One of the sideline discussions in Krakow will be on missile defences. The Czechs and Poles fell over themselves in the dying days of the Bush administration to sign agreements to host respectively a radar and interceptor sites for US mid-course ballistic missile defences. The Polish goverment of Donald Tusk did so only reluctantly in fear of Russia after the short war with Georgia last Summer. The Czechs through themselves into the deal with enthusiasm.
Both nations failed to take a look at the future after President Bush. president Obama repeatedly signalled his cepticism on the mid-course system. The Democrat controlled Congress last year passed restrictions on the deployment of the system in Europe. They tied funds for the project to operationally realistic testing, forcing the Pentagon to prove the system actually works. This contrats with the Bush administration 'spiral development' approach, involving deployment of a system that is known not to work, and then improving it year on year while 'operational' until it does work.
In recent weeks, Obama staffers have signalled a number of different options. Assistant Secretary of Defence Michelle Flournoy told her confirmation hearing that there would be a review of the system before deployment, most likely as part of the 2011 Quadrennial Defense Review. At the same time, Representative Ellen Tauscher (chair of the House Armed Services Committee sub-committee on Strategic Forces) has said that the current restrictions would stay in force and that, with the budget squeeze that will come with the financial crisis and recession, systems such as mid-course missile defences, would liekly be cut.
All of this leaves proponents of missile defence in the US and Europe feeling as though they have been left high and dry. The Washington Times (a conservative newspaper) carries a piece today by a scholar from the far-right heritage Foundation saying that:
Russia´s bid to shut down these missile defense sites is a power play to split NATO and to frighten Eastern Europe into distancing itself from NATO and the West. Moscow's hope is that Poland and the others will deem the Americans to be unreliable, and that accommodating Russia is the only safe path to security. The Obama administration had best remember this before it bargains away both Europe´s protection against Iran and the integrity of NATO.
This is matched by statements from a spokesman for the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, a neo-con pressure group, that:
"A lot of people put a stake in this project and they will feel disappointed — even betrayed" if it fails."
You can read the full story on that on the AP Wire. In sort, the Bush administration's supporters on missile defence are panicked. They know that the European defences will not go forward in the short-term and are trying to pressure the Obama administration through scare tactics - accusing the Democrats of being soft on defence. it isn't going to work. The Czechs and the Poles will be left to rue their short-sighted cosying up to President Bush in the weeks before he left office. It is a lesson to them in the need to better follow Washington DC politics. For the rest of us, we can sigh in relief that a barrier to talks with Russia on future nuclear arms reductions, and European security in general, will be removed.