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Europe diary: Missile defence

31 May 2007

BBC Europe editor Mark Mardell on the US plan to bring missile defence to Europe, and the mixture of official enthusiasm and popular concern in the countries directly concerned - Poland and the Czech Republic.

The diary is published every Thursday. To see the latest edition, please click here.

STAR WARS SEQUEL

George Bush
The US president will have to stoop to meet minor opposition parties
President Bush is heading for Prague and Warsaw and when he arrives he'll be told by some that his diplomacy has been a fiasco. This time, they are not talking about Iraq. He'll hear of the Cold War and powder kegs, of the threat of popular votes and demonstrations that mean this visit will need hard negotiations as well as diplomatic niceties. The world's most powerful head of state will have to stoop to meet with leaders of the opposition and minor members of government coalitions. For while Ronald Reagan's Evil Empire was consigned to hell years ago, the sequel to his Star Wars scheme is very much alive.

US missile defence graphic

The Americans are keen to bring their Missile Defence System to Eastern Europe. It is a complex and ever evolving web of interlinked weapons and radar based on land, sea, air and in space. I am enough of a die-hard science fiction fan to understand the thrill produced by talk of energy beams that can melt the metal casing of an enemy missile hundreds of miles away. But I am not enough of a military expert to understand why the principle of "knock'em out before they hit you" is considered quite so revolutionary. As I remarked to one expert, "It's hardly rocket science," before he pointed out that is exactly what it is.

NON-STATE ACTORS

But you can gather some of the complexity of the system when you consider that the Missile Defence Agency, which spends around £5bn a year under the guidance of the reassuringly named Lieutenant General Henry A. Obering the Third, has on its website a list of acronyms for the systems involved that runs to 327 pages.

Lt Gen Obering
Ballistic defender: Lt Gen Henry A Obering III
It is intended to protect the "United States, our troops abroad, our allies, and our friends" from the danger of nuclear or biological weapons being fired by states like North Korea or Iran or what the Americans call "non-state actors". There's quite a lot doubt which friends and allies will be allowed under this sheltering umbrella, and particularly how much of Europe will be included. But the main opponent of the plan is very much a traditional state actor.

An actor, in fact, fed up with being again cast as the villain of the piece. Russia has just fired a new rocket from just outside Moscow to a target around 3,000 miles away. In case anyone hasn't got the message, defence chiefs issued a statement saying this missile, capable of being packed with 10 warheads, would break through any missile defence scheme. If anyone was left scratching their head at what the hidden message was, President Putin helpfully added that "stuffing Europe with weapons" would turn it into a "powder keg".

GOVERNMENTS V PEOPLE

The Polish government is not so much daunted as enthused by the Russians' ire. In fact it's mustard keen on getting not only the new missiles but even more than the Americans are willing to provide. Perhaps not surprisingly, in view of their history, the Poles are more worried about Russia than Iran, which they've made clear they don't see as much of a threat. In return for housing 10 "delivery systems" on its soil, Poland wants some old-fashioned Patriot missiles, which are rather good at dealing with incoming fire from places much near home, like, say, Russia.

Protesters' banner (Prague 26 May 2007)
Czech public opinion is not convinced
Some Polish politicians, including senior members of the ruling coalition, say there should be a referendum before anything like this happens. But there won't be, not least because the Polish people are nowhere near so keen on the idea as their government.

In the Czech Republic there is similar enthusiasm from the government and similar demands for a referendum, this time from the social democratic opposition. With about 68% against in opinion polls, the Czech people aren't likely to get much of a say either. More problematic is the opposition of the Greens, who are part of the government coalition. At the moment it's difficult to see how the Czech Parliament would vote for the American plan.

VILLAGE VOICES

The United States wants to move and upgrade a microwave radar system from its current home on the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site on a Pacific Island to a new home about 40 miles outside Prague. Preparations are already underway at a military area, which was once a Nazi base, then a concentration camp, before becoming home to Soviet troops. Locals aren't keen on any more foreign military personnel in their neck of the woods, although many stress they are not anti-American.

Voting in Trokavec
Villagers in Trokavec are worried about radiation and retaliation
Several villages have held referendums. In Trokavec it was 71 against, one for. In nearby Skorice it was 164 to one. These votes have no legal power but considerable political clout. The villagers say they are worried about the effects of X-band radiation as well as Russian retaliation. The Americans reply that X-band is just a fancy name for the sort of thing used in airport security systems and the ones on the Pacific atolls have been operating near two schools with no ill effect. When the snows come to Europe, I will feel duty bound to travel to the Pacific to investigate.

STICKING OUT

Perhaps oddly, it's not the environmental or safety factors that alarm the Czech Green Party. Their vice-chairman and foreign affairs expert, Ondrej Lisko, told me that it was the USA's failure to consult the people or involve Nato or the European Union that alarmed him. "The public diplomacy has been a complete fiasco. It's just playing with security, because in the 21st Century security has to be anchored in structures and alliances. The US should know by now that unilateralism has proved counter-productive".

There's a danger if we do this bilaterally, just the Czech Republic and the USA
Libor Roucek, Czech MEP
The leader of the Czech Social Democrats in the European Parliament, Libor Roucek, agrees. "Look at the risks and the dangers and it's clear we should do it together. There's a danger if we do this bilaterally, just the Czech Republic and the USA. We can't have two standards of protection in Europe."

President Bush may not find it too difficult to give Nato a greater role, although he might not like getting the European Union involved. But there are many in Poland and the Czech Republic who don't want their countries to risk the retaliation of Russia by sticking out alone. If it was missiles they were worried about, then it's hard to see how they could have any better or bigger friend than the States. But when it comes to a war of words they seem to want to know the rest of Europe is right behind them.

Please use the post form below to comment on any of the issues raised in the diary.


Putting in a missile defense system in Poland and other eastern European countries is pure madness... I fear for all of us because it will be age-old adversaries who will push the buttons to destruction, not the Iraqis, not the Iranians, not the Koreans. And we will have supplied the bombs....
Shelley, Fairfax USA

Each country has a right to defend itself. Russia is sending a strong message "don't mess with us" by testing and improving its new weapons. It is a normal response to a threat. How would America like it if Russia placed its nukes in Central America or Canada on a pretence that those missiles are meant to defend Russia from some African country? As far as the Poles and Czechs are concerned, those nations have always been under some foreign power: Germans, Austrians, Russians, and now Americans. It is time to be your own masters!!!
Russian, San Francisco, USA

As far the missile systems go, it's those countries' choices, America isn't forcing defensive missiles at these people. And for those of you that would argue this is about money, of course there is money exchange, but that doesn't mean America is making people partake in the program, unlike the military occupation Russia had in Eastern Europe and Berlin for a number of decades... Do you really think a couple of defensive missile stations in Eastern Europe are there to pose a threat to Russia, who has thousands of nuclear warheads? I 100% agree that the United States hasn't done everything right, we've had a great deck of cards and have still shown some poor hands, but guess what, we're in Iraq right now, and leaving it will just cause more deaths. Believe it or not, most US soldiers that joined the army are trying to make a positive difference in Iraq. Regardless of President Bush's reasons for going into Iraq, we are there, and it's our (America's) responsibility to help as much as we can.
Brian, Austin, United States

Big, big, big mistake on the US part. The end of a so-called unipolar world may be more brutal than originally anticipated. Disobeying international law and common sense will lead to nothing short of destruction. This time for good.
Ivan Krivohurov, Manassas, VA, USA

Russia seems to have no problem "stuffing" the Middle East with its own weapons - from AK-47s in the hands of militants to surface-to-air missiles surrounding Iranian nuclear sites. Funny how cross they get when given a dose of their own medicine.
Christopher L., Edison NJ, USA

More important than the system is the fact that the Russian bear is (again) waking up. Certainly shivers must be going down the Czech and Polish spines. Deep-down, they know that the western EU states will eventually sell them out for Russian natural gas and oil.
Chris, San Francisco, CA USA

The US government was much worried about the Soviet Installations in Cuba in the past than the ordinary americans were.Therefore the russian gov't must do everything possible to stop such a similar but more perilous installtions closed to its territories.
Charles, Helsinki

The X[band raadar on my sailboatonly had a 1.2 KW power and a range of 16 nautical miles but there was a notice not to stand directly in the path of its rays. Those radars to be installed in the Czech republic will hav e at least one thousand times more power so I woder what the effect will be on the surrounding population As far as the effrectiveness of that system, I find it interesting that when North Korea fired a long distance missile, the "Star Wars" command did not fire an interceptor missile (it would have been a good way to prove the validity of the system). Did they really know the North Korean shot was going to be a dud or did they know their own firing would be one ?
john s, brussels belgium

It's obvious that some new EU states (their leaders) would do anything to provoke Russia just out of revenge for the communist past. And U.S. just using that. Russia has no option but to respond
Ross, Moscow, Russia

Whether we like it or not, US would continue to take aggressive steps to maximize its influence and cut down risks of any remote possibility of attack on itself or its interests. All this at the cost of any other country's expense. Correct! We are living in 21st century but Might is still very much Right.
Omar, Pakistan

I my opinion, missiles that will be placed in Czech Rep. and Poland what can only do is to destroy europian society. I`m sure, Europe and Russia are a single whole and if Russia and Europe deside to have such system, so we can do it together using russian and european technolgies to protect our countries. All russians want to have only friendy relationships with our west and east european partners. Good luck to all us in opposition to U.S. conquerors:)
Dmitry, Moscow, Russia

The only thing that will result from operating the system is the world instability and not the safe Europe the people in Washington are talking about. Also the idea of democracy so enthusiastically advocated by the U.S. is going to be undermined further as it is actively encouraging the Polish and Czech governments to ignore the will of their own people... It is time for the people in Poland and Czech Republic to defend the democracy they have been waiting for so long!
Anton, Russia / U.K.

If Russia wanted to fire a missile at USA, it would go over the Arctic, Canada, or Alaska. Not launched for European interception. Why waste fuel to fly it over Europe? If any rogue states wanted to fire a missile, the best bet would be from North Korea, China, or Japan. For a USA system that hasn't showed a success rate of over 10% since V1 rockets started in WWII, I wouldn't be too worried about using it for a main source of missile defense. Any major attack would launch multiple missile to counter any interception anyway.
Brad, Canada

The EU should review those countries memberships for allowing an offensive system onto european soil If they decide to allow it go ahead. Come on fellow euros have we not learned from two world wars on home soil ? We are been used as puppets for greedy american weapons manufactures.
john, dublin

Yisambi, Tanzania wrote: Why can this missile defence system not be installed in Japan and Israel as they are both closer to the rogue states North korea & Iran. You cannot destroy a missile immediately after its launch. Firstly, you need time to prepare your own counter-measure. Secondly, the launched missile needs to attain a stable trajectory - otherwise how can you tell where it is heading. Do Iran and North Korea have any transcontinental ballistic missiles? If not, who is the system really designed to counter? China?
nemeczek, Columbus, USA

It is interesting that the USSR, oops I mean Russia, fielded the new ICBM so quickly. A single ICBM that carries enough warheads to overwhelm the planned anti missile base planned for east Europe. How can anyone honestly think that Russia is the target for these defensive missiles. I would think that that had some logic if there were hundreds of missiles being planned, but 10???? Or did Russia dismantle all their ICBM over that past few years?
Bill, Dallas

I believe Russians are the smartest people in the entire world when it comes to missile technology. Look at the simple RPG 29 ATGM built in 1980s can penetrate and destroy Israels latest and 21st centuary Merkava IV Tank in Hezbollah. Just think about that. Poles and Czecks should know from now onwards that there no capitalist minded nation gives but takes. USA doesnt care whether you get wiped out. These two countries should take courage and ask USA to plant these missile in Iraq which they conrol now and its near Iran or fix them in Israel. But they will say no to your suggestions because they dont want Israel to be a target of a nuclear attack which wipe it out.
Charles, Toronto, Canada

Any new war with Russia would not be nuclear at first. It would involve a conventional invasion of the eastern states. Over running the interceptor sites and leading to the question ¿Do I launch now¿ being asked in the US long before Western European forces have had a chance to responded and stop the Russians. At least at the moment the US does not have the option of striking without reduced repercussions. It is dangerous for Western Europe and as such I am not surprised at the amount of discontent.
David, Guildford

Please remember that President Bush is an embarrassing national joke and will always be remembered as our worst president ever. This is a political ploy to create a new crisis to distract the world from his laundry list of failures. Positioning the MDS in Poland clearly aims it at Russia, which is unnecessary. Shooting one missile that can defeat the system is simple and elegant. America needs to focus on strengthening its borders because terrorists deliver their weapons with suicide bombers, not missiles.
Philip, Cleveland, Ohio, USA

Poland has to rule out any possibility of Russian interference, be it political or economic.The latter(energy supplies for example)is used by Putin as common weapon. There isn't a month without bullying or hostile speeches by Mr Putin,who is quite rightly trying to rebuild the power of his nation,but the problem is he chose methods taken from the first half of the XX century. Poland(and the rest of Europe)needs to protect herself from this and, since our European 'allies' show lame approach as usual, we must bring Americans to the table. And to be honest, does anybody really believe that somebody is going to shoot someone? Having this system built or not nuclear war can happen at any time anywhere on this planet, it is all about these 'other' effects.
Pawel, Warsaw, Poland

If we were to consider the actual use of this missile defence system in the east of europe it is pretty much useless as a defence system against Russia and as for threats from the middle east such as Iran they dont even have the capabilities.for example if Russia was to launch an all out missile attach whether is be a stratagic missile launches or nuclear; ten base launch platforms in Poland would not be able to cope with the sheer number of launched attack missiles. Its a waste of money and it only acts as an inflamatory situation which has the potential to destablise the whole european continent.Anyway should a defence shield that is ment to protect Europe and the US mean that the rest of europe also should have a say?
Dave, Dublin Ireland

The case for the need for this Missle Defence base in Poland and Czech Republis, to protect against Iran and North Korea missles, is at best absurd. 1. If the threat from North Korea or Iran is that real from a Nuclear missle, go place this missle base in South Korea and Saudi Arabia, Qatar where US already has bases. Why Poland and Czech.?. This is really to antagonize the Russians!. If the US can't be honest about this, then Poland/Czech are just fools to even accept these bases. 2. Imagine if the base was installed in Poland/Czech and a nuclear missle was intercepted, trust me it won't be New Yorker's soaking debris and radiation but the Polish, Czech and other Europeans... What a con job going on here by the US. Wake up Europe.. think!!!
Antonio, Rome

Putin has proven many times what his intentions are if it comes to energy. If he wants to play that way, then he has to expect such threats. I'm not a supporter of US proposal, but from the political point of view this conflict can be resolved very quickly. Putin has two options: 1. Allow eastern europe to have additional energy source from mid-east, 2. Watch his enemy deploying defense system right the next door.
Adam, Krakow, Poland

It's obvious that the system is useless. Russia has about 2000 nuclear warheads. If I remember, there will be installed about 10 interceptors. Let's say that each interceptor can fire 2-3 missiles (i think that is just 1, but let's say more). So they can bring down in a shot about 20-30 missiles. But remember, each missile, like SS-27 can carry up to 10 warheads (decoys also) and can also change its trajectory to avoid interception. And that is if we have 100% success. Practically, the system is useless, but unfortunately the russians use it to justify their missile improve/deployment.
Me, Romania

Jesus, guys! I cannot believe my eyes while reading your reactions. This is a DEFENSIVE system. We are just trying to protect ourselves and when I hear from Russians daily about new ICBMs and their willingness to threat other sovereign nations by nuclear attacks .. well, i personally see this protection as highly needed. Some Maltian guy above said, Czechs and Poles should be expeled from EU. Well :) .. what can i say about it. Maybe we should rather expel France, Germany or Greece for not respecting many aspects of EU law rather than nations that are exercising sovereign diplomacy. Foreign affairs are still the matter of NATIONAL governments and foreign policy cooperation is based on the INTERGOVERNMENTAL ground; that means no supranational board or other nations have the legal right to interfere. This IS our internal affair. Maybe it is risky, but I'm not going to live under the Russian influence any more as my parents and grandparents did. Think about it, Maltian guy. You are the lucky country which is not situated next to the expansive nuclear country. Unfortunately we are not.
Michal, Czech Republic

Dear Czechs please do not repeat your mistakes. I remember the placards on May parades in 60's which said. "With Soviet Union for ever". Will it be now "With USA for Ever"? Don't forget you are Europeans first. So you should move in lock step with Europe on this one. Forget even NATO the sole purpose of which is to keep USA ingaged in European affairs and directed against Russia. As for Poland recognizing they have a historic agenda against Russia I would like to remind them that Poland in concert with Lithuania waged war on Russia in fact they even burned Moscow down. And they should also remember General Pilszucky's Polish invasion of Belarus and Ukraine then part of Soviet Union. So it goes both ways. And finally remember that for each weapon system USA could concoct over the years Russia had an answer. And you "little" Nations will be sitting ducks.
Thomas, Ontario, Canada

There's an old saying that goes, "If you want peace, prepare for war" and this is exactly what both the US and Russia are doing. As the US has said many times, the missile shield will not be able to prevent Russian missiles. Russia still thinks this is a threat, so they have now stated that they have successfully tested missles that could penetrate this shield. Sounds like both sides still have their deterrent, however now the Iranians will have a new obstacle to overcome. Well, I guess that is until Russia sells them some of their new missles. Then the US will have to come up with new technology and the cycle will repeat. If you want the US to stop building up it's military presence around the world, try telling countries that sell weapons, to rogue states to stop.
Bryan, USA, New York

This is the height of all anti-Americanism. The fundamental questions are: Does Iran and North Korea Pose a threat? Yes Does this defense mechanism pose a threat to Russia? No Russia and all other liberal hippies should get a new life and stop day dreaming about the reality of our unsafe world. It's ridiculous how people call on a referendum on secuurity issues! Maybe the recalcitrant Iranians and North Koreans do vote aswell!
Josh G, New York, USA

If these systems don't go in it will be of no importance to the safety of the US. The systems will just be placed in US territories and in the US itself. Placing them so close to Russia would be useless if we intented to use them against Russia because a land force could take them over so easily. They are placed their to help prevent attacks on Europe by rouge nations, that currently do not even have the ability to reach the US with a missle. The EU needs to ask itself whether a bit more security is worth the extra tension created with Russia.
Tom, Mass, USA

Missile Defense is by definition, bad logic and bad policy. Why would people want to spend a fortune on what they do not wish to ever use? Why lock up all of that money, all of those resources, use so much land, devote so many minds towards a dead end of our civilization? Missile Defense is a long-term investment in fear, insecurity, strife and mistrust. Missile Defense is time an resources and intention taken away from a wholehearted effort to make our world a good place. Being peaceable and forthcoming towards other nations costs little. Concessions made in negotiating trade, borders, laws, all other disputes are infinitely less painful when made during peace than burning people in the hell of war. People can be proud and hold their heads high in a world they worked to make a good place.
C. Thomson, Massachusetts, U.S.A.

The timing of Star Wars 2.0 is even more flawed than the reasoning behind it. The US economy and currency continues to falter, and at the same time we are running up a dangerous debt to China in order to pay for a failing war. World opinion of the US at a historical low, terrorism flourishes as the amount anti-American rhetoric grows; one would think the obvious decision would be to do some damage control at home and with the rest of the world rather than trying to force through another widely unpopular military initiative. A more effective preventative measure would be to remedy the real cause of terrorism: our failed foreign policy.
Julien, Texas, USA

I always love US with all my heart, because of the good things the United States has done in Africa, Asia, Europe, and South American. I think US has now gone too far with the idea that ¿they are the protectors of the world.¿ World peace does not come with military power. Building Missile Defense System in Eastern Europe will protect nobody; rather it is threat against Russian security. Russia is the only power in Europe that can stand US. Russia has veto power in the Security Council, and has the right to defense their country when threaten. Russia may have bad and hidden intention, but they have not threat any countries security. In addition, everybody knows Russia support Iran, but because of the Security Council, Russia is limited in support to Iran. Building Missile Defense System in Eastern Europe will force Russia to provide nuclear warheads missile to Iran and pretend they know nothing about it. The world need peace not war, for a single mistake will trigger World War III. Iran will be the country to trigger this war. US should be very careful with their Missile Defense System in Eastern Europe. Why? They are lot questions that need to be answered.
Seth Bortey, Jonesboro, Arkansas United States

I am so tired of hearing about how America is responsible for all the problems in the world. This article was actually about a missile defense system that could help save many lives. It was designed, developed and paid for by America. It may not be a great system yet but neither was the first airplane. Hey smart guys! You have to start somewhere with technology! I guess we could always take the European way by sticking our head in the sand and doing nothing. Hopefully the bad things in our life will magically go away and the pretty unicorn that we always wanted as a child will appear in its place! My comment to all of you is that wars will continue. The US did not invent them and they will continue long after we are gone. It made my stomach turn as I read these anti-american emails. To think my grandfather died fighting in Belgium in another stupid European war and now I see his sacrifice was a waste. Europe has not learned anything. If you are not prepared for war you will die period. If you don¿t want the missile system I support that whole heartedly. It will make me smile not sending more of my tax dollars going to Europe. However the one thing I am sure of is when there is another crisis in Europe or Canada these same people screaming about America now will be the same screaming for our help AGAIN. I say to hell with Belgium, Canada or any other country who makes it their national past time blaming the US for all the world's problems. I say let¿s do nothing and let them get what they ask for and when the phone rings asking for our help again lets not be at home.
John, Baltimore, USA

Every country that has the power is ruling over the world.It has alwazs been like that, from the ancient Greeks to the Romans, nowadays it's the US and in the nearby future it will probably be he Chinese. I am without dispute against this whole missile thing. Hopefully Europe will stand out against the US.
Simon V., Munich, GERMANY

It's simple. If you think America entered the war with iraq to free it from Saddam, you are Wrong! If you think it was to disarm iraq from nuclear/chemical weapons, you are Wrong! By the way, do you think the world is now a better and safer place than the world before the invasion? Have Iraqis more freedom than back then? If you think America is trying to defend itself and its allies or just trying to wake the sleeping dragon in Russia by deploying missile defence system, you're wrong yet again. As many of these wise people who have left comments before me said, its pure money! American foreign policy is simply dictated by the weapon industry. They made billions to supply Bush Junior with the weapons to "free" iraq. But they are too greedy to stop. They just need only another gazillion to feel satisfied and feed their families.
Asic, Durham, US

I have a few comments about this issue. I as an American Citizen have no worries concerning Russia. I do think that there should be some form of defense against the middle east. However, If you all would like to worry and waste your time worrying about the Europeans and Russians and how it will make this one feel or that one feel...then go for it. We, Americans and our cousins in Europe and Russia should be on better terms with one another. We, Americans are in a sense the Bastard children of Europe, that just so happens to be the last standing Super Power. I am happy to support our cousins in Europe and Russia...but my concern lies more with the middle east and how to get the USA out of this conundrum that our foolish President has gotten us into. Please dont hold it against the citizens that our leaders dont seem to have good common courtesy.
Anthony Bush, Lexington, United States

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