George Bush sold a radar to the Czech Republic and some missiles to Poland. They’re to protect the US “homeland” against Iranian missiles, he said. But (wink, wink, nod, nod) some of the people who used to live under the shadow of the Soviet Union took these installations to mean that the US would protect them against Russia. And it was congenial to the US neoconservatives that Russia, already upset by Bush’s repudiation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, didn’t like it that the Czech radar would be able to see a long way into their territory.
The Czech Republic and Poland aren’t the optimum places to locate antimissile bases against Iran, and of course the US was paying the dollars for the installations, so the impression that Russia had something to do with it had some basis.
Back in the Cold War, the question arose in many minds as to whether, if Moscow decided to send nuclear missiles against London or Paris, the United States would send its nuclear missiles against Moscow, thereby endangering New York and Chicago. The solution to this was to have American bases in the various European countries as tripwires that would encourage American involvement in a European war.
This thinking has continued for some in the former Soviet satellites and republics. So the bases were seen as tripwires for the now much less likely attack by the Russians.
But the folks who lived in the towns slated to host those installations were none too pleased about the idea that in case of Russian attack, their towns were first on the list.
So now President Obama and Secretary Gates are replacing those land bases with ships. This move also changes that narrative that President Bush muddled out, the conflation of a very nearly nonexistent Iranian threat with a Russian threat that is the subject of exaggerated fear in the former satellites and republics.
Reaction is mixed. Those who wanted the tripwire are disappointed and the issue has factored into continuing spiral of the Czech government. Mirek Toplanek invested significant political capital in supporting the US missile defense plan and was appointed caretaker Prime Minister by President Vaclav Klaus from August 2006. In March 2009 he received a vote of no confidence from the lower Czech Parliament while also serving as President of the European Union while the EU was ensconced in enhancing banking regulations and cracking down on tax havens. March of 2009 was the month when the parliament chose not to pursue parliamentary approval for the radar site because of overwhelming opposition. Toplanek resigned his position the following September after Klaus failed to get a snap election for October approved.
Polls stated that two-thirds of the Czech population did not want the radar site. Many believed the Czech Republic would not only be an early target by Russia, but were concerned about issues such as attacks on the Czech soil by terrorists and extremists, relations declining between the Czech and Russia government, and others worried about radiation from the system. The mayors and most local politicians in the municipalities where the base would be located spoke out against the plan. Despite being promised 1.25 billion crowns for their localities to host the base by the Toplanek government, they have seen only 13.5 million crowns up to this point.
The report from Estonia, via Postimees and Eesti Päevaleht, the two main papers, is simple: nothing so far. Across the Bay of Finland, Helsingin Sanomat has the same reaction.
The Czech reaction is more complicated. Top government officials were very supportive of putting in the radar base.
The current prime minister, Jan Fischer, is a caretaker appointed in May. Elections are being postponed from November until next year. Three-quarters of Czechs are unhappy with the current government, largely for economic reasons. Missile defense is not at the top of their concerns.
The former Foreign Minister, who signed the pact with the United States, Karel Schwartzenberg, sees the move as an attempt to placate Russia. The Defense Minister who signed the pact seems to be more indifferent.
"I saw (missile defense) only in the context of U.S. policy toward Iran and Central Asia. I expected something like this would come when I read that Turkey had begun talks with Iran, said Schwarzenberg. Washington hopes that the Russians, who are against the stationing of a missile defense system in the CR and Poland and strongly protested, now will see the Americans as "positive team players" and that Russia will help the Americans with Iran. [Molly’s translation.]This article gives a much more mixed reaction, that local people were not consulted on the location of the radar, while national political parties called for a referendum and more discussion. And the mayors welcome Obama’s withdrawal of the proposal. They weren’t getting the subsidies the Czech government had promised them anyway.
After three years, it is very pleasant and the good news and see that we did not fight against this monster in vain, said one of the biggest opponents of the (project) Trokavec Mayor Jan Neoral. [Molly’s translation]