The Bush administration is making progress in negotiating with the Czech Republic and Poland to host controversial U.S. strategic anti-ballistic missile systems. A final deal, however, seems much closer with the Czech Republic than Poland, which is making greater demands on the United States.
U.S. talks with the two governments to station missile defense components on their territories date back at least four years (see ACT, July/August 2004), but official negotiations began early last year. At that time, Bush administration officials predicted the talks might only take months and U.S. site construction could start as early as this year. Now, early next year is the soonest construction may start, pending agreements with the two countries and funding from Congress. In its February budget request for fiscal year 2009, which begins Oct. 1, the Bush administration asked lawmakers for $719 million to fund the project after Congress cut spending last year that would have gone toward construction activities. (See ACT, March 2008 .)
The U.S. proposal aims to deploy 10 long-range missile interceptors in Poland and an advanced missile tracking radar in the Czech Republic to counter what the United States asserts is a growing Iranian missile threat. The Missile Defense Agency has projected that Iran could develop an ICBM able to strike the United States by 2015, while Vice President Dick Cheney March 11 gave a longer estimate of “late in the next decade.”
Polish officials have indicated that Iran is not a significant factor in their willingness to explore hosting the U.S. interceptors, which are a modified and untested version of U.S. systems deployed in Alaska and California. Speaking Jan. 31 in Washington, Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski said that his country “does not feel directly threatened by Iran.”
One motivation behind Poland’s interest in the project is the belief that it will bolster ties with the United States. Sikorski argued that hosting the U.S. base “will make [U.S. and Polish] security mutually dependent for decades.”
Poland also sees the initiative as opening the door to additional U.S. weapons and military assistance. Visiting President George W. Bush March 10, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk noted that the “missile defense system and the modernization of the Polish forces…come in one package.” Bush promised Tusk that the United States would develop a “concrete and tangible” modernization plan for Poland “before my watch is over.”
Determining precisely what U.S. arms will be made available to Poland is a crucial issue in the U.S.-Polish negotiations. Michael Wyganowski, a former Polish diplomat and current executive director of the Washington-based Center for European Policy Analysis, told Arms Control Today March 20 that “what goodies the [United States] is willing to provide” will be important to Tusk’s ability to sell any outcome as a success to the Polish electorate.
Ambassador Stephen Mull, acting assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, is leading a U.S. assessment of Polish military modernization requirements. The study reportedly will take at least three months. Visiting Poland Feb. 29, Mull said the two sides will focus on “Poland’s air defense, command and control, and mobility needs.” The costs of any new Polish weapons procurement is expected to fall largely on Poland.
Moscow’s threat to target the planned bases is helping spur Warsaw’s interest in improving its air defenses, including the possible acquisition of shorter-range U.S. anti-missile systems. Russia maintains the proposed U.S. systems are secretly intended for use against it.
Poland has urged the Bush administration to sooth Russian anxieties about the project, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates visited Moscow March 17 and 18 with that purpose (see page 33 ). They reiterated past U.S. proposals intended to ease Russian concerns, which include allowing Russian officials to monitor or visit the sites. One reported option is to permit designated officials at the Russian embassies in the two host countries to conduct short-notice inspections of the bases. Gates and Rice stressed that the host government would have to consent to any such arrangement, reflecting Czech and Polish unease with the notion of a Russian presence at military sites within their borders.
Although a Polish-U.S. agreement could take several months to materialize, talks with the Czech Republic seemingly are nearer completion. Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon’s press secretary, noted March 10 that it generally had been expected that an agreement would be announced Feb. 27 when Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek visited Washington.
During that visit, however, Topolánek said the two sides were stuck on “three words” related to “environmental protection.” Yet, he downplayed the disagreement as a “technical matter, which is going to be resolved very soon.” A Czech diplomatic source March 18 told Arms Control Today that a “common understanding” exists and all that is required is a “specific formulation.”
The diplomatic source further stated that Prague and Washington are close on both an agreement to host the U.S. base and a separate Status of Forces Agreement, which establishes the legal status of U.S. forces and property stationed in a foreign country. Poland also is negotiating two similar instruments with the United States. The diplomatic source indicated that the Czech Republic “will most probably not” link signing its agreements to the status of U.S.-Polish talks.
Both the Czech and Polish governments would prefer to have NATO’s endorsement of the project, but neither country is making that a precondition of concluding agreements with the United States. The 26-member alliance conducted an extensive study assessing the feasibility of protecting all members’ territories and population centers against long-range missile attacks but could not agree in 2006 on pursuing any strategic anti-missile systems. (See ACT, April 2007 .) NATO members are divided over the general issue, as well as the proposed U.S. system, and it is expected to be a point of discussion at NATO’s April 2-4 Bucharest summit.
In a report on the fiscal year 2008 defense authorization bill, signed into law Jan. 28, lawmakers stressed that NATO should play a “central role” in European missile defenses and urged that any long-range U.S. system located there should be compatible with future NATO systems. That law requires the secretary of defense to certify that any long-range interceptors destined for deployment in Europe have passed operationally realistic flight testing. It also orders an independent study of alternatives to the Bush plan. The report is due to Congress near the end of July.