Missile Defense and the Czech Republic – Context and Consequences

Missile Defense and the Czech Republic – Context and Consequences 

Presentation at the Heritage Foundation, Washington DC, February 18, 2010


Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

It is indeed a pleasure for me to have again the opportunity to address such a like-minded audience here in Heritage, moreover with such a serious issue. I will go through the relatively short history of the whole project, then I will put it into appropriate geopolitical context and I will try also to bring some, hopefully positive, outcome.

In 2002 the Prague NATO summit initiated a Missile Defense Feasibility Study in response to an increasing missile threat from so-calledi „rogue states“ i.e. irresponsible regimes, their proxies or other non-state actors. Completed in 2006, the Study confirmed the feasibility of missile defense for NATO. By that time, the <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = „urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags“ />United States had already developed a limited ballistic missile defense architecture based on a network of radars and ground based interceptors (GBIs). At the same time, it was looking to geographically expand its system to better counter the existing and developing missile threats.

As early as 2003 in 2004, preliminary talks began between the United States and several Central European countries, including the Czech Republic, about a possible placing of selected components of the US missile defense system on their territory. Ironically, the Czech Social Democrats, who were in government at the time, but later became staunch opponents of the system, were reasonably open to these discussions. Be it as it is, it was great paradox (but very typical in Central and Eastern European political environment) to listen recently to the very same person arguing – in his new role of political strategist to Social Democrats – against a system he himself had been promoting just a few years ago as a Minister of Defense in one of our former governments.

In 2007 the government of the Czech Republic agreed to launch negotiations with the United States on placing of a mid-course radar that would become a part of   so-called US ballistic missile defense European site on Czech territory. With all this in mind, the negotiations started and in the summer 2008 the Main Agreement on stationing the mid-course radar on Czech territory was signed by the US Secretary of State and the Czech Foreign Minister. Shortly after that the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) was signed by the US and Czech Secretaries of Defense. In addition to these two key documents, a handful of other agreements have been or even still are being negotiated, including A Framework Agreement on participation of Czech businesses and academia in US missile defense related activities or a Research, Development, Testing and Evaluation Agreement (RDTE).

In late 2008, the whole US-Czech negotiation process came to a halt. On the Czech side, the government proved incapable of securing the needed votes in the Lower House of the Parliament to pass both agreements, as the previously more open-minded leftist opposition has made missile defense a sensitive political topic. The approval of the Upper House – The Senate – was of course not sufficient. Also lack of public approval due to poor communication strategy (while opponents of the whole project targeted public much successfully) was apparent. Almost all the time 60-70 % of Czech citizens opposed the project, contrary to only up to 30 % who supported it. On the US side, the increasingly lame-duck Bush administration weakened its push for a quick progress, partially due to its disappointment at the lack of support in the CzechRepublic. But also upcoming financial and economic crisis began steering Washington´s attention in other directions, too. There was little doubt changes would come in case a Democrat wins the US presidential elections.

 These changes indeed came. After a nine-month-long review the United States announced it would cancel the plans for GBIs in Poland and mid-course radar in the Czech Republic and opt for a different missile defense architecture in Europe – the so called Phased Adaptive Approach (or PAA). The new concept should be developed in four phases and envisions a strong link to a common NATO missile defense system. The US concluded that the long-range missile remains relatively low and missile defense efforts should concentrate on short and medium range missiles instead. It also concluded, that the advances in sensor technology render the proposed mid-course radar unnecessary and are able to create sufficient situational awareness using a dense network of minor sensors combined with a forward-based radar located in a different part of Europe. Last but not least, for the sake of cost-effectiveness, current assets, such as Aegis based SM-3 (Standard Missile 3) missiles, should preferably be used and modified as the system develops. The technical rationale behind the administration´s decision has since been subject to thorough debates.

Firstly, although the threat posed by long range missiles ICBMs owned by rogue states remains relatively low in 2010, this might not be the case in 2015, as the tendency to acquire these systems by some problematic regimes or their proxies remains obvious. Secondly, it is very difficult to imagine a giant technological leap that the US defense industry had allegedly made in the field of sensor development within just a few years. Thirdly, it is fair to say that at this point, no-one can accurately predict and compare the costs of using traditional or modified GBIs with future land-based versions of SM-3 missile – the so called Aegis Ashore systems. A sole comparison of engagement costs seems overly simplistic. Development, testing and maintenance of any new system, usually requires expenditures that are difficult to predict.

Anyhow, rather than purely technical considerations, the move was motivated mainly by the effort to visibly distance from the Bush administration policies as well as by hopes to appease Russia in a naive effort to obtain Moscow´s help in other areas. And therefore it is no doubt about the geopolitical ramifications of the US decision particularly with regards to Russia. The US missile defense system has been a hot geopolitical potato from the very start. Russia´s goals with regards to the system had been political and never based on merit (and they often acknowledged that even when talking to Czech officials). Moscow´s objective was to prevent building any new meaningful US or NATO infrastructure on the territory of former Eastern Bloc countries.  

Unfortunately, the Obama administration fell for it. The desire for a grand „reset“ in mutual relations with Russia was among the most crucial ones. Today, it is becoming clear that this reset has not and will not materialize. Moscow has already started voicing some reservations about the Phased Adaptive Approach to missile defense, too. The bellicose rhetoric about the necessity to develop new offensive systems is back, yet the much needed Russian help in other areas such as Afghanistan or Iran is negligible, if any. There is no doubt the same old arguments will come into play on missile defense, unless Russia gains a substantial level of control over the whole project. It would be a fatal mistake to provide her with it.

And indeed, the Russian objections are already growing louder, as plans to develop the PAA are becoming more specific. The US push for more NATO involvement is most commendable, but might run into difficulties within the Alliance itself, with some of the allies like France and Germany. And now I come to geopolitical context of all this. EU today´s reality is defined by the Lisbon treaty. Instead of official reasons for introducing it – i.e. bringing more efficiency, transparency and accountability to the EU – it is clear and even provable that it was mainly a power exercise, just a pure redesign of EU power architecture. Under Lisbon treaty, the big players, particularly France and Germany, will once again regain and retain their control over processes and decisions within the  unprecedently enlarged EU. Combination of following main elements lead to this result : removal of veto right in the European Council while introducing QMV (qualified majority vote) as universal decision-making procedure, changing the definition of qualified majority from so-called weighted votes to new population-based principles (which favors most populous nations- like Germany that in fact doubles its power share in Council), further shift of national powers upwards to European level and strengthening the EU institutions like Commission and Parliament (that have been already to great extent controlled by big players). EU federalist „hard-core“ is therefore once again running the whole EU business, with the Lisbon treaty. It has its direct consequences :  the federalist idea of the EU as a global power sees it rather as a challenger to the USA than a complementary force. And typically France and even more Germany do not wish to enter any new phase of dispute or even confrontation with reappearing Russia, for both business and trade as well as energy security reasons.

Now – Russia attempts at least partly to revive its influence inside its former satellites and thus to enlarge its power diameter. It is apparent today and even more in the foreseeable future. Ukraine and Belarus are good examples. But even NATO and EU members are subjected to this pressure, most typically Baltic states, to less extent even Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria etc. and to even lesser extent, but still, Czechs and Poles. This Russian attitude is of course contrary to US interests as well as to interests of Central and Eastern European nations – the „new Europe“. But it is not that much contrary to some of the interests of „old Europe“. Indeed, some in there would not be against the idea to have between themselves and Russia a neutral buffer zone of those newly reborn democracies – despite their EU and NATO membership. And the Lisbon treaty gives them potentially greater say in defining overall EU objectives, including such strategic ones.

From this point of view the geopolitical aspect of placing some NATO or even US missile defense elements in Central and Eastern Europe is perhaps even more important than its military and defense aspect. It would turn into politically balancing factor, counterweighting both Russian aspiration towards Central and Eastern Europe as well as overplayed ambitions of some within the EU. USA and Central and Eastern Europe share more or less the same interests here, unlike some other European nations. Now what is the way forward on missile defense and what could the Czech Republic´ s role be in the whole endeavor? Let me point out that even now we have enough substance to build upon. There are a number of useful agreements that have been concluded or are still being negotiated as a result of the previous US-Czech negotiating process. As some scientific and research cooperation on missile defense has been going on, these agreements should be used to further enhance such activities. There are numerous Czech scientists, researchers and companies with relevant expertise in missile defense related fields. Other bilateral arrangements, such as procurement agreements that would enable their participation in US projects should therefore follow to utilize the potential for further cooperation.

And also some of the arguments for PAA do make sense. We are particularly pleased by a strong NATO dimension to the whole concept and we will continue to work with US – bilaterally and in NATO – to push the project forward. I hope, the future Czech government will give serious thought on the possibilities in placing some of the new system´s components on its soil – e.g. some command and control elements. That would be crucial for our position in this new, above-mentioned geopolitical context. I can also hope as well that Obama administration will soon properly analyze and recognize this context and then comes to a conclusion that strong US appearance in Central and Eastern Europe – including Czech Republic – is necessary and  irreplaceable. Let´s believe that once again political realism and common sense will prevail over relentless and unrepentant – and therefore dangerous – idealism.

Thank you for your attention.