Czech and Polish missile shields as military targets?

Article published on May 23, 2007
Article published on May 23, 2007
Missile shields in Poland and the Czech Republic are military targets, according to Russia: if it cannot control its own airspace, Europe could become a global battleground

On 10 May 2007, the US and Czech Republic began preliminary talks regarding the installation of radars on Czech soil by the North Amercians, as a precursor to the first missile shield in Europe. The pretext is an independent Kosovo: the US sees this as a good thing; the Russians do not. Russian Armed Forces Minister, General Yuri Baluyevski , claims the 'main target of the missile shield is Russia.' The 15 May visit of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Moscow was in part to assure President Putin that their function is to protect Europe from a possible Iranian attack

Meanwhile, Franz Josef Jung, EU Federal Minister of Defence, has suggested that this shield should extend further into southern Europe. In his words, the 'threat comes not from Iran but from terrorism,' signalling Islamic Maghreb as the source.

Daniel Keohane, researcher at the European Institute for Security Studies, shares Jung’s fears: 'Despite the obvious threat from the Middle East, with suicide planes, for example, there are other regions that are very and potentially dangerous, such as Algeria. That’s not to say that the Algerians who live in Europe are dangerous though!'

So, is Europe in control of its own airspace security against possible attacks? Javier Solana, head of Security and Defence for Europe, asserts that EU member states 'must debate the question of missile shields with full transparency.' It is his view that some states could feel discriminated against by not having the 'protection' of the US’s National Missile Defence System.

NATO faces competition

In the fight against international terrorism since 9/11, numbers of armed US and NATO forces in the Middle East have increased, a fact which troubles both Russia and China. NATO is responsible for the radar system and ten missiles that will come into effect after 2012. But supranational defence organisations might emerge and run simultaneously in opposition.

Since August 2005, and for the first time in history, China and Russia have been taking part in military exercises together, in the words of Russian Military Commander, General Vladimir Moltenskoi, to 'control terrorism and resolve regional crises.' Military and political consultation and land, sea and air manoeuvres have been realised under the aegis of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). Formed in 1996, this organisation brings together Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan along with four independent observers, India, Iran, Pakistan and Mongolia).

Whilst the SCO has no stated manifesto towards becoming a military bloc, the US and NATO’s activities in Iraq and Afghanistan complicate matters. If Western troops are withdrawn, the SCO might end up having more influence in Asia. Were Iran to join the SCO – and in doing so enjoy its protection – the West might well be anticipating potential Iranian attacks with a missile shield.

According to Keohane, it 'wouldn’t always be viable. But since we don’t know what will happen in Iraq in the next 10 years, and in the eyes of the US, all possibilities have to be considered. The shield could serve as a deterrent. The debate,' he goes on, 'is not a technical one, since its usefulness has been demonstrated. It is political, which is why it makes Russia uncomfortable.'

Offering a calming view, he adds that 'Russia and China should co-operate with the West in many economic areas (55% of Russian exports are to the EU). India is very independent. It would be difficult for them to convert into a military organisation.'

The EU: 51st state

In the midst of all this, the EU appears neither relevant nor independent. A recent report published by the Spanish Defence Ministry considers that the 'EU will never convince the US that it is a major political player unless it has a pan-community policy of security and defence.' The report's authors are critical: 'without capabilities somewhere beyond Europe’s much talked up specialisation in maintaining peace, the EU’s role as a global protagonist is not credible.' It concludes that 'in a war situation, the US’s support would be essential, given that the questions of logistics, intra-operations and transport have not been resolved for European troops. It’s a scandal which the CIA’s secret flights brought to light.

Keohane suggests that the improper use of European airports by the American secret service shows a 'gulf in communication, and an error that has to be put right if there is to be cooperation between Europe and the US.' The EU is so emasculated in the control of and defence in its own airspace, that whilst the US and Russia are preparing talks over the missile shield (to be held in September 2007), the EU has not even been invited.

In-text photos: Barroso and Putin on 20 May(Antonis Sher/ Flickr), Condoleezza Rice (Litherland/ Flickr)