Officials in Poland and the Czech Republic are worried that U.S. President Barack Obama might turn away from the Bush administration's plan to deploy missile defense bases in the two European nations, the Associated Press reported yesterday (see GSN, Feb. 13).
Warsaw and Prague increased tensions with Russia by agreeing to host the missile shield systems, which Moscow sees as a threat to its strategic security. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev last year went so far as to threaten to deploy short-range missiles near the Polish border if the U.S. plan moved ahead.
Obama has expressed reservations about the European plan, which former President George W. Bush said was necessary to counter a growing Iranian missile threat, but has not said formally whether it would advance. Its elimination would be viewed in Eastern Europe as a significant rollback aimed at improving U.S.-Russian relations and possibly even a sop to Moscow's authority in the region, according to AP.
"A lot of people put a stake in this project and they will feel disappointed -- even betrayed" if it is pushed aside, said Andrzej Jodkowski, who leads the Polish office of the U.S.-based Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance.
The issue is likely to be raised at a meeting beginning today in Poland of NATO defense ministers, including U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
"We Poles are most interested in whether the commitments the U.S. signed with us last year -- the deal about a missile defense installation in Poland -- will be kept," said Polish Defense Minister Bogdan Klich. "I hope that will happen ... and that the installation will be placed in Poland."
The Obama administration is not likely to forget its Polish and Czech allies even if it decides against the European missile shield, said Andrew Kuchins, head of the Russia and Eurasia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Washington would ensure that Prague and Warsaw "save face," possibly by moving ahead with the benefits pledged by the Bush administration in the missile defense agreements.
The Czech Republic was to receive increased scientific cooperation with the United States, while Poland anticipated U.S. support for military modernization and provision of Patriot missile defenses.
"I would be surprised if the Obama administration simply walked away from the agreements reached in the past year with Poland and the Czech Republic," Kuchins said. "In international relations, credibility and trust are important" (Vanessa Gera, Associated Press/The State, Feb. 18).