Despite opposition at home as well as in Russia, on Tuesday, the Czech Republic will sign a treaty to build a U.S. missile defense radar system on Czech soil. It is part of a defense shield supposed to protect the United States and European allies from “rogue states” like Iran.
In the Czech Republic, Washington wants to build the radar southwest of Prague, and put 10 interceptor rockets in Poland.
Though it faces some hurdles, the Czech treaty will face opposition in Parliament, and in Poland talks have stalled over Warsaw’s demands for US aid to help modernize its army, Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State, will sign the plan in Prague.
But the shield would offer protection, along with the country’s NATO and European Union membership, said the Czech government.
“Missile technology is spreading around the world”, Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said in an interview. “The threat is not totally acute, but one has to prepare in time.”
And as Russia grows more assertive about its role on the global scene, bases in the former Soviet bloc would raise US security interest in the region, analysts say.
But to Russia, the missile shield as a threat to itself.
“While Washington’s concerns about Iran are real, it’s also true that in setting up these missile defense components, the United States will have a direct stake in the security of central and eastern Europe”, said Alexander Kliment, an analyst at Eurasia Group, a U.S. political risk consultancy.
After the Soviet invasion in 1968 and the following two decades of occupation, many Czechs get wary concerning any foreign military presence, which led to disputes over the radar.
Last month, an opinion poll showed that 68 percent of Czechs were against the shield, while 24 percent supported it.
The Czech Republic will become a target because of the radar, undermining the country’s security, say anti-radar activists.
In Parliament, the public discontent has been channeled by the leftist opposition, which makes ratification uncertain.
As in the 200-seat lower house the three-party cabinet has just 100 seats, the government must win over several independents, especially because several backbenchers have said they would vote against.
Ratification should be delayed until a new US administration takes over, says the Green Party, a junior government partner.
And Poland, in order to modernize its army, mainly air defenses, has demanded billions of dollars. On Friday, prime minister Donald Tusk said that US proposals were insufficient, though Poland was ready to negotiate further.
US intelligence suggests that by 2015, Iran could follow North Korea’s example and develop a long-range missile capable of striking the United Sates, has said General Henry Obering, head of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency.
In 2004, the United States brought an anti-missile umbrella, based in Alaska and California, on line in order to protect against the perceived North Korean threat.
That system would be improved by the Czech and Polish sites. Costing $3.5 billion, it would use technology in which an array of sensors and radar would detect an enemy missile in flight, and guide a ground-based interceptor to destroy it.
If approved, construction on both sites could begin in 2009, and could begin functioning in 2011 to 2013.