The possible deployment of elements of an anti-ballistic missile defense system on the territory of the Czech Republic and Poland is being widely discussed in the political circles of Europe, Russia, and even Ukraine. The US says that the deployment of anti-ballistic missile defense elements in Europe by 2011 is aimed at protecting American and NATO installations from enemy threats coming from the Middle East, not Russia. This was announced on Jan. 29 by US Army Brigadier General Patrick J. O’Reilly, Deputy Director of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency.
The general also announced that the US is already negotiating with Russia about American plans in the National Missile Defense (NMD) sphere and inviting the Russians to take part in its implementation. He says that Russian participation in this process will strengthen Russia’s defense potential. However, the Russian side views this as a threat. Russian President Vladimir Putin called the statement by supporters of the deployment of an anti-ballistic missile defense system in Eastern Europe to warn against threats coming from Iran ungrounded and expressed confidence that Russia’s reply will be asymmetrical and effective.
Some politicians in Ukraine also think that the deployment of anti-missile defense systems in the Czech Republic and Poland will be a threat to Russia. After his meeting with US Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor, Ukraine’s Minister of Defense Anatolii Hrytsenko expressed the opinion that the US has lost the information campaign on the possible deployment of their NMD elements on the territory of the Czech Republic and Poland. Hrytsenko said that Europe’s reaction to the deployment will depend on the purpose of these systems.
The Day asked Ambassador Taylor to explain the purpose of the US deployment of NMD elements in Europe.
From the reports in the mass media it looks as if nobody understands why the US needs to deploy elements of the National Missile Defense: a radar in Czech Republic and anti-ballistic missiles in Poland. Can you explain to our readers what the purpose of this deployment is — to defend what from whom?
I’m very glad to give you the best explanations I can. We think there is a very clear answer to that question. We are interested in talking to the Poles and the Czechs in order to improve the security of Europe and the United States. We think we improve the security of Europe and the United States by placing these systems or at least negotiating to place these systems in Poland and the Czech Republic to resist the emerging ballistic missile threats from the Middle East. These systems, if these countries agree, will not protect Europe or the United States against missiles fired from Russia. The decision on where to place the anti-ballistic missile systems is made on the basis of geography and geometry. Experts and analysts in our Defense Department have spent a lot of time doing that geometry. And as an expert, you can probably understand better than I. But as I understand it, that analysis shows that Poland and the Czech Republic are newly optimal locations if we are defending against missiles coming out of pariah- states in the Middle East.
You mentioned Poland and the Czech Republic, but I have heard there was an inquiry from two MPs, who are asking whether the US is also talking to the European Union, because those two countries are members of the EU.
We are certainly keeping our NATO allies informed. By the way, we are trying to keep our Russian friends informed. I have had many conversations with Ukrainian officials about this. I have not heard of conversations with the European Union, primarily because this is not within the competence of the European Union. This question is clearly within the competence of individual member states.
But NATO is one bloc, while the European security system is another, and they do not always overlap. Is the US taking this fact taken into account?
In this sense you are right that NATO members are not exactly the same as European Union members. Yes, EU members that are not members of NATO, we don’t have the same level of military defense and national security dialogue as we do with NATO allies.
Is there consensus in NATO? Will NATO consensus be needed to reach a final decision on this particular matter?
I don’t think so. This has not been a decision for NATO. It does affect conversations on security issues with two NATO members. But it does not require decisions by NATO as a whole.
How would you explain the objections of Russia and even former Ukrainian defense minister Kuzmuk, who says that this deployment, those elements of missile defense, will be a threat to Russia?
Honestly, I don’t know. As I said in response to your first question, these systems, if they eventually agree, will have no effect on Russia. Indeed, they would provide some defense for Russia, which should be concerned about missiles coming from Iran, as well as Europe and the United States.
During a recent press conference President Putin hastened to say that there would be an adequate response from Russia to this threat connected with the deployment of the US National Missile Defense in Europe.
Since there is no such a threat, I don’t know what an adequate response will be. However, this statement may be true: if he speaks of an adequate response to a threat, an adequate response to no threat is no response.
You mentioned your discussions with Ukrainian officials about the deployment of elements of the National Missile Defense in Europe. What was their reaction? Were you able to convince them of the necessity of such a step?
I don’t know, you had better ask those Ukrainian officials if they are convinced. However, I’ve been very pleased with the nature of the discussions with Ukrainian officials. They recognize the geography and geometry questions that you and I have spoken about.
If the Czech and Polish governments approve the decision to deploy elements of the NMD, is there a possibility of engaging Ukraine, possibly together with Russia, to take part in the work to implement this project?
The answer is built into your question. Yes, this problem can best be examined after the discussion with the Poles and Czechs. But during those discussions we will keep our Russian friends and our Ukrainian partners well-informed of the progress of these discussions.
Why, in your opinion, have many high-ranking Russian military men and defense experts from the very beginning rejected the possibility of getting Russia on board regarding the deployment of anti-missile defense elements in Europe?
I don’t know why the Russians take the actions they do. But in any case, any participation in this anti- missile program would be purely voluntary on the part of the Russians or Ukrainians, or the Czechs or Poles.
There is some public concern, and even polls in Poland show, that more than half the population is not in favor of such deployment, and there are rising protests in the Czech Republic against the placing of the radar. In light of this situation, will the United States insist on carrying out this project?
No, we will not insist. This is a decision for the government of Poland and the government of the Czech Republic. We are not insisting now and will not insist in the future. This will be a decision for those two governments. They are fully sovereign governments, they represent their people, and we fully respect them.
How would you explain the opinion voiced by some politicians that the US has already lost the information part of this campaign?
The United States must do this — explain our rationale for these discussions taking place concerning these deployments to the people and reporters who have questions about this. I think we have convincing arguments that these systems are directed at missiles coming from the Middle East. If these systems are deployed, Europe, including Ukraine, and the United States will be more secure. We need to be clear about that calculation. One thing that might help in this — we see on the map: this is the Persian Gulf, this is Washington D.C. This is the shortest distance that a missile will take. And this shows that the Czech Republic and Poland are right on that trajectory. This is something you will not see when looking at a flat map. The next question is explaining ourselves. I think it is this kind of analysis and conclusion and the fact that the weapon systems placed in these areas will defend the United States and Europe. This is the most important argument.
What is the deadline by which the Polish and Czech governments should make their decision? Has one been established?
I don’t know about any deadline. The discussions, or serious negotiations, will begin in a couple of months; they will only start in a couple of months.
Is this a good time for the initial disclosure of this information, considering that the Russian elections are approaching?
The time to begin talking about this was not based on political decisions like the Russian elections. The time was based on when the discussions were necessary in order to keep the planning going of the deployment of these systems. President Bush released the National Policy of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Defense in May 2003. In this policy it was explicit that this was to defend the United States as well as their friends and allies. So, this has been the US line for four years, since 2003.
Do you believe that at some point in the future Russia and the US, as countries with huge arsenals of ballistic missiles and ballistic missile capabilities, will join forces to create a shield not just for part of the world but the whole world?
This would be a very positive thing for the world’s security. We all face the threats of nuclear ballistic weapons coming from Iran and North Korea. Russia is threatened, Europe is threatened, and the US is threatened. The world is threatened. We could come up with a defense against those states, those irresponsible states, which would be for international security.
But not every country believes this, especially Russia, that the two countries you mention are irresponsible.
The Russians, I think, agree with us that Iranian and North Korean nuclear weapons are a threat.
Why is there no agreement or mutual understanding between the US and Russia with regard to the deployment of the American NMD system in Europe?
I believe that the Russians, some Ukrainians, some Poles, some Czechs, as they think this through and look at the analysis, in the end they will agree that they will be better off if there are preventive measures against these threats.