U.S. Signs Modified Missile Defense Plan in Poland

Jul 7, 2010


by Anna Newby

On Friday, the United States and Poland signed a modified deal on a future US anti-missile plan in Europe. According to a release by the State Department, “the agreed ballistic missile defense site in Poland is scheduled to become operational in the 2018 time frame,” sooner than had been expected under previous plans.
According to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the plan would enable a U.S. land-based SM-3 missile defense interceptor system to be deployed in Poland, helping to protect against threats from Iran. The system – which is already deployed on U.S. navy ships – is designed to deal with short- and medium-range ballistic missiles.
In a joint statement issued by Secretary Clinton and Polish Foreign Minister Sikorski, the leaders noted that this is the first agreement to implement the U.S. European-based Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) for ballistic missile defense. That approach (announced last September) “focuses on fielding sea- and land-based versions of the Standard Missile 3 around Europe over a period of years as a hedge against Iranian short- and medium-range missiles,” according to the Global Security Newswire.
Clinton and Sikorski said:
“This agreement marks an important step in our countries’ efforts to protect our NATO allies from the threat posed by the proliferation of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction.”
Clinton called on Russia to support the deal, saying that the system "will help protect the Polish people and all in Europe our allies and others from the... threats posed by Iran.” She added:
"We believe the threats that we all face are common ones and therefore we hope that Russia will orient itself more toward working with all of us and meet those common threats…This is a purely defensive system. It's not directed at Russia. It is not a threat to Russia.”
Clinton also alluded to discussions that have begun between the U.S. and Russia “to explore whether there are any circumstances the United States and Russia could work together on radar development and deployment, or any other aspect of missile defense.”
According to Sikorski, the Bush administration’s plan for missile defense was based on untested missile technologies. In contrast, the new plan is based on more effective and reliable technology: “It is capable of protecting NATO, and Poland, and the United States of course, from a bigger range of threats," said Sikorski. In short: "The new version is a better one for us.”
Originally, 10 interceptors for long-range missiles were to be installed in Poland, and a radar system was to be installed in the Czech Republic. Russia strongly objected to the plan, prompting the Obama administration to alter the agreement in favor of medium- and short-range missile interceptors, which it judged were more appropriate for the Iranian threat. This past May, the surface-to-air missiles that would be stationed on Polish soil were unveiled.
The Russian response has been critical. Its leaders have accused the U.S. of neglecting legitimate Russian concerns about the deal and making decisions unilaterally. Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said today: “We are convinced that neither presently nor in future there were missile threats to justify that an anti-missile defense system must be deployed near Russian borders.” He added that “good intentions…differ with real doings.”
However, in an article for the Christian Science Monitor, Fred Weir argues that the Russian response has been “astoundingly calm, even muted.” He writes that “there was barely a peep out of Moscow” when the agreement was signed in Krakow on Friday. He cites Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the Moscow-based foreign policy journal Russia in Global Affairs, who argues that Clinton has effectively stressed the U.S. commitment to “resetting” ties with Russia. The cynical view is that the Obama administration is only reiterating Bush-era rhetoric about U.S-Russia relations, but it appears that it has made substantial progress in improving relations with Moscow. According to Lukyanov:
In Moscow they see the Clinton visit [to Russia's fringes] as a way of responding to domestic conservative criticism, to show that Obama doesn't have a Russia-only policy…So these words of Clinton's are met with understanding here. Russian leaders believe Obama is the best possible counterpart to have in Washington, and they don't want to do anything to undermine him.
In Iran, leaders have reportedly dismissed the deal. According to Iran’s Press TV (as reported by Xinhua), Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said that "people in the region and in the whole world do not take [Clinton’s] comments very seriously.” He asserted that the deal is really an issue between the U.S. and Russia. Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi said that Iranian missiles are for defense and do not threaten other countries.
Ever since the original plan for U.S. missile defense in Eastern Europe was announced under President Bush, U.S. leaders have been expected to walk a thin line in which they neither offend Russia nor alienate Eastern European allies. At various points,both the Bush and the Obama administrations have been accused of placating some parties while ignoring others, paying inadequate attention to some parties’ concerns, and making decisions unilaterally rather than in concert with the relevant parties. Some critics argued that Obama was giving Russia a “freebie” by modifying Bush’s original plan; others thought that it would signal abandonment to our Eastern European allies; while others considered it an important step towards improving relations with Russia.
At the moment, it seems that the U.S. may have arrived at a compromise that is tenable for everyone: Poland might feel more at ease by having a U.S. missile defense system on its soil; Russia will still have to deal with a missile defense shield on its borders, but in an agreement that may be more palatable because it is directed at short- and medium-range ballistic missile threats (rather than the ICBMs that Russia deploys) ; and the U.S. can fill an alleged gap in its missile defense and, hopefully, maintain important allies in the region. Russia’s “astoundingly calm” response may not be so astounding at all – its leaders do not want to alienate Washington, and will probably accept the plan without too loud a battle.