US mulls building missile defence base in Czech Republic or Poland

Radek Khol

The media has been full of reports in recent weeks of plans by the US to build a missile defence system in Central Europe - largely a response to Iran's sabre-rattling over its nuclear programme. This summer - according to the New York Times - the Pentagon will choose between two countries: Poland and the Czech Republic. Rob Cameron spoke to Radek Khol, head of the Centre for Security Analysis at the Institute of International Relations in Prague.

"The Czech Republic and Poland represent a significant improvement of any US system, because they are relatively close to the Middle East, they could track very well any incoming missiles, they could provide territory for early warning radars, and should the need be so, there could also be an interceptor base located in their territory that could attempt to shoot down any such missiles that would either target Europe itself or would be just passing over Europe and heading to the United States."

Why has the United States narrowed it down to these two countries, and not Slovakia, or Bulgaria, or Romania for example?

"Perhaps they think that Poland and the Czech Republic are close enough, they certainly belong to the Atlanticist group within NATO, so they might be open to such negotiations. Moreover, there was at least preliminary interest expressed by the militaries and governments of both of these countries several years ago when the technical talks started. And as I mentioned, their territory is well placed enough for the entire system to work. Moreover they perhaps trust those allies with which they have more regular contacts, that is at least since March 1999, when both countries joined NATO, whereas Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania are more recent newcomers to NATO. So, the United States may not necessarily trust them in all technical matters, in their competence to deal with such highly sophisticated systems, shall we say."

That's the military-technical side of it. On a political level, we've just seen the Czechs dealt a very embarrassing blow after the US Senate voted to effectively exempt Poles from visas, but not Czechs - despite months of lobbying by Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda. How much appetite is there in the Foreign Ministry to even contemplate allowing the US to build missile bases in this country? What's in it for the Czechs?

"That's effectively a very sensitive part of any US request. Should they decide to ask formally the Czech Republic for permission to establish a US missile defence base on Czech territory, they would have to immediately bring something in exchange, so to speak. And the most likely issue would then by either a visa-free regime, or a much more flexible and almost visa-free regime, because that's the only issue that bothers the Czech public. And that could be seen as a beneficial trade off."