NATO backs US missile defense plan, but critics remain unconvinced

Karel Schwarzenberg (right) in discussion with NATO foreign ministers, photo: CTK

NATO foreign ministers on Wednesday affirmed their support for US plans to install anti-missile defenses in central Europe saying that the deployment of a tracking radar in the Czech Republic and interceptor missiles in neighbouring Poland would make a "substantial contribution" to protecting Europe from the threat of long-range ballistic missiles. Despite the clear implication that the US missile defense components would be incorporated into European defense structures, the statement has left critics in the Czech Republic unconvinced.

Karel Schwarzenberg  (right) in discussion with NATO foreign ministers,  photo: CTK
Although Prague and Washington reached agreement on the radar base earlier this year, and the Czech Senate approved the two radar treaties last week, its future is far from certain. The government no longer has a clear majority in the lower house and some of its own deputies are holding out against the radar, saying they would only support it if it were part of European defense structures. Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg is hoping that NATOs statement may help bring them round:

“This confirms what we have striven for in the past year – to get favourable conditions in the deal with the US and to negotiate the radar’s inclusion into a future European missile-defense system. This has now been officially recognized.” However critics remain skeptical, pointing out that the wording of NATO’s statement is vague and fails to address the main concern surrounding the radar –that it will serve only American interests, do little to protect Europe and create more tension between Europe and Russia. One of the radar’s leading critics in the government, Education Minister Ondřej Liška of the Green Party, says his position remains unchanged.

Ondřej Liška,  photo: CTK
“The only relevant statement in this respect would be for NATO to actually say that the US radar will be incorporated into Europe’s missile defense and how – and, as far as I know, this has not happened.”

Since the issue of Europe’s missile defense is on the agenda of a NATO summit in April of next year such a statement cannot be expected in the near future. Moreover, the radar’s fate primarily depends on the stand of the new US administration and President-elect Barack Obama has made it clear he would only support it if it were clear beyond doubt that the missile defense components in central Europe would really work.