Doubts on ‘Polish’ing the New Arms Race

flags4.JPGInterestingly, Warsaw is in no rush. Poland has not yet made an explicit decision on hosting a European antiballistic-missile shield system designed by the United States of America. Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski signalled doubts, in an interview published in the weekend edition of the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, over plans by the United States to deploy elements of a missile-defence system in Eastern Europe. “This is an American, not a Polish project,” Sikorski said in the interview. He further added that nevertheless, the Government is committed to consider a serious request of its most important ally, the U.S.

The previous Polish government of the infamous Kaczynski twins had agreed in principle to accept the ground-based ten interceptor missiles in Poland as a part of a large project that would include a parallel radar system in the neighbouring Czech Republic. Washington’s talks with Warsaw over the project is aimed to protect Europe against attacks from what the U.S. calls “rogue states” such as Iran and North Korea. But the negotiations were stalled since Donald Tusk’s centre-right party, Civic Platform, had formed the new government in November following a colossal victory. Sikorski has been reported stating that Poland does not face any threat from Iraq and that the nation wants to avoid any likely conflict with Russia that would deteriorate the relationship between the two countries. Russia has stoutly opposed the deployment of the missile defence system as the plan is scrutinised to threaten the national security of the country. The American anti-missile system has become a contentious issue between the United States and Russia and also between Poland and Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned of a new arms race if Washington proceeds with the plan in Poland and the Czech Republic. Warsaw-Moscow relations reached rock bottom under the previous conservative government of former Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynki. The New York Times reports that, according to Polish officials, Mr. Kaczynki was a pro-American who agreed to deploy the missile shield without examining the details over the costs, the maintenance and the risks to Poland’s security. He was not uptight about dispelling Kremlin’s qualms or even for that matter interested in gaining support of other European nations. But that is not the case with Tusk and Sikorski, who are cautious not to invite any hostility from Kemlin considering its sway over international affairs.Poland has scheduled talks with Russian and Czech officials on the controversial project. President Putin last month suspended his nation’s participation in the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty expressing Russia’s displeasure over the project. To quote The New York Times, “…the Kremlin did not say how long it would suspend its participation. But Russian diplomats said it depended on not only what kind of concessions the United States was prepared to make concerning changes to the treaty, but also on whether Poland and the Czech Republic would deploy components of the American antimissile system.” For anyone who is devotedly tracking the US presidential election, here is something interesting to note. Poland is anxiously watching the 2008 presidential race in the US as, to quote Reuters, “a change of guard at the White House could scuttle the project”. It is evident from Sikorski’s interview with Gazeta Wyborcza, where he said, “The worst-case scenario would be one in which Poland agrees to the shield, shoulders the political costs and then the base isn’t built because the government in the U.S. has changed.” It is not just the international political situation that the government is to be worried of. The project is unpopular amongst Poles indicating that obtaining the Parliament’s approval on the agreement would not be a smooth. Tusk, for sure, is tough on the issue. The government is vexed about the security benefits of Poland and even more finicky of the risk from the system. The government that has gone overboard in cutting public expense is seeking clarification over the expense and wants the financial costs to be set out. Indubitably, the United States of America would have to sharpen its diplomatic skills and perk up the diplomatic ties before being able to stand firmly on the Polish soil.

Annapoorna Karthika