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"No one can solve this problem alone, but together we can change things for the better." 

– Setsuko Thurlow
Hiroshima Survivor
June 6, 2016
Europeans Split Over U.S. Missile Defense Plans
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Oliver Meier

European countries are divided over a recent U.S. offer to begin negotiations with Poland and the Czech Republic on basing components of a U.S. anti-missile system on their territories. Washington has proposed building a radar for the system in the Brdy district in the Czech Republic and a site for 10 missile interceptors near Koszalin , Poland , to counter a potential threat from longer-range Iranian missiles aimed at the U.S. East Coast and parts of Europe . The proposal has stirred strong opposition from Russia . (See ACT, March 2007. )

Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek stated during a visit to Poland that “both countries will probably answer in the affirmative,” the British newspaper The Independent reported Feb. 20. Subsequently, Prague officially announced that it would begin talks. Some European governments and domestic critics, however, have attacked Warsaw and Prague for this initial positive reaction. NATO appears likely to discuss the issue at upcoming ministerial meetings.

Different Zones of Security

Some European leaders are concerned that the U.S. system would not be able to protect some EU and NATO members against such a threat because they are too close to Iran . According to a March 11 Financial Times report, a recent NATO study found that some southeastern European states would not be covered by the system, which attempts to intercept missiles as they travel through space. Stefan Fuele, Czech ambassador to NATO, told Agence France -Press March 14 that Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, and Turkey could not be protected because of the short distance between Southeast Europe and Iran. Lt. General Henry Obering, director of the Missile Defense Agency, during a March 15 briefing in Berlin confirmed that midcourse interceptors based in Poland would not be able to destroy missiles launched from Iran and aimed at parts of Southeast Europe . Obering stated that this region would have to be protected by separate systems that destroy incoming warheads in the terminal phases of their flight.

Many European governments are not willing to accept such different zones of security. NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer in a March 12 monthly video briefing, published on NATO's website, stated that although NATO will not “interfere” in bilateral discussions between the United States and the Czech Republic and Poland, he had the intention “to ensure that there are no ‘A-grade' and ‘B-grade' allies when it comes to security.”

The Role of NATO and the EU

Some European leaders also are concerned about NATO and the European Union being sidelined. Germany is the most forceful advocate for making the U.S. proposal a topic within NATO. Chancellor Angela Merkel in a March 13 interview with German TV station ZDF said that “ Germany prefers a solution within NATO and an open dialogue with Russia ” about U.S. missile defense plans. Alluding to a mandate given at the 2002 Prague NATO summit to examine options for addressing the increasing missile threat to alliance territory “consistent with the indivisibility of allied security,” Merkel argued that NATO missile defense should be “seen as a task for the alliance collectively.”

Currently, NATO is coordinating national efforts related only to tactical ballistic missile defense programs. In September 2006, NATO launched the Active Layered Theater Ballistic Missile Defense Program to protect troops in the field against short- and medium-range missiles. The program aims to create the infrastructure and command and control capabilities to permit various U.S. and European systems to work together. It is scheduled to have an initial operational capability by 2010 and to be fully operational by 2016. (See ACT , June 2005. )

A secret, 10,000-page feasibility study prepared for NATO's November 2006 summit in Riga, Latvia outlined options intended to protect NATO member states' territory and population centers against longer-range strategic missile threats. But the alliance's 26 member states could not agree to implement any of the options contained in the study. Instead, they mandated a follow-on study to assess the political and military implications of missile defense for the alliance.

One crucial question is whether the U.S. anti-ballistic missile defenses could be integrated into NATO, as German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung suggested March 2. Ted Whiteside, head of NATO's Weapons of Mass Destruction Center, told ISN Security Watch March 21 that such integration of command and control structures is conceivable and that NATO is already using an integrated command system for theater missile defense (TMD), applying predefined rules of engagement. “TMD should be the model for NATO's acquisition of a missile defense capability over the next few years,” Whiteside argued.

Washington is willing to brief allies and Russia on its plans but refuses to give NATO a say on its intentions for expanding ballistic missile defense to Europe . The United States sees its ballistic missile defense as a national program and wants to establish bases in Poland and the Czech Republic on the basis of bilateral agreements. Obering, in the March 15 briefing, argued that the European components of the missile defense system could complement current NATO anti-missile efforts. He said that U.S. missile defense components could become a national contribution toward an alliance-wide defense system against long-range missile threats if and when NATO decides to establish such a system. Obering was skeptical whether NATO members would be willing to pay the costs for such a system. Costs for the construction of the two bases, which would be assumed by Washington , are estimated to be at least at $3.5 billion. The NATO study is said to have estimated costs for a NATO-wide defense system, depending on coverage and technology, at $10 billion to $20 billion.

Nevertheless, it seems almost certain that NATO cannot avoid the issue. De Hoop Scheffer in his video message promised that U.S. missile defense plans would be discussed at NATO ministerial meetings later in the year, as well as at the April 26-27 informal meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Oslo . Norwegian Defense Minister Anne-Grete Strøm Erichsen told the newspaper Aftenposten on Feb. 22 that Norway 's basic position in the upcoming consultations would be “to oppose the type of missile defense the United States is planning.” Norway is “very skeptical,” Erichsen said, because it fears new arms races.

Some, like Luxembourg 's foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, would prefer to see the issue discussed within the EU, with the goal of developing a unified European position. “We must not again be caught between America and Russia ,” Asselborn warned March 12 in the German magazine Der Spiegel .

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in a March 18 commentary to the German weekly Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagzeitung (FASZ) stated that “neither NATO nor the EU must be divided over a necessary open debate.” Steinmeier alluded to European divisions over the U.S.-led 2003 invasion of Iraq and argued, “There is no ‘old' and ‘new' Europe , and no one should try to sow such seeds of discord for short-term gains.”

So far, there appears to be little willingness in Brussels to engage in discussions on a missile defense shield. “We are not as Europeans concerned to establish a mechanism of that type,” Javier Solana, the EU's high representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, told the Associated Press March 2. Even though the EU in December 2003 adopted a joint strategy that aimed for greater coherence among member states on security issues, Solana said that it “is for every country to decide” whether to cooperate with the United States on missile defense.

Fears of a New Arms Race

Behind the debate lie differences in how to react to Russia 's statement that the U.S. missile defense plans could lead Moscow to target Poland and the Czech Republic and prompt Russia 's withdrawal from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. (See ACT, March 2007. )

Russia 's strong statements appear to have backfired and strengthened the resolve of central European leaders who favor deployment of the U.S. system. Some in western Europe, however, fear a new arms race between the United States and Russia . French President Jacques Chirac warned during a March 9 press conference that “we must be very careful, as regards this project, not to encourage the creation of new dividing lines in Europe or the return to an obsolete order. To my mind, this project raises many questions to which thought will have to be given before responding.”

A French diplomat told Arms Control Today March 15, however, that not everyone in the French government was prepared to follow Chirac's line. The diplomat said that although some in Paris believe that the U.S. plans could divide Europe, others took a more fatalistic view, arguing that the United States would go ahead with the program anyway and that U.S. interceptors might protect France against ballistic missile threats.

The German government has taken a different tack. Steinmeier, in the FASZ op-ed, warned that “we cannot allow a missile defense system to be either a reason or a pretext for a new arms race.”

Outlook

The United States was hoping to conclude bilateral agreements with Poland and the Czech Republic this year in order to begin construction in 2008 and to have operational bases as early as 2011.

A Polish diplomat told Arms Control Today March 16 that he is still optimistic that the United States would be able to convince European allies of the need for a missile defense system. The diplomat argued that, had Europeans not ignored U.S. plans for developing a missile shield for such a long time, it might have been possible to find a solution to protect all of Europe. “Now, this is an American project, and one cannot expect it to cover all of Europe,” he stated.

The Polish government, however, is not unified in its support for missile defense. In the Swiss paper Neue Zürcher Zeitung Feb. 17, Vice Prime Minister Andrzej Lepper of the populist party Samoobrona, voiced sympathy for Russia 's concern and called for a referendum on the government's plans. The Polish diplomat confirmed to Arms Control Today that such a referendum was a possibility and stated that in any case the Polish parliament would have to vote on the plan. Fifty-five percent of Poles oppose the plan, according to a survey for the Warsaw-based Centre for Public Research.

The Polish government may already be trying to take the heat out of the debate. Polish Foreign Minister Anna Fotyga told the Russian news agency RIA Novosti Feb. 26 that “the negotiating process could last several years because of various technical, legislative, and other issues.” Fotyga remained opposed, however, to making the missile defense plans a European issue. “All I can say with certainty is that, during the discussions, we will prioritize Poland 's security and then the security of Europe and the world,” she said.

Czech Vice Prime Minister and Europe Minister Alexandr Vondra in a March 3 interview with the German paper Die Tageszeitung said that his government was open to a limited debate in NATO on missile defense plans but cautioned that Prague “will not ask Russia for permission” to build the radar site.

Ondrej Liska, chairman of the European Affairs Committee in the Czech parliament, told Arms Control Today March 21 that his Green Party would make its “support for the construction of a radar site on Czech territory conditional on consensus in the EU Council and the NATO Council on U.S. missile defense plans.” The Green Party is the junior partner in Prague 's current coalition government, which also includes Conservatives and Christian Democrats.

Liska, deputy head of the Green Party, said that NATO and the EU first have to agree on how real the threat is from ballistic missiles, whether defenses are capable of defending against such a possible threat, whether such a system could fuel new arms races, and whether missile defenses could have a negative impact on other, cooperative instruments to tackle proliferation. Opposition Social Democrats also said they would condition their support on an agreement within NATO on the missile defense plans.

According to recent polls, a majority of Czech citizens is opposed to building a U.S. missile radar in the country. Of the 72 citizens of the village of Trokavec , where the X-band radar facility is supposed to be built, 71 voted against the government's plan.

Should Poland or the Czech Republic decide to drop out of the project, the United States could consolidate both sites in one of the two countries. Bases could also be built in other countries. Ukraine , for example, has recently indicated some interest in participating in such a system. Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy reported March 19 that Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko was considering whether it should “join the countries that had missile defense plans.” The broadcast, which was translated by the BBC, also quoted Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych as saying that Kyiv was ready for talks and could bring space monitoring capabilities, shared jointly with Russia , into such a system. There has also been talk of basing radars for the missile defense system in the Caucasus, a suggestion that has triggered strong reactions from Moscow .

On Feb. 23, a spokesperson for the British government confirmed reports that London was involved in talks with Washington about the potential deployment of interceptors in the United Kingdom and that the government welcomes “plans to place further missile defense assets in Europe .” Obering confirmed that missile defense bases on British territory would improve the U.S. ability to intercept Russian ICBMs.

“If [the Russians] are concerned about us targeting their intercontinental ballistic missiles, I think that would be problematic from the [perspective of the United Kingdom] because I believe we probably could catch them from a UK launch site,” he told the Financial Times March 7. The United Kingdom already hosts a radar at Fylingdales, which feeds information to the U.S. missile defense system.