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BMD Focus: West trumps East -- Part 2

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by Martin Sieff
Washington (UPI) May 6, 2008
Several years ago, not long after Poland and the Czech Republic had been admitted to NATO, prominent Polish politician and intellectual and later Polish Defense Minister Radek Sikorsky warned a conservative Washington audience the pro-American sentiments they had enjoyed in the decade and more since the collapse of communism in 1989-91 would only last a few more years.

Eventually, Sikorsky warned, the gravitational pull of the powerful European Commission in Brussels, with its enormous powers of patronage and funding throughout the European Union, would force the young new democracies of Central and Eastern Europe within the EU to heed the wishes of the EC and of the powerful Western European governments that funded and dominated it, much more than listening to their old friends in Washington.

Sikorsky's insight proved prescient. But a development neither he nor anyone else on the right or left in Washington expected at that time has occurred in recent years to neutralize the effects of that dynamic: In the great and ongoing political struggle about whether to build antiballistic missile defense bases in Central Europe to guard against future Iranian attack, the United States finds the four most powerful and venerable great democracies in Western Europe strongly support it while it is the governments of the two host nations in Central Europe that -- for different reasons -- are wavering.

Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek of the Czech Republic remains a stalwart supporter of the BMD base plan, which would install advanced radar arrays to guide the interceptors in his country. But last week he only survived a no-confidence motion in Parliament by the skin of his teeth -- 101 votes to 98. Opposition forces in Prague and the Czech public, however, know Topolanek enjoys the strong and appreciative support not only of U.S. President Bush on the BMD radar base issue, but also of Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany -- the Czech Republic's closest neighbor and most crucially important trading partner -- of President Nicolas Sarkozy in France, of Prime Minister Gordon Brown in Britain and of newly elected Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in Italy.

There is therefore no daylight between the four most important EU nations and European NATO members and the United States on the BMD bases issue. That consideration may well have proved crucial to Topolanek's political survival last week in convincing wavering members of his wobbly Christian Democratic Party allies to continue supporting the government. Russia has been working overtime to support the Green Party in the Czech governing coalition that opposes the BMD radar base construction. The Czech Christian Democrats retain especially close ties to their fellow Christian Democrats in Germany, and CDU leader and German Chancellor Merkel remains a strong supporter of the bases.

The same dynamic of Western European governments strongly supporting President Bush on BMD base construction and thereby playing a decisive role in keeping Central European governments on track also applies in Poland.

There, former Prime Minister Jaroslav Kaczynski, who enthusiastically wanted to build the ABM interceptor base in his country, was defeated in a general election at the end of last year, to be replaced by current Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who has made no secret of his determination to put improving relations with Russia far above staying in Washington's good graces.

But while Tusk could cock a snoot at President Bush with impunity if Gerhard Schroeder, Jacques Chirac and former Italian Prime Minister Roman Prodi still called the shots in the European Union, he does not dare to do so with Merkel, Sarkozy and Berlusconi all lining up to back Bush and Brown as they have on the BMD bases.

It is no surprise that the economic dependency of small and economically fragile Central European nations on their bigger, richer and far more powerful neighbors would play a crucial role in European security policy in the early 21st century: That was precisely Sikorsky's point all those years ago.

But none of Bush's many critics and none of his dwindling band of friends ever expected that this dependency dynamic would prove to be one of America's greatest trump cards instead of one of her biggest problems. Sometimes philosopher Karl Popper's principle of the unexpected produces pleasant surprises in politics.

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BMD Watch: SASC agrees to fund BMD bases
Washington (UPI) May 2, 2008
Bush wants to build a base in Poland with 10 Ground-based Mid-course Interceptors that could hit and destroy any nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles fired by Iran or other "rogue" states against the United States or Central Europe. A companion base containing advanced radar arrays to guide the GBIs on to their intended target is to be built in the neighboring Czech Republic. Lockheed Martin said Wednesday it had completed a vital integrated test milestone on its first Space-Based Infrared System geo-synchronous orbit spacecraft.

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