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Is The US Missile Defence Plan A Diplomatic Shot In The Foot

The proposed facility would be designed to shoot down missiles launched form North Korea and Iran, such as a future upgraded Iranian Shahab class missile (current missile pictured).
by Pascal Mallet
Brussels (AFP) Jan 25, 2007
The US risks unnecessarily inflaming Russia with its planned anti-missile defence system in eastern Europe, designed to intercept attacks from the Middle East and North Korea, experts warn. "It is true that for intercontinental missiles fired from the Middle East -- from northern Iran for example -- the shortest way to reach Washington or New York passes over central Europe," said Bruno Gruselle, research specialist at the Paris-based Strategic Research Foundation.

But "the US military already has radar stations in Norway, in Greenland, and in Britain -- on top of its Defense Support System satellite alert system -- which permit the early detection of missiles, wherever they come from," he added.

Andrew Brookes, a space technology expert at London's International Institute for Strategic Studies, echoed that the plan for radar sites in the Czech Republic and Poland "does not add anything to the US radar missile system".

"The Russians say 'this is my backyard. You need our cooperation'. They are right. You cannot stop Iran or contain Iran without Russia. You need the Russians onboard".

He deplored the possibility of unilateral US decisions "ignoring Russian sensitivities".

China is saying the same thing with respect to North Korea, the other perceived threat the US seeking to cover with the system, he added.

The United States on Monday confirmed it would soon begin formal talks on deploying a missile defence system in eastern Europe, had contacted the Czech Republic and Poland and would begin negotiations.

"No final decision has been made and no timetable for negotiations has been established; however, the United States and the Czech Republic expect that these negotiations will begin soon," the US embassy in Prague said in a statement.

The Pentagon hopes to be able to deploy a radar system and 10 interceptor missiles in the two EU countries, and former Soviet bloc states, by 2011.

The Kremlin condemned the US scheme as a "clear threat" to Russia and called for talks with US and European leaders.

Czech and Polish leaders rejected Russia's fears as groundless.

According to Ruslan Pukhov, director of the private Muscovite Centre for Strategic and Technological Analysts, "the attitude of Warsaw and Prague proves again that they retain the reflexes associated with the Cold War," as regards Russia.

For Brookes, outside of the Cold War shadows the Russians are seeking more cooperation and less unilateralism from Washington.

"What the Russians are saying is; 'Don't go unilaterally for the Czech Republic or Poland. Cooperate with us, use our systems, don't bring your own system into Europe'".

Moscow's strong reaction came as no surprise either at NATO or EU headquarters.

"Russia has for years insisted on being involved in all decisions which other powers might take to defend themselves against ballistic missiles, whether it be the United States or NATO," said one Brussels diplomat.

NATO spokesman James Appathurai refused to comment on the US defence scheme, calling it "purely a bilateral question" between Washington and the two European countries involved, even if they are all members of the Alliance.

Concerning NATO's own anti-missile system project "a feasability study has been carried out, but the 26 member states have taken no decision yet," he said.

Western diplomats are waiting to see what Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov has to say on the subject of missile defence when he meets up with his Alliance counterparts at the upcoming NATO-Russia meeting in Seville, Spain on February 9.

earlier related report
US specifies favoured Czech site for anti-missile installation
Prague (AFP) Jan 25 - Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said Thursday his government is mulling a response to Washington's request that it site a key component of its expanded global anti-missile defence system at a Czech military base.

Washington has officially requested that a radar station, a vital cog in the system, be sited at a military base at Jince, south-east of Prague. US experts chose Jince after scouting several potential sites last yar.

"The Czech government will carefully examine this demand and give its response within a few weeks" Topolanek said, according to the agency, CTK.

It main security body, the State Security Council, approved Wednesday further negotiations over Washington's proposal to site the radar base and personnel on Czech soil and interceptor missiles in Poland. The Jince, in the Brdy mountains around 50 kilometres (30 miles) from Prague was used at the time of the former communist regime to site Soviet ground-to-air Vega S200 missiles.

The prospect of hosting a US installation has already provoked hostility from local councils near Jince. The mayor of the nearby town of Pribram has called for local consultations over the base.

Following negotiations over technical details concerning the base, the sensitive issue of accepting a foreign base must be approved by both chambers of the Czech parliament and ratified by the president. The whole process could take a year, according to Topolanek.

The US has said its widened anti-missile umbrella will help protect it and its allies against missile attacks from the likes of Iran and North Korea.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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