President Obama’s administration might be willing to give up the planned anti-missile shield in central Europe in exchange for Russia’s help with Iran. This plan caused a storm of indignation in the Czech Republic last week. Somebody even compared it to the Munich Treaty. The situation showed the peculiar relationship that Czech politicians, the elite and the media have with the radar project in Brdy.
Let us try to see the whole thing from a different angle – through the eyes of President Obama. The US is dealing with a giant economic crisis and it is necessary to make cuts in the defence budget. The missile defence system has not been tested out properly yet, and some experts say that it will never provide reliable protection against a state that is capable of firing ballistic missiles. Such a state can confuse the defence system through decoy targets, and that is exactly what the report of US security services claimed in 1999.
The problem of decoy targets is not just an insignificant part of the missile defence system that can be shurgged off and left to be figured out at some time in the future – it might prove to be the main problem that cannot be eliminated. The warhead of the ballistic missile is a metal object weighing 200 kilograms and spanning almost two metres. Let us imagine that when it flies through space the head will be enclosed in an inflated mylar balloon. The rocket that carried the warhead into the space will then release a number of decoy balloons identical to the one enveloping the warhead. All the balloons move in the vacuum at the same speed and follow the same trajectory.
The defence system cannot see inside the balloons and is incapable of identifying the one to be destroyed. Moreover, the tests that the US is currently working on (one of which failed last year) do not operate with the set-up where all the balloons look the same. They work with a simpler set-up, where the real target differs in size.
Many experts presume that a state capable of constructing a ballistic missile, attaching a nuclear warhead on it, making sure that a heat shield opens up around the warhead on its return to the atmosphere and arranging for the bomb to explode at the necessary altitude, will not find it difficult to release a number of balloons that will automatically inflate in the atmosphere.
President Obama has simply inherited a costly and insufficiently tested-out project that he now needs to decide on. Why shouldn’t he use it to put some pressure on Russia? It is not a particularly strong card, but it might come in handy.
Moral right to push Iran
An attempt at negotiations with Russia and Iran is probably part of the new strategy that Washington chose for its foreign policy. Let us recall the existence of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that came to force in the 1970. The treaty grants the right to own nuclear arsenal to five main powers – US, Soviet Union (currently Russia), Great Britain, France and China. The remaining countries pledge not to attempt to acquire nuclear weapons. The condition of the treaty, however, states that the five superpowers have to work on reducing the tension and on creating conditions for nuclear disarmament.
If Obama’s administration proposes that Russia destroys part of its nuclear arsenal, it only follows in the direction of the valid international contract. This fact grants the US a greater moral right to ask Iran to give up its nuclear weapons. It would certainly be naïve to expect Iran to be moved by this in any way, but before we laugh at this new approach, we should realise that it also represents a hopeful attempt at building foreign policy on negotiations rather than on force – an attempt Bush’s administration failed to offer.
This brings us back to the missile defence system: Bush wished for a technical, more or less force-based solution that would protect the US but not the west. Better than relying on technology, the practicality of which has not yet been proven, is to sit down at a table and talk. Only when this approach fails and when it is clear that the system really works will it be sensible to continue with the project.
Strong emoitions surround the radar
For its Czech supporters, the radar represents a guarantee of becoming free from the Russian sphere of influence. But why should it be so? If we are not protected from the Kremlin shadow by our NATO accession, where NATO is an organisation very unlikely to leave central Europe at the mercy of Kremlin, in what way would the radar be able to help? There are some 1,000 US soldiers in Kyrgyzstan, the Georgian army was trained by the US instructors and still, Moscow is very far from considering these countries independent states, whose issues should not be interfered with.
The Czech elite should therefore “reset” its approach to radar. The strange emotional relationship with the radar that they have built up does not serve as proof of their prudence. It only serves as proof of their mixing up ties to the US with a very strong connection to the conservative part of the US political spectrum.
It is a pity that the Czech government didn’t get excited about some other project, for example, some envirnomental project. We could have been further along by now. And if politicians really care about ensuring global security, there are other ways: insisting on sending more soldiers to Afghanistan, for example.