Biden suggests US missile defence will go ahead if key conditions met


Recent days have seen increased uncertainty on the future of US missile defence plans in Europe, including the deployment of a radar base in the Czech Republic and interceptor rockets in Poland. Just last week some reported that the US might drop its plans entirely – in return for an nuclear arms reduction deal with Russia. But following a security conference in Germany, attended by US Vice President Joe Biden, it is clear the country is not giving up on missile defence yet.

Joe Biden,  photo: CTK
Plans on a US missile defence shield in Europe – including a radar base in the Czech Republic and ten interceptor rockets in neighbouring Poland – may still go ahead, but much will depend on how the new US administration reassesses the project agreed under George W. Bush. Even prior to his election, Barack Obama indicated it had to be proven the system “worked” in order to commit - a view echoed by his vice president, Joe Biden, last week. On Saturday, the US vice president spoke on the issue of missile defence at NATO’s Security Conference in Munich, making clear that while the US was ready to press ahead with its defence plans, key conditions would have to be met.

“We will continue to develop missile defence to counter the growing Iranian capability, provided the technology is proven and it is cost-effective. We’ll do in consultation with you, our NATO allies, and with Russia.”

His words probably offered only partial reassurance for the Czech and Polish governments, which invested substantial time and political capital in reaching a deal on the stationing of US defence facilities. While the planned radar in the Czech Republic remains highly unpopular among ordinary Czechs and has not yet been approved by Parliament, it has been a major priority for Mirek Topolánek’s government. The Czech Minister for European Affairs Alexandr Vondra, also at the Munich conference, stressed again that the defence shield made sense in the face of emerging threats:

“It is also important to develop the future missile defence system which would protect us again threats of WMD proliferation from the Middle East as part of NATO’s security architecture. Russia should be invited to this cooperation but must not have a veto over it.”

Increasingly, it appears that if the radar base in the Czech Republic, and interceptor rockets in Poland are deployed at all, it will be within a broader framework, within NATO and with possible involvement by Russia. Until now, Russia has strongly opposed the US plans, with a “frostiness” reminiscent of the Cold War, but that could soon change thanks to a new focus on diplomacy by the US as well as an announced “restart” in US-Russia relations by Mr Biden in Munich. No doubt, many details will need to be ironed out, one reason all eyes will be on an upcoming NATO summit, which could reveal whether missile defence will progress further.