Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The missile defense saga

The never-ending missile story continues:

On April 1, news floated that the Polish government had reduced its demands on what Poland would get in exchange for agreeing to construct the elements of the US anti-missile shield on its territory. April Fool! These claims were repeatedly rejected by the head of the parliamentary club of Civic Platform (PO), Mr Zbigniew Chlebowski, who said that the conditions of the Polish party remain unchanged. However, Polish Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski indicated that an agreement could be reached by spring. So the saga continues.

The Czechs seems to be some steps ahead: Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zuzana Opletalova announced on Monday that a problem concerning environmental issues had been solved after the U.S. side agreed that Czech environmental standards, not American, would apply to the U.S. military presence in the Brdy military district, some 90 kilometers southwest of Prague. The daily Hospodarske noviny (HN) even wrote that an agreement between the United States and the Czech Republic on the stationing of a U.S. radar base on Czech soil may be symbolically signed on May 5, the anniversary day of the Prague anti-Nazi uprising at the end of war in 1945. The HN continues that the negotiations on the main treaty on the radar should be completed by the Bucharest NATO summit, but it will be ready for signature at the turn of April and May at the earliest. The main treaty might even be signed already on April 28 when Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg is to visit the United States. This view is shared by the United States. John Rood, the U.S. State Department's undersecretary for arms control and international security, said that negotiations could be wrapped up within days "with a final burst of activity.”

Polish and Czech officials have indicated they would like to receive formal NATO approval of the planned U.S. BMD deployments in the hopes that this endorsement would increase popular support for hosting the systems. These expectations are shared by the United States. Daniel Fried, U.S.-Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, stated that Washington expects that at the Bucharest Summit, NATO will take further steps to acknowledge growing missile threats, welcome U.S. contributions to the defense of Alliance territory, and task further work in strengthening NATO’s defenses against these new threats. Richard Weitz comments in his article in the forthcoming April issue of WMDInsights:

Nevertheless, it remains unclear whether Fried’s arguments, as well as other U.S. reassurances, will overcome allied uncertainties in time for the Bucharest summit. These doubts invariably increase Allied reluctance to commit to a short-range BMD system whose purpose would be to supplement longer-range systems that might not be deployed.

In any case, some Allied governments do not yet consider missile defenses optimal for meeting contemporary and emerging threats to NATO.

Common concerns include continuing reservations about the technical capabilities of the planned systems; a belief that threats of retaliation will deter any attack against NATO, making defenses unnecessary; an expectation that diplomatic or economic instruments will suffice to avert the advent of an Iranian missile threat to Europe; and worries about further damaging Russian-NATO relations over this issue.
NATO has not only the role of an bystander. NTI reported last week that the alliance is expected to establish a theater missile defense system by 2010. The system would augment the U.S. elements and provide defense against short- and medium-range missiles. According to the Newswire, the NATO shield would have some level of combat ability by 2010 and be fully activated by 2015.

Over the weekend Bush and Putin will meet at Sochi, in between to discuss the questions corning the envisaged two European missile defense bases. Currently the United States is waiting for
Moscow to react to the written proposal made by the U.S. two weeks ago.

Even though much is going on at the moment, somehow it is still the same: nothing is cast in stone yet and we had these close-to-an-agreement moments already before.

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