Dubious Security

The United States is installing a missile defense system in Poland. For starters, this will deepen the split in NATO even more than the Caucasus war was first thought to have done.

This has nothing to do with the war and the crisis in the Caucasus! That’s the interpretation being spread by Warsaw as Prime Minister Donald Tusk decides to allow construction of a missile defense shield on Polish soil. Negotiations to build the system have been going on since 2005. The former national conservative government under Jaroslav Kaczynski declared itself in near-total agreement with it despite deep divisions in the western alliance over the question.

After Tusk’s election victory, Poland raised the stakes in Washington, particularly regarding the significant amount of money Warsaw expected the U.S. to dedicate to the modernization of Poland’s military. The United States wasn’t prepared to spend even a fraction of what was requested.

Poland demanded its own new air defense missiles capable of defending against possible Russian attacks because Russia had already warned NATO, Washington and particularly Poland against the idea from its inception. The system was seen in Moscow as being directed against Russia rather than against “rogue states” as originally stated, and as a further attempt to surround Russia.

The next proof of Washington’s threat came when the United States declared its intention to bring Georgia and the Ukraine into NATO, something that was highly controversial even within NATO itself. In part, Poland gave the impression it hoped the attempt would fail because it didn’t want to add to any new dissention in Europe.

Besides ten interceptor missiles with multiple warheads in Poland, a radar control system is to be built in the Czech Republic. The general public there protested against the plan, saying it wanted neither to become a target for nuclear missiles from “rogue states” nor from Russia. A few weeks ago, however, the Prague government finally agreed to accept the radar umbrella.

In view of the background, it’s difficult to accept Donald Tusk’s Thursday announcement without putting it in the framework of the Georgian conflict. Hours earlier, chief negotiators on both sides reported agreement except for some “technical questions.” How details of the agreement will look and whether Washington suddenly gave in to Poland’s huge demands isn’t yet known. In any case, Patriot air defense missiles are already being stationed in Poland, something that was a part of Warsaw’s original conditions.

It was clear that Moscow would reject the notion that there was no connection between this and the crisis in Georgia, and that is exactly what happened. In any case, Poland’s President, Lech Kaczynski, was one of the heads of state who quickly declared solidarity with the Georgian government. Russia was outed as the aggressor in Georgia both by Poland and the Baltic states. A few days later, Tusk declared “the Rubicon has been crossed.” They were unified on the missile defense system question which was to be seen not as a political demonstration but as a demonstration against Moscow and in favor of a hard line in Washington. At least that was the intention.

With that decision, the split in NATO became instantly deeper. It wasn’t discovered that there was no consensus at all on the question of Russian policy until a NATO council meeting later in Brussels. In her discussions with Russian President Medvedev in Sochi, Angela Merkel emphasized the point that Russia’s participation in talks on the missile defense issue should continue despite the escalation in differences. She added that they had already progressed beyond that point. In contrast to the Iraq conflict, however, this time Germany and France aren’t the only members warning that a confrontation with Russia serves no good purpose and that cooperation was essential: Italy and Spain also took this view in Brussels.

Only Great Britain, the new central European members of the European Union and Washington opted for a tough line – although it’s not clear what that means. The Czech Republic, it was said in Brussels, acted as agitator in this contingent – something that came as no surprise. Now the missile defense decision has to be made. The White House claims the system will serve as a substantial addition to collective NATO security. That, however, wasn’t the consensus even before the Caucasus fighting. Those that supported the system did so more out of loyalty to Washington than out of any conviction that it increased security.

Now more than ever, skeptics will argue that the NATO rift will become even greater in this crisis unless a political consensus is sought. To Poland, which given its history with Russia lacks the power to reset its priorities, we say: as Europeans we can understand. That the administration in Washington now stokes the fires of a new Cold War and seeks to divide NATO members can only mean that those currently responsible have apparently learned nothing from the mistakes of the past several years.

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