News / Europe

US Missile Defense Plan Goes Ahead Without Czech Support

In this Thursday, April 14, 2011 photo released by the Missile Defense Agency, a Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) is launched from the USS O’Kane in a joint Missile Defense Agency and U.S. Navy test conducted at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii.
In this Thursday, April 14, 2011 photo released by the Missile Defense Agency, a Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) is launched from the USS O’Kane in a joint Missile Defense Agency and U.S. Navy test conducted at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii.

The Czech Republic has decided not to participate in the U.S. ballistic missile system for Europe. Our correspondent looks at the U.S. proposal and describes the reasons for the Czech withdrawal.

The United States’ plan for a ballistic missile defense system in Europe has gone through several changes over the past few years.  

The original Bush administration proposal called for deploying 10 missile interceptors in Poland and a radar facility in the Czech Republic. That project addressed Iran’s long-range ballistic missile threat.

But the Obama administration took a different view. U.S. officials said the threat comes from Iran’s short and medium-range weapons. And so in September 2009, President Barack Obama cancelled the Bush plan, opting for what experts describe as a more adaptable approach.

The new proposal involves putting SM-3 ground-based interceptors in Poland by 2015 and in Romania by 2018. These are still being developed. Analysts say SM-3 missiles are already aboard U.S. navy ships, giving the Obama plan a flexibility the Bush proposal did not have.

Experts say officials in the Czech Republic last month reacted negatively to the Obama plan since they were looking forward to the radar facility called for in the Bush plan.

“When the Obama administration shelved plans for deploying that system, that meant that this major radar site in the Czech Republic, which was controversial within the Czech Republic, there was a lot of public opposition to this, when this system was shelved, it meant that the radar was not going to be built. Instead the Obama administration has proposed a lesser role for the Czech Republic - and in response, Czech officials were disappointed and some parliamentarians were quoted as saying they were offered a consolation prize and they didn’t want it,” said Daryl Kimball, the head of the Arms Control Association, a private research firm.

Marko Papic, analyst with STRATFOR, a private intelligence firm, describes the so-called consolation prize.

“In the revamped plan, the Czech Republic was going to receive basically a computer room - a room full of computers - whose funding would be about $2 million, instead of a giant X-band radar that cost about $100 million," said Papic."So Prague simply decided that the reward was not worth the domestic risk and decided to pull the plug.”

Papic says in essence, the United States threw a bone to Czech officials.

“It’s an early-warning system," added Papic. "And there is absolutely no reason - technological, engineering or really any reason - for it to be outside the United States. It could be in the Pentagon.”

Russia has consistently opposed U.S. plans for a ballistic missile defense system in Europe. Moscow does not believe that the goal is to defend against missile attacks from such countries as Iran. Russian officials see it as aimed against Moscow - a charge denied by the United States.

Conversely, many former Warsaw Pact nations still see Moscow as a menace. But not - says Papic - the Czech Republic.

“The Czech Republic is one of the central and east European countries that doesn’t feel the same sort of threat, same sort of existential threat from Russia that, for example, Romania and Poland may feel," continued Papic. "And this is because ultimately the Czech Republic is behind the Carpathian and Tatra mountains and doesn’t sit bordering the Russian periphery, and it has buffers of its own.

"So it has always been a little bit of an elective, a little bit of a luxury commitment to the BMD [ballistic missile defense] project. It was never really about deep core Czech national interests,” he said.

Many experts, including Daryl Kimball with the Arms Control Association, say the Czech decision was irresponsible. They say the stationing of missile defense components is not a matter of prestige, but of necessity - to make sure countries are adequately defended against potential missile attacks from rogue states.

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