Czech – American radar agreement: protection or threat?
The Czech Republic and the United States signed an agreement Tuesday on the positioning of a US radar base on Czech territory as part of an American anti-missile defence shield in Europe. Embraced by the country’s government, the treaty has been criticised by the opposition, Czech anti-radar activists as well as leaders in Moscow.
“This is an agreement that is supported by our NATO allies, as was noted at the Bucharest summit, because missile defences today are aimed only at those who would threaten us. They are not like the missile defences of the Cold War period which were caught up in discussions about strategic stability. We’ve made a point to our Russian colleagues that we all face a threat from states like Iran that continue pursuit of missiles of ever longer range and we must be in a position to respond. With our Czech allies, we are able to do that today.”
“For the United States, this is a great moment. President Bush, with whom I spoke just before leaving Washington, was delighted that we were signing this agreement today. As I said to the Prime Minister, this is just another step in the tremendous transatlantic relationship that the United States and the Czech Republic enjoy.”
Moscow was quick to react to the signing of the deal. The Russian foreign ministry said on Tuesday that Russia may even react with what they called “military-technical” means to the American radar base project. Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, for his part, sees the Czech-American radar agreement as one of two fundamental pillars of Czech foreign policy.
If approved by the Czech Parliament, the treaty will allow for a tracking radar base be constructed in the area of Brdy, some 70 km south-west of Prague. The base will be under American command, with up to 250 US military personnel. While critics of the project point out that the US anti-missile defence shield in Europe is likely to be abandoned by the next American administration, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said any American president will appreciate the defence system.
Outside Prague’s Černín Palace, the seat of the Czech Foreign Ministry, a small group of pro-American demonstrators waved star-spangled banners in support of the agreement. One of them was Milan Paumer, an anti-communist resistance fighter who shot his way out of Czechoslovakia in 1952 and later joined the U.S. military.
There were also some anti-radar protesters outside the ministry – one of them even threw tomatoes at the Czech Foreign Minister who came out to meet with them – but the main protest was scheduled later on Tuesday at Prague’s Wenceslas Square. The rally, attended by some 1500 people, started with a life-size dummy representing Condoleezza Rice being interviewed on stage. I asked some of protesters what their objections to the planned base were. One person said he thought in reality the base would be used against Russia, which he forgetfully called the Soviet Union. Another worried over the environment, and about the government ignoring the people living near the site where the base is expected to stand. Jan Tamáš, the head of the largest Czech anti-radar movement “No to Bases”, said the campaign against the planned base is by no means over yet.
The Czech government will now seek support for the project in Parliament. The final vote is expected to take place after autumn’s election for the Czech Senate, and probably also after the new US president is inaugurated in January 2009.