Poland and Czech Republic possible partners in new US defence plans

Jan Kohout, Hillary Clinton, photo: CTK

The Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout was in New York on Monday for talks with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. On the table: possible future cooperation in US missile defence, a move to apparently reassure US partners in Europe that the US wasn’t abandoning the region even if it had scrapped plans for radar and rocket installations in the Czech Republic and Poland.

Plans for a US tracking radar in the Czech Republic may have been scrapped but that doesn’t necessarily mean an end to cooperation with the Czech Republic on missile defence. On Monday the Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout met with his counterpart Hillary Clinton in New York to discuss new possibilities and already it appears the Czech Republic and Poland could have a good chance of cooperating on a new US system: a mobile anti-rocket project which could be put into operation within the next six years or so. That message was put forward not only by Mrs Clinton but also earlier by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, though one should keep in mind it’s early days. On Monday Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout stressed it was important to keep things in perspective: nothing had been decided or set in stone yet:

“For now it’s important to see this as a symbolic political gesture towards Poland and the Czech Republic and as a reaction to the media that largely reported that US missile defence was being scrapped. But the US is not giving up in this area and we’ve been given guarantees. But more concrete steps have not - and could not have - been taken at this time.”

Jan Kohout, Hillary Clinton, photo: CTK
Why, in the end, did the US decide to drop earlier plans for permanent installations? The Obama administration explained it had examined new intelligence, had reassessed the Iran threat and opted for a new system it says will be more effective. The move nevertheless shocked some in the Czech Republic, namely those who had invested political capital in the project over the last three years. Oldřich Bureš, a specialist on security issues and Russia said the US offer on future cooperation could take some, if not all, of the sting out of last week’s decision.

“For the future, the US concessions that have thus far been offered are not en par to the humiliation that was dealt to the Czech Republic and Poland in particular. Concessions will definitely be offered but whether they will be able to offset the current political damage, I am not so sure.”

So far, say many observers, it is Russia (long opposed to the radar in the Czech Republic) who appears to be the greatest benefactor from the change in US plans. The new mobile US system is at least several years off, say specialists, so there isn’t even great reason for Moscow to voice opposition - yet. Nor will Moscow necessarily come forward with any concessions of its own. Oldřich Bureš again:

“In Moscow they are portraying it as a unilateral concession from Washington which doesn’t necessarily need a counter-offer. I would argue that President Obama understands the world in slightly different terms than either Prime Minister Putin or President Medvědev. I would say that Moscow play a more realist game of power politics where if one wins, the other loses. Obama’s view is a more non-zero sum game, where if we make enough concessions everyone will be happy. To me, in the long-term, these two world views are fundamentally opposed. I don’t think that concessions to Russia will necessarily generate the response that Mr Obama hopes to get. ”