Thursday, September 20, 2007

First Thoughts on Missile Defense (from Prague)

When I left the Foreign Ministry this afternoon, I saw a building on the square displaying a large banner saying "I'm for" and displaying a hand giving the v-for-victory sign with two rockets at the end of the fingers.

Should the Czech Republic host the radar components of a limited missile defense system designed to protect most of Europe from the possibility of a ballistic missile launch from Iran or another "rogue" state? This is one of the key foreign policy questions in terms of Prague's bilateral relationship with the United States.

Popular opposition to the proposal puts forward a variety of arguments; missile defense won't work; it will bring unwelcome attention to the Czech Republic; it will complicate Prague's relations with those European states that oppose the system as well as with Russia.

Within those in government and the legislature, the proposal does seem to enjoy a good deal of support across the board, but even here there are concerns. Some argue that the system needs to become a truly trans-Atlantic endeavor, perhaps even part of NATO. Others are concerned about a continued U.S. propensity to cherry-pick (my term, not theirs) among different European countries to advance its wishes rather than seeking a consensus approach that might require compromise.

And there are also concerns about U.S. steadfastness. Will Washington see this project through to the finish? Is there a bipartisan consensus behind this proposal among all major presidential candidates, so that there isn't an announcement in January 2009 that the system is now "under review" and possibly subject to cancellation?

Just some very short observations, which is just a taste of some of the opinions I have heard.

There are two deeper problems here.

First, if missile defense is necessary, then the logical implication is that Iran will obtain both nuclear weapons and long-range missiles no matter what America and Europe do. However, if the American and European aim is to deprive Iran of such capabilities, then logically a missile defense in Europe against Iran should be unnecessary.

Second, a limited missile defense can only be a temporary expedient if the built-in assumption is that it will be obsolete as Iran increases the size and sophistication of its missile arsenal.
That seems to be Kouchner's point, isn't it--show Iran the West is serious and put real pressure (and be ready for war if necessary) to end Iran's program, but then if that is the case then missile defense is a provocation.
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