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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » November 26, 2008
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What Future for Missile Shield?
November 26, 2008 By W.Ż.    
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The Polish-U.S. agreement of Aug. 20 on deploying an American interceptor missile base in Poland was presented to the public here as a major success of Warsaw's foreign policy. But commentators say this success may turn out to be short-lived because the new administration in Washington could still decide to scrap the project.

Gen. Henry Obering, head of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, said recently he would brief President-elect Barack Obama and his aides on the feasibility of the U.S. missile shield plan of which the Polish interceptor missile base would be part. The new U.S. administration has yet to decide whether or not it should go ahead with the project. Dennis McDonough, Obama's foreign policy adviser, has said the new administration has not dealt with the missile shield since Obama's talk with Polish President Lech Kaczyński a few days after the American election.

The talk mentioned by McDonough stirred much controversy in Poland. Directly after the talk Mariusz Handzlik, Kaczyński's advisor on foreign affairs, said Obama had told Kaczyński that the U.S. National Missile Defense program, as the missile shield project is officially called, would be continued. Piotr Kownacki, head of the Polish President's Office, confirmed the news. But then came an unprecedented denial from the Americans, and a few hours later Michał Kamiński, a minister at the Polish President's Office, admitted that, while talking to Kaczyński, Obama made no promise that the Polish-U.S. missile shield agreement would be carried out. Kaczyński's aides first put the blame for the misunderstanding on the interpreter and then quoted poor circulation of information at the President's Office as an excuse. No one was called to account.

Kaczyński said in late October that he would ratify the Polish-American agreement and that he would like the Polish parliament to approve the ratification law as soon as possible so that he could sign it. Commentators expect no ratification problems in the parliament because the only party opposed to it is the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) but it has no power to reject the ratification draft.

"Poland and the Czech Republic hope that the U.S. missile shield project in Eastern Europe will be continued," said Radosław Sikorski, the Polish foreign minister, while in Prague Nov. 14. After talks with his Czech counterpart Karel Schwarzenberg, Sikorski said he did not expect any change of heart in this area because Obama had told him that before making a decision he wanted to make sure the system is functional.

"Nothing stands in the way for the Americans to come to Redzikowo [the place in northern Poland where the U.S. base is to be built], even tomorrow, and start construction," said Zbigniew Chlebowski, head of the parliamentary group of the ruling Civic Platform party.

The international dispute over the missile shield reignited after Obama was elected. Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov warned that Russia would deploy its Iskander missile system in the Kaliningrad District close to Poland's northern border if the new U.S. administration decided to press ahead with the plan to build a missile base in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic. Moscow strengthened its opposition to the deployment of the U.S. missile defense system in Europe, despite numerous efforts the Americans had made to convince the Russians that the missile shield would not be targeted against Russia and that its objective was to counteract prospective threats from the Middle East, especially Iran.

Russia soon found allies in Western Europe, with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi calling the plan to deploy the missile shield in former Soviet satellite states an unnecessary provocation against Moscow. But most surprising were the words of French President Nicolas Sarkozy who said Nov. 14 after the summit between the European Union and Russia in Nice that the missile defense system in Europe "will not contribute in any way to improving European security and will only complicate the situation." A day later at a G-20 summit in Washington, Sarkozy toned down his position somewhat and said every country had the right to decide whether or not it wanted to have a missile shield deployed on its territory.

"This correction is quite typical of the French president's temperament," said Poland's Tusk, commenting on Sarkozy's statements in Nice and Washington. But a series of skeptical remarks by other European leaders about the missile shield, coupled with their warm words addressed to Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, who was treated in Nice almost like the EU's strategic partner and ally, was a cold shower for Polish politicians.

A statement from NATO put Polish politicians in a better mood. Carmen Romero, spokesperson for the Alliance, said Nov. 17 that NATO's position on the missile shield had not changed. At an April summit in Bucharest, Romania, the leaders of NATO countries, including Sarkozy, supported the deployment of parts of the missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic as "a contribution to protecting the European allies."
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