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Participation in Missile Defense within Transatlantic Framework: A View from the Czech Republic*

Břetislav Dančák, Petr Suchý

Břetislav Dančák-Director, International Institute of Political Science of Masaryk University. Petr Suchý-Head of Department of International Relations and European Studies, Faculty of Social Studies of Masaryk University.

In late January 2007, the Czech Republic and Poland were invited by the United States of America to start negotiations aimed at placing parts of the US missile defense system on the territories of these two Central European countries. In case of the Czech Republic, the proposed installation is radar able to precisely home in hostile ballistic missiles aimed at the US and their European allies. On Polish soil should then be installed a base carrying approximately ten interceptors, designed to shoot down enemy warheads in midcourse phase of their flight. The announcement about the launch of the talks was little surprise to experts and the wider public alike. Such a step has already been awaited since half the last year. With regard to the political development in the Czech Republic after its parliamentary elections in June and to the shift in the distribution of power in US Congress after the November 2006 elections, the final invitation to participate in the missile defense program has been articulated no sooner than in the beginning of this year. The reason for the deployment of new missile defense elements is to advance the strength of the existing system and to expand its protective use over wider territory. Presently only the US has such a system at their disposal, and enjoys the advantage of being under its protection. Czech and Polish approval of the installation of the questioned facilities on their territories would substantially enlarge the protected area and cover besides the US also Europe.

The US have developed missile defense in order to enhance the security against ballistic missile attacks, threatening enormous destructive power especially to civilian population. The primary function of the system can thus be deemed the prevention of the destruction of large, densely populated agglomerations. When considering high population density on the European continent, it is clear that the repercussions of a direct attack using these weapons on any metropolis or industrial area would be immense.

The whole system comprises of several mutually linked elements and its parts are located on various places throughout the world. The Czech Republic and Poland are not the only countries potentially taking part in this project. More states are presently involved at various levels, such as Great Britain and Denmark. From outside of Europe, the most favorable country for missile defense is Japan. It is therefore incorrect to label the project as purely American, although it is indisputable that US role is fundamental.

The course of the discussion over the inclusion of the Czech Republic in the designed defense system has so far revealed that public opinion on this issue is far from united. Both proponents and opponents of the plan represent wide social groups just as political elites. At the same time, the cleavage between both groups is not defined solely by the issue of missile defense, albeit this very issue has unveiled and emphasized a range of other realities. In the scope of the Czech Republic, there are several levels providing for an analysis of this issue. Firstly, it is the relation of the Czech Republic to the security issue in the global scale. This is largely linked to developments far beyond Czech borders (particularly the area of Middle East including Iran and the Korean Peninsula, esp. North Korea). Secondly, it is the level of Czech membership in international organizations of the developed western world. In the dimension of defense it includes mainly the commitments to the allies in North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Due to its involvement in the international community and active participation in international conflicts resolution, it is impossible to insulate the Czech Republic from risks to global security. The system of values and principles the country sponsors in international relations place the Czech Republic among developed western countries. The Czech Republic is a part of widely perceived Euro-American civilization. Particularly with regard to democratic principles it publicly declares, the Czech Republic naturally advocates the protection of the values of free western world. At the same time, together with other countries standing for similar values, it becomes the target of attacks from the states seeking to deprive the free world of its privileges. At present, the hostility against western countries is most loudly demonstrated by non-democratic regimes of North Korea and Iran. In only a few months the world witnessed not only verbal assaults, but also clear attempts to intimidate and blackmail the western world, all from these countries.

Strategic Options and Black Mail of Rogue States

An alarming example is North Korea´s nuclear test in the fall last year. For the argument of this article it is not essential whether the test was a success or a failure. Much more serious are the motives why Pyongyang struggles to acquire nuclear weapons. These motives drive western countries to respond adequately. In its nature the North Korean nuclear test exposes incontestable weaknesses in the argumentation and many times even myths about the purpose of the missile defense system, often chanted by its adversaries. Without no doubts that respecting democratic principles in the ground of Czech political system one cannot strip the citizens off their right to have their say and possibly even resent the involvement of the Czech Republic in this particular defense concept, facing recent events however makes it impossible to further argue on the basis of emotions, as the current situation requires steel-cool judgment.

One such emotional argument, drawing a parallel with the climax of Cold War, asserts that the construction of missile defense system would result in a new round of arms race. The example of North Korea is sufficiently illustrative to show the relationship between the cause and consequence and thus the link between the motives of North Korea turning nuclear and the effort of western countries, not exclusively the US, to react to this security challenge with trenchant defensive means.

North Korea's leader Kim Jong-Il has put all his eggs in one basket. He plays a very risky game which works out well to that extent that the world cannot simply sit back, do nothing and watch the last isolated outpost of totalitarian regime do whatever it wants. Its possession of nuclear weapons, together with prospective capability of reaching the territory of a close or potentially even distant state with such weapons provides Pyongyang with a particularly useful blackmail potential. In a situation when a regime is incapable of securing even the basic needs of its citizens such as enough food to prevent famine, it resorts to radical moves. On the one hand it struggles to justify its existence before its own citizens, who are deprived of all opportunities to judge whether the price for sustaining the regime is adequate or too high. On the other hand it exerts its nuclear status to assume a position at the negotiating table with much stronger players, such as the US, China, Japan and Russia. Furthermore, through its volatile behavior, it screws foreign assistance out of richer countries. Blackmail potential is the only attribute that makes North Korea relevant.

Therefore, let us rid North Korea and kindred regimes of blackmail potential and let us render their efforts irrelevant. Let us do what every reasonable person would do to secure themselves. Such as we would close our door when hungry dogs are wandering around, let us protect our cities and countries against the devastating deeds of rogue states. The plan of missile defense expansion is an adequate and responsible response to a threat which is already evolving. Remembering the defensive nature of the system, it is impossible to confuse the reason with the consequence. It is clear that the key impulse for advancing the project of missile defense was the fear of weapons of mass destruction being developed in countries just as North Korea. If new arms race will be launched, presumably in the vicinity of Korean Peninsula, it would be misleading to assert that such a race might be fomented by the missile defense system. Conversely, an effective defense system, based on multiple elements, can substantially water down the blackmail potential of North Korea's totalitarian regime; undoubtedly not only North Korea´s. Countries protected by efficient defense system will thus rule out any manipulation by a threat of a direct attack when negotiating on the international level. Therefore, they will gain much wider space for maneuvering when resolving crises in South Eastern Asia or Middle East.

Missile defense extends our strategic options. Successful prevention of the aftermaths of a hostile attack employing nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction can equip the attacked country with wider range of retaliatory responses, other then further usage of nuclear weapons. In such a case, due to the existence of missile defense, not only the attacked state can gain, but also its attacker, in particular its civilian population. Missile defense can enable the usage of limited defensive means, aimed directly at terrorist groups or employed to decapitate the political and military leadership of the rogue state. Such procedure can help solve the dilemma of how to deal with a country harboring terrorist groups, who might even have used WMDs or operated without the knowledge and consent of country´s political elites. Besides the reduction of the enemy´s willingness to attack, missile defense system can discourage the countries from producing ballistic missiles or prevent vertical proliferation-further rising the numbers of WMDs and vehicles to deliver them, especially because of financial exhaustiveness of such a policy.

Today, the most needed and probably the most useful effect of deploying ballistic missile defense (BMD) would possibly be its substantial contribution to the reduction of the susceptibility of being blackmailed. It would be naive to believe that the only easily blackmailed actor is the US, due to their full effort to defend (not only) their own interests. Threats combining targeting nuclear ballistic missiles and turning off the taps with strategic energetic supplies can gravely affect also Europe, especially if the continent tries to actively defend the European system of values in the international system. That is to say, exerting pressure on European countries can, with regard to the past, be viewed as the easiest way to disrupt or even break trans-Atlantic bonds. Even though similar scenario would debilitate both sides of the Atlantic, Europe would come out worse. The US can, unlike the old continent, ensure itself and its security on their own.

Reality and Myth of Russian Insecurity

Certain skepticism over the issue of historical experience of the Czech Republic can be invoked by the standpoints and subsequent behavior of European countries deemed as allies. We do not mean only the period of fall 1938; consider also the behavior of political representatives of most relevant German parties exactly about the issue of deployment of parts of US missile defense system in Central Europe. A few statements of Russian political and military leaders, only verbal remarks opening the possibility of targeting the middle-range ballistic missiles at Poland and the Czech Republic, albeit not yet existing, were a sufficient incentive for German left as well as right to sound the retreat. Such a behavior indeed is an eloquent evidence of overestimating intention over potential. It is clear that both Central European and Western European countries are vulnerable to already existing offensive means at Russia´s disposal. Just in the connection with the backing down of some European countries before Russia it must be noted that current debate over the participation of the Czech Republic and Poland in the US missile defense vastly outmatches this particular issue. Czech decision, such as the behavior of other European countries, will have a significant influence on future conduct of Russian Federation, including a range of other issues absolutely different in nature. Should Russia realize that Central European area is being abandoned and Western European allies are withdrawing even at the slightest sign of Russian resentment, these Central European countries would be on their best way back to the sphere of Russian influence.

The time has come for Russia to be taught the following lesson. Even though it is understandable that due to its own strategic culture1 (in this regard it is mainly Russia´s struggle to retain international prestige and preponderance through exertion of military means) it deems US moves to deploy its BMD system and its parts in Central Europe as a conduct that might result in the weakening of strategic balance and thus threaten its own security, it is necessary for Russia to respect the perception of security threats by other actors in international system, including countries in its neighborhood. Should Russian political and military officials evaluate relevant, rather than irrelevant data on US BMD system truly realistically, they will eventually conclude that the present system, its architecture and its parameters cannot pose any threat to Russia whatsoever.

Let us support this assertion with facts and numbers. Until January 2002 the US possessed 5949 strategic warheads on 1238 vehicles. These limits fully complied with principles agreed in the START II Treaty, which Russia abandoned in reaction to US withdrawal from the ABM Treaty. In the end of 2006, Russia had at its disposal 762 vehicles, capable of holding up to 3373 strategic nuclear warheads-503 ICBMs (1853 warheads), 180 SLBMs (636 warheads) and 79 strategic bombers (884 warheads).2 The claims by Russian representatives, e.g. its president Putin3 or its UN envoy Vitalij Churkin, that American BMD program undermines strategic stability, neutralizes Russian deterrence potential and creates an opportunity to carry out the first disarming strike, are then absolutely unfounded and fabricated.

In the context when the representatives of Russian Federation ever most often explain that the mounting Russia´s strategic nuclear warheads are the result of the development and deployment of US missile defense system, it is necessary to note that Russian strategic arsenal modernization, taking place since half-nineties, cannot be explained as a demonstration of renewed arms race, but rather as a sign of normal, reasonable arms dynamics. Its goal is not a dramatic increase in offensive strategic weapons, but rather the effort to maintain nuclear warheads in superior quality and sufficient number which would help retain the necessary deterrent. All is happening in times when scores of strategic missiles are being disposed of as obsolete, with massive financial aid from the US provided under the Cooperative Threat Reduction program.

Russian Obsession with BMD Threat

It is evident that not even twenty interceptors deployed in Alaska, two on the American west coast and possibly ten more in Poland can hardly prevent Russia from carrying out a retaliatory attack, in case of necessity. When the US were withdrawing from the ABM Treaty in 2002, the White House sent a clear message to Russia, assuring its counterpart about prevailing US intention of further maintain strategic balance, even though not strictly nominal. This was supported with Bush administration´s readiness to join and implement the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), signed in May 2002, i.e. during the six-month withdrawal period of the ABM Treaty. The aim was to calm down Russian representatives by accomplishing two-side reductions until 2012, averting the situation most likely to be very soon faced by Russia, i.e. the need to unilaterally reduce Russian strategic offensive potential due to financial shortages.

Russian emphasis of its feeling of uncertainty and outside alienation therefore serves better domestic political interests of political representatives and enables the creation of untrue image towards the outer world, so that its perception from the inside of Russian society and to certain extent even beyond would enable introducing measures assisting Russian interests. With them we can include e.g. the already mentioned weakening of transatlantic bonds, the abandonment of some Central European countries by their western NATO and EU allies in reaction to harsh Russian rhetoric, but also other moves such as the prospective re-deployment of Russian medium and intermediate range missiles. Moreover, Russia´s explanation and legitimization of its nuclear arsenal as a reaction to the construction of American missile defense system can serve absolutely separate Russian interests, which have been vented long before contemporary Central European debate over missile defense system has erupted.

In case Russia senses real urge to abandon the INF Treaty, it should do so while formulating clear, more or less relevant risks to its security. Such a course would be absolutely logical and acceptable. However, as Russia pushes fabricated, non-existing threats arising from Central European region trying to revive rusty ambitions to exert spheres of influence in this region, to strengthen nationalist tendencies within Russian society and savage gestures such as aiming the newly deployed middle-range missiles at targets in the Czech Republic and Poland, such a behavior asks for a resolute and unambiguous response from the mentioned countries and the whole North Atlantic Alliance residing on the concept of collective defense. Should Russia deploy middle-range missiles on its Asian territory, it is unnecessary to hyperbolize such a move (although it would be wrong to underestimate it either, given the mobility of such systems). Nonetheless, should it aim such devices at Central Europe, it will be necessary to execute retaliatory answers, or at least express the readiness to carry them out, should the circumstances demand so.

Furthermore, it is vital to caution against the untruthfulness of the arguments based on the importance of the ABM Treaty in the second nuclear age. Eventually, it is necessary to get rid of delusions. This document not only was of no significance after the Cold War, but it also did not serve a bit the security interests of the US and their European allies. Its relevance was limited during the Cold War too. Let us not forget that the Soviet Union continued to breach the ABM Treaty almost from the time of signing till the very end of the Cold war. However, no sooner than in 1989 it admitted that the construction of the so-called "Krasnoyarsk radar" was a clear breach of the principles included in the Treaty. Furthermore, the Treaty did not even induce the long-awaited situation-substantial reduction in arms race not only on defensive, but also on offensive levels. Only to remind-Soviet strategic potential grew considerably in the 70s, during the détente period, in the time when the US unilaterally dismantled its only limited defensive system in Grand Forks in Northern Dakota, clearly demonstrating its preference of implementing the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction to the creation of war scenarios based on the execution of first de-arming attack, which, unlike the 50s and 60s, were no longer feasible.

The debate over missile defense within NATO

Security threats arising from relatively distant countries should have been faced by the Czech Republic in cooperation with other countries of the Euro-American civilization sphere. However, it is necessary to realize that due to the nature of free countries it is only possible to cooperate with those which are interested. In this context, it is vital to pay more attention to those critics of missile defense system who consider it a unilateral project of the US, and thus claim the Czech Republic should not take part in it. If such critics were correct in their contents, they would have to consider many more factors and finally they would not probably have to be so acute or even disapproving of Czech participation in the system. Opponents should be reminded that the development of the US missile system was not and is not a process that the NATO allies are oblivious of. Although the US, through its own development, achieved the furthest progress in the advancement of defense umbrella, Washington signaled in the past several times to its European allies that it is in the interest of the whole Alliance to focus on the possibility of the protection of European territory with such a system. The Europeans meanwhile, excluding only exceptions, in majority followed other interests than security, and concentrated on e.g. building the welfare state. The US thus developed and tested missile defense which now protects their own territory. Today they offer the expansion of this protection to other interested states following bilateral negotiations. The Alliance as a whole is not yet ready to launch a construction of a comparable defense system, mainly due to its costliness and due to rift in opinion over the system´s usefulness prevailing between individual member countries.

When summing up the present state, the following can be affirmed. The Alliance project of missile defense will not be developed soon and quickly. It can be realistically expected that any shift in such a direction will depend on the experience with a system which has already been developed by the US. Therefore it is not valid to assume that two separate defense projects will be constructed, one being overwhelmingly American and the other dominated by the Alliance. It is very improbable then that the Czech Republic would have the chance to decide between these two options, one of bilateral cooperation with the US and the other of a multilateral cooperation under NATO. The demand of waiting for a defense system based on NATO thus seems as waiting for a condition which might once come about, but just as well might not. Meanwhile the Czech Republic is being offered participation in already existing system, which would potentially become a basis for a future NATO defense system. Today, one can only speculate to what extent might the integration of some NATO member countries into the existing system of missile defense influence the reaching of consensus among other NATO allies over this issue. Nevertheless, positive impact cannot be excluded.

In the context of the attitude of the Czech public and esp. its political representation towards the missile defense project it is important that strong appeal to weigh the possibilities of creating a NATO missile defense framework was spelled out in Prague during the November 2002 Summit. Here the decision has been taken to start working on a study assessing the feasibility of missile defense on the ground of Alliance. It is useful to remind the opponents of Czech participation in missile defense about this fact. Often they include politicians who took active part in the talks, or were at least informed about the results of the summit due to their positions. It is not an exception that today a number of them claim that they are short of information to decide whether to accept or turn down the American offer. Observant audience is however aware that the then-responsible social democratic negotiators have recently, in compliance with recent popularity surveys, turned into hesitant doubters, lacking the resolution of statesmen. It is therefore worth asking whether the politicians, to whom the citizens of this country have entrusted their confidence, can competently administer public affairs when they are unable to gather enough information to decide on a matter of such an importance as the defense of their state is, particularly given today´s fast information flow in both virtual and real political environments.

* The article has been developed in the framework of the Czech Science Foundation (GA CR), research project "Trans-Atlantic Relations and Foreign Policy of Central European Countries" (code No. 407/06/P444).
1 Becker, M. D.: "Strategic Culture and Ballistic Missile Defense". Airpower Journal-Special Edition 1994, p. 4-5. (
2 Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces (
3 Brooke, J.: Russia to Take Military Steps on U.S. Missile Shield. March 15, 2007. (

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