Steps in Missile Defense; U.S.-Czech Accord Making Progress

Article excerpt


Good news from Europe this week. The cause of missile defense took a significant step forward when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice landed in the Czech Republic to sign an agreement for the Czechs to host a radar system that will become part of the U.S. missile defense system. The agreement signed in Prague represents progress towards a more secure world, and the Czech government has to be commended for its steadfastness in following through on its commitments to the United States.

Another piece of the system, a battery of 10 anti-missile interceptors, is still being considered by the Polish government, on whose territory they would be housed. Negotiations with Poland have been more difficult, as it has persisted in driving an ever harder bargain, including a major package of aid for Polish military transformation and a billion-dollar mobile air defense system.

Statements in June by the Polish defense minister indicated that a deal had been struck with Washington, but the signals have been ambiguous, suggesting another impasse. Meanwhile, the government of Lithuania, next door to Poland and an old historical rival, has suggested that it might be willing to offer its territory if the deal with Poland falls through. This prospect offers a viable alternative.

For the outgoing Bush administration, entering its last half-year in office, progress toward a third missile defense site in Europe is a significant moment. The first two missile defense sites in Alaska and California, which protect the U.S. West Coast, were also hard-won against political opposition here at home, and indeed against skeptics that still contend the system will never work.

The fact that this cause has been advanced at all is to the credit of the Bush White House. As one of its first steps in office, it withdrew from the anachronistic Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty (ABM). It was a courageous political act. After the initial work done by the Reagan administration, the cause of missile defense was abandoned by the administration of the first President Bush and deeply buried during the Clinton years.

The treaty, signed with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, prohibited both signatories from building missile defense systems in the interest of preserving the absoluteness of nuclear deterrence through mutually assured destruction (MAD). …