, 2007

European bases of the U.S. Missile Defense

President George W. Bush said on Tuesday that a planned missile shield in Europe is vital to protect against an "emerging Iranian threat". He described the threat as real and urgent: "Iran is pursuing the technology that could be used to produce nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles of increasing range that could deliver them." According to U.S. intelligence estimates Iran could be capable of striking European countries with IBCMs before 2015. Therefore the aim is to have both missile defense sites ready for limited operation by 2011 and fully operational by 2013.

However, the people that President Bush wants to protect perceive the situation differently. It almost seems that they do not want to be “protected”, at least not in the proposed way. A poll that was conducted earlier this year in Germany hints that 48 percent of Germans believe that the United States is a bigger threat to world security than Iran and 72 percent are against missile defense. Only 31 percent perceive Iran as the bigger threat.

The online journal WMDInsights had a special report on the perceptions in European countries on the missile defense system. Some findings for the two potential host countries are:

According to a survey conducted in Poland in early February [2007], 55 percent of the Polish people oppose the deployment while only 28 percent support it. A subsequent poll by the CBOS agency, a leading Polish public opinion research organization, confirmed this opposition, with 56 percent responding negatively to a question on their views regarding hosting U.S. BMD interceptors. The most recent poll, published on March 19, 2007, found that 51 percent of the respondents definitely oppose the base and 28 percent would prefer not to host it. Only 30 percent support the proposed deployment of the BMD interceptors, with a mere 8 percent “definitely” backing it.
The opposition is even more obvious in the Czech Republic:

In the Czech Republic, concern about the possibility of losing a referendum on the U.S. radar base led the government parties in mid-March to vote in the Czech legislature against holding a ballot on the BMD issue. An early March poll by the Center for Public Opinion Research (CVVM) found that 61 percent of the respondents opposed the proposed U.S. BMD radar base and 73 percent wanted the government to hold a referendum on the issue. Another early March survey conducted by the STEM agency, a second respected Czech polling firm, found that 70 percent of Czech respondents objected to the radar.
Naturally, also here the saying “Do not trust any statistics you have not faked yourself” applies. A poll that was conducted by the U.S. Opinion Research Corporation and sponsored by the non-profit Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance (MDAA) comes to completely different results:

While 58 percent of Pole respondents in a recent poll supported the BMD plan, in the neighboring Czech Republic, 51 percent of the poll's respondents said they were against it.
A small annotation: the mission statement of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance starts off with: “The Mission of MDAA is to help make the world safer by encouraging the development of missile defense which would protect against all types of missiles during all times.” A slight bias towards a certain direction might be given. Any poll contains a certain error probability but it comes to a surprise to see an increase of 30 percent even when one takes into consideration that the polls mentioned in WMDInsights were conducted in February and March and the one mentioned by the MDAA in September. The developments in the recent months in the countries’ national politics do not indicate that such a major change has taken place. The recent Polish elections have brought to an end the Kaczynski-government that was a staunch supporter of the missile defense system. Donald Tusk, the politician expected to become the next Polish prime minister after elections this week, is said to have taken a tougher stand than the outgoing government on talks with the United States about a missile site. The parliamentary elections can also to a certain degree be seen as a poll on the question of missile defense. It remains to be seen in how far the new Polish government will take a different approach to the issue and how this will impact the overall negotiations.

Like it was the case with its northern neighbor, also the government of the Czech Republic in the recent time firmly favored hosting a U.S. missile defense site but a senior Czech official said on Tuesday that Prague believes it will take longer to negotiate a deal than U.S. officials had hoped. He also mentioned that his government takes little stock in public opinion polls that show a majority of Czechs oppose having a U.S. missile defense site on their territory. However, with a new Polish government in place that does not equally firmly support the missile system the Czech Republic might feel singled out and the comment about the need for more time could be seen as a first cautious hint for a weakening governmental support.

Against this background the U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced yesterday that the United States might delay activating its planned East European missile defense sites until Iran took some concrete action, such as testing its own missiles. Such a condition appears to be very vague because also throughout 2006 and 2007 Iran has continued with the development and testing of its missile systems. Therefore the only question is “when” the next missile test will occur and not “if” it will occur at all. In so far the delay of which Secretary Gates spoke was probably not a way to soothe Russian concerns over the system but rather a way of acknowledging that original time-table of finalizing the deals with the two potential host countries by the end of the year is off the table.

The cartoon was taken from: The Economist, A few interceptors, a big gap

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