The Americans changed their mind and gave up the planned anti-missile defense shield in the Czech Republic and Poland. According to President Barack Obama, the conclusion was made after several months of analysis of the whole project and based on new information on the level of advancement of the Iranian programme of ballistic missiles. Both the US Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, and the whole general staff of the US army agreed to the step. The reaction of the biggest Czech political parties was as self-centred and unrealistic as a large part of the local debate on the radar in the Brdy area.
The American decision is a lost chance for us. The Czech Republic with American soldiers on its soil could have felt more firmly based in the west, it could have been sure that it plays a certain role in the American military plans and it would have been safer from an armed attack. The Czech government was right in answering the original American call and showing its willingness to participate on the collective security of western allies.
Cancellation of the project has nothing to do with a victory of pacifism over militarism. The decision of Obama and his people was not a reaction to the people’s voice, pacifistic clamour, or the baritone of Jiří Paroubek. At the same, the American President did not hurl us into the army void to leave us at Russia’s mercy. The decision is a result of a calculation in a strategic game, whose epicentre does not lie in central Europe, but in the Middle East. One day we will be assessing Obama’s move based on whether the Iranian nuclear programme will have been solved, the war in Afghanistan under control, and what the relations with Russia will look like.
The purpose of the anti-missile base was to limit the threat imminent especially from the Iranian nuclear programme in combination with the development of the country’s missile systems. The nuclear programme is still advancing, but the development of ballistic missiles has slowed down, according to the US.
Last week, after many months of insisting, Iran consented to opening negotiations with an international coalition. Test negotiations should be launched on 1 October most probably in Turkey and the result is very uncertain. However, the west wants to negotiate, as there are not many other possibilities left. China, which is dependant on Iranian oil, and especially Russia, which uses the situation to strengthen its own influence, are against introducing effective sanctions. Although the US claims that its change of attitude toward the anti-missile defence system is not connected with Russia, almost certainly it is not the case. If the Americans do not agree with Russia they have no chance to threaten Iran with sanctions. Besides sanctions there is only a possibility of a limited army attack on Iran that would probably have devastating consequences both for the opposition in Iran and for the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Palestinian territory.
That is how the cards have been dealt out, whether we like it or not. The planned radar base in Brdy has always been a matter of more complex considerations and power politics. The possibility of the American military presence on the Czech territory was only one of its side effects.
However, in the Czech Republic the radar story is a story of uncontrolled debate that has lost its matter-of-factness and rational distance. It was launched immediately after the last elections by Social Democrats, who at first opened the negotiations themselves and then jumped on the train of cheap populism. That was extremely irresponsible. For a country with such a short tradition of public discussion and minimum experience with global politics, courting the public’s irrational fears is deadly dangerous, especially when it comes to questions of strategic importance.
However, the other main party did not do much better in the debate either. The Czech right-wing politicians simplified the radar question to a symbol of orientation towards America as opposed to heading not only towards Russia, but also to the European Union and NATO. One radar pointed at Iran became a barrier from the expansive Russia in the eyes of its defenders. The right wing adopted the reinterpreted radar and longed for it even more than its real American parents.
Not even whole battery
We should learn a lesson from that story. Being anchored in the West means not only military guarantees, but also certain cultivation of culture. Its substance is a civilised debate based on facts and a sense for the whole context.
The position and size of the Czech Republic dooms a it to pragmatic view of the world. It has to know its way in it and select tools that are at its disposal, which is mainly the EU and NATO integration. Politicians and media should lead and preside over the debates, to look for agreement in the basic questions of national interest and not to transform the discussion into a wild conflict of dogmas. If the Czech Republic is not able to lead such a debate, it will decide about is global orientation by itself and not even a whole battery of American radars will help it.