Sunday, November 25, 2007

Poland's new approach to missile defence

The new Polish government headed by Donald Tusk takes a more rational approach to the country’s foreign and security agenda. The policy is refocused in a more pro-European direction after the strongly pro-US tilt under Tusk’s predecessor, Jarosław Kaczyński. This shift also includes a review of the consideration whether Poland will host ten U.S. anti-missile interceptors. The new Defense Minister Bogdan Klich stressed that his country must weigh the benefits and costs of this project for Poland. This statement has to be seen against the background that Russian officials repeatedly have warned that the U.S. deployment of interceptors in Poland could trigger a new arms race. This would pose a greater threat to Poland compared to the current situation and the possible future threat from the so called rogue-states. Therefore he puts the obligation to defend the country on the United States.

The NTI Newswire reports:

Klich said the United States must be ready to protect Polish air space if it wants the European nation to house its missile interceptors, the Financial Times reported. The interceptors might make Poland a target for aggression that could be offset by Patriot or Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense systems, according to the government.

The Polish Defense Minister correctly acknowledged that Moscow’s problem was not the base itself but “the institutionalised presence of the US in central Europe”, which would mark the final end of Russia’s attempts to exert influence in a region it had historically controlled. This demise of Russian military influence in its former satellite countries is non-reversible and Moscow is very reluctant to accept this. In contrast to that its economic leverage has significantly increased and it has not shied away to use this leverage. The interruption of natural gas supplies to Western Europe and the ban on Polish meat serve as examples.

However, these means are perceived to be less prestigious and not fully equal to the military power. This is especially true as Russia is still grappling to accept that it is no longer the superpower it used to be during the Cold War. The deployment of U.S. Patriot or THAAD systems on Polish territory in addition to the interceptors will rub Russia’s nose in it. These two systems might help to protect Poland from short- and medium-range missiles that Russia might deploy in the future. At the same time this would also show Russia quite plainly that it only plays second fiddle in terms of strategic security. This would certainly not sooth Russian concerns over the system but rather lift the mutual suspicions to a higher level.

Poland should carefully consider, if this really would serve its interests or if it only aggravates the problem – a problem that would not exist without the deployment of U.S. interceptor base.

Picture: Bogdan Kilich, © Office for a Democratic Belarus

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