U.S. Missile Defense Reversal Frustrates Polish Leaders

Polish leaders have been publicly expressing their frustration with the Obama administration's decision to cancel plans to deploy missile defense systems in Europe, the Los Angeles Times reported today (see GSN, Sept. 21).

Washington said that a fresh look at developing Iranian missile capabilities led to cancellation of the Bush administration plan to field 10 missile interceptors in Poland and a radar installation in the Czech Republic. The United States now intends to establish a system, focused on sea- and land-based versions of the Standard Missile 3, to counter threats from Iran's short- and medium-range weapons.

Warsaw fears that the reversal was meant as a sop to Russia, which loudly opposed the previous missile shield plan and which continues to have a tense relationship with its former satellite state.

"It is time now for a mature look, stripped of illusions, at our possibilities and our future," Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said last week in an interview with the Rzeczpospolita newspaper. "I think today we all know that if we are to look to somebody, we have to look to ourselves."

Officials also said that word of the U.S. decision was out before they received formal notice.

"We heard first from the media," said Witold Waszczykowski, deputy chief of the Polish national security bureau.

Warsaw had been told only a few days earlier that the Obama administration was still considering the matter. When it came time for official contact, an angry Prime Minister Donald Tusk would not speak by telephone with President Barack Obama.

"Is it appeasement toward Russia? Is it pragmatism? Is it transactional?" Waszczykowski said.

Washington appears flummoxed by the reaction from Warsaw, and hopes to move forward with talks in fielding SM-3 interceptors and a Patriot battery in Poland. Polish officials had sought permanent deployment of the Patriot system as part of the deal for accepting the missile interceptors.

"It's not appropriate for me, as American ambassador, to say the people I work for didn't do something appropriately. And I'm not going to say that," said Victor Ashe, who is preparing to leave his post as U.S. envoy to Poland. "What happened happened."

U.S. officials denied that the decision on the missile shield was connected to its effort to "reset" relations with Moscow, Waszczykowski said.

"We were pushing: 'It looks like you made a deal,'" he said. "They said, 'No, it's not the case.' The message was, we have to wait."

Russia is still widely seen as a looming threat in Poland, the Times reported.

"People don't understand. They say it's a phobia, and it is a phobia, but it's a phobia based on experience," said Zbigniew Lewicki, head of American Studies at Warsaw University. "Nobody is worried that Russian soldiers will come marching now, but in 10 years, in 20 years? Russia wants to dominate the world as much as possible, and they have not given up on this part of the world. They still think it belongs to them" (Megan Stack, Los Angeles Times, Sept. 29).

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Friday that he no longer plans to deploy short-range missiles near Poland, Gazeta.Ru reported.

The Kremlin had threatened to place Iskander missiles in its Kaliningrad region if the United States moved forward with the European missile shield.

"When I announced this decision, I said it was a reaction to the creation of a third positioning system," Medvedev said while attending the Group of 20 summit in Pittsburgh. "Now that this decision was scrapped, I will make a decision not to deploy Iskanders in the appropriate region of our country" (Ilya Azar, Gazeta.Ru, Sept. 28).

September 29, 2009
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Polish leaders have been publicly expressing their frustration with the Obama administration's decision to cancel plans to deploy missile defense systems in Europe, the Los Angeles Times reported today (see GSN, Sept. 21).